Book reader feature set


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This page serves as a forum for discussing the features required to make the device a useable eBook reader. Access to a diverse library of reading and reference materials will be a prime selling point of the olpc project. The devices are being cost-justified to interested nations based on the idea that money currently budgeted to purchase textbooks for students could be used to purchase a $100 laptop for each child and that the textbooks would be available in eBook format on the laptop itself.

Before diving into the discussion, designers have chosen to include Evince along with the basic HTML/XML capability of the browser. One would hope that this includes both DJVU and PDF capabilities of Evince, however DJVU probably provides the most value-add.




The number one required feature for an ebook reader HAS to be the clearest, most easily readable text display possible on the hardware. Anti-aliasing or font-smoothing can be a great asset if implemented well or a horribly "smudgy" mess if implemented poorly...

In addition, there are two fundamentally different kinds of ebooks that must be supported. The first one is repurposed paper books. The DJVU compression format is designed specifically to make this feasible. The target countries for the OLPC do not have very much digital content available, however they have several generations worth of printed books that could be quickly repurposed. The second format is the computerised text that most people think of as E-Books, available in a bewildering array of proprietary and open text formats supported by dozens of ebook reader programs.

Useful features might include

  • User definable "style sheets" to control font size and type face, etc.
  • Display graphics in various formats; both vector and bitmap formats
  • Display complex formulae
  • Link in multimedia elements such as sound or video files (this is not an e-book. Ebooks should be limited to text and still images in order to get maximum use of electricity. People can still choose other apps to view multimedia content)
  • Bookmarking, preferably sharable via network
  • Annotations, preferably sharable via network
  • Link to external programs for coursework such as worksheets, labs, etc. which can be forwarded BY the teacher to the students, and sent back to the teacher once the homework is done.
  • Human readable, yet efficient markup language (should use an existing e-book markup language since many e-books will be available as well as tools. Existing e-book formats are often based on a simplified HTML markup)
  • Compressed files (easily decompressed to access original files) (this needs to be carefully balanced against the built-in compression of the JFFS2 file system. Since JFFS2 can handle alternate compression formats it may be better to influence the JFFS2 development. Ideally, ebooks will be tightly compressed on modern desktops, and the OLPC will be able to quickly decompress them without using too much CPU/electricity)
  • Simple, intuitive interface
  • Localizable
  • Supports complex-text language rendering (for example, Arabic and Thai)(bidirectional is where the real complexity is)
  • A way to scroll, or "turn pages" of ebooks with the following properties: simple, natural, low-learning curve.
  • Users should be able to encrypt and view documents. Special care should be taken to treat the contents in a highly sensitive manner to make wide-scale analysis of such documents infeasible.
  • A text to speech option can help kids learn to read.
  • A text to speech option might help kids that do not like to read a lesson but would not mind listening to it at a speed they could understand it.
  • Linking to a dictionary/thesaurus to define and gain understanding of words. Students unsure about a word can select it and tell the app define it and the definition of it could either pop up within the application or display it in a secondary program.


The laptop has the storage capacity for many hundreds of books, articles, stories, essays, etc., so cataloging, organizing and searching will be crucial.

Useful features might include:

  • A standardized schema of metadata for categorizing work
  • Sorting on any of the fields in the schema, plus system generated data like last page read, etc.
  • Full-text search capability across all titles - MUST be speedy so indexing will be necessary
  • Highlighting the words that are searched.
  • Network access to larger library to allow downloads of additional titles

An open source product, called Greenstone has a number of these features, and is already used to distribute collections of books to developing countries.


Several formats will need to be supported; Ebooks discusses this in more detail. Probably-useful formats include HTML, PDF, DJVU, and OpenDocument. Some people are working on a common wiki markup language called WikiCreole. A wiki engine using a superset of WikiCreole is being built by the OLPC team.

No access to Microsoft Word Files? MEXICO, AGS. --Dagoflores 16:27, 14 March 2007 (EDT)


First and foremost, the OLPC has a user interface that is not quite like most existing PC operating systems. The Ebook interface should fit into that context. Look here for interface examples.

Post eBook interface ideas here.

  • Should the eBook interface look like Adobe Reader[1]? (The UI can be completely hidden, the page can be rotated to be read like an open book, and pages can be turned with the right-arrow key, conveniently located on the bottom corner of the keyboard near where your left thumb would hold it.)
  • Should it look like Evince? (Most UI stuff can be hidden)
  • Should it have a status bar? (If so the it's not an ebook reader. All UI elements, including status bars, should be hideable).

Jog Reading Wheel

A few years for a ridiculous sum of money, considering the fact that the units are no longer supported or sold, I bought a stony clié PDA T625 C ( I still have it on my desk if someone wants to make me an offer:) Anyway one of the most salable features and indeed usable things about this PDA is the thumb wheel on the side of the case. It allows me to read PDF or whatever documents and scroll up or down the pages of the document using this little plastic wheel, if you push the wheel in you can also reset to the start of the document. Don't take my word for it here is what many other people say about this neat feature; "On the left side of the Clie are the jog-wheel, back button and hold. The jog-wheel? “What a dumb idea,” I thought when I started using the unit. “What is the point when you can just touch the screen to select objects and items?”

Well In less than a week I found this little addition to be an absolutely wonderful feature. I can fly though addresses or to-do’s with a flick of my thumb while driving, on the phone, etc."

The Sharp Zaurus models that look like little laptops also have this feature.

Down Arrow: I do the same thing reading e-books on my laptop web browser by holding down the down-arrow key.

PGUP/PGDN Buttons: The Gemstar/Rocket/RCA/eBookwise Ebooks (Picture Here) has PGUP/PGDN buttons near the grip (which was also very nice and was designed to be held like the spine of a book). I've been using one of these for two years, but I'm very interested in upgrading to something more flexible. I think that the design of the unit was very well thought out and should be experienced by anyone designing hardware that is meant to be suited for reading ebooks.

Blackberry-style Controls

The Blackberry has one thing that is really right in that both the enter/fwd key and the esc/bck key are easily available. The OLPC/Sugar interface should have use the 4-way pad an Enter and an Esc. This way, you can follow links in your PDF and HTML ebooks. If a user can't jump back to the place where they were reading easily, they will not be as willing to look up terms in the glossary (for example). eBooks will be made assuming that the user can jump back -- authors should not have to re-format their works for the OLPC.

The 4-way pad is already in the hardware specification as is the enter/fwd; an esc/bck should be added now. It will come in handy for many applications.

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