I’m still working on getting my new (to me) Toshiba e800 configured to suit me, and one reason I bought it was to be able to always have something to read with me: ebooks. Project Gutenberg has thousands of free ebooks in various formats. Other sites such as Amazon also offer ebooks, but since Gutenberg is free, I started there. However, the e800 did not come with an ebook reader! So the first task was to find an ebook reader, preferably free, that would work with my Windows 2003SE mobile device.

Thanks to Google, I found and downloaded three: Microsoft Reader (which did NOT come already installed), eReader (which is affiliated with Barnes & Noble and of course markets their ebooks, but also has some freebies, and comes in a wide variety of OS flavors), and Freda. (I also picked up a free PocketPC PDF reader from Adobe – don’t know if it will work as an ebook reader, but it will be nice to be able to read pdf files like the user manual on my mobile.) I tried all of them with my PDA on and connected to my computer, and Windows Mobile Device Center running, which (besides keeping calendar/contacts/tasks synced) syncs the PDA with whatever I put in my My Documents\Documents on Sylvia’s PDA folder – very convenient both as a backup of my critical document files and as a way to painlessly get files onto the PDA.

Freda was the easiest to install. It came as a .cab file so I just moved the file to the CF card on my PDA, then clicked on the file from the PDA and it magically did its thing. The only problem was that the program didn’t work. I clicked on Freda on the program list and NOTHING HAPPENED. I found the exe file using File Explorer and clicked on that. Nothing happened. Okay, I thought, maybe it only activates when you click on an ebook file, so I clicked on one in my ebook directory. It opened fine – with Pocket Word. Still no Freda. I went back online to read the manual, and apparently Freda is supposed to go to a “main menu” when it is started. So apparently it doesn’t work with Windows 2003SE after all and I deleted it from my PDA (which was a minor pain and I had to find and use Remove Program). So much for Freda.

The next on the list was Microsoft’s Reader. It was an .exe file so I just clicked on it, on my main computer, in Windows Explorer. It ran an install program and although it wanted me to let it install in the default directory, when I clicked “no” it let me choose between regular memory, the flash ROM, or the CF card. I decided to put it on the CF card with my ebooks. When it finished, it told me to check my PDA to see if additional steps were necessary, which I thought was smart. But the message on the PDA was to “reset your device according to the device manufacturer’s documentation.” Huh? The user guide PDF says nothing about resetting after installing a program, and I don’t know if the instructions mean a soft or hard reset. So I did neither and went into Programs to start it up (and was annoyed to find the Freda icon still there). It started fine but told me the program was “not yet activated.” Huh? What do I need to do to activate it? I was able to open the help file that came with it, but it took me a minute to figure out that the page number was the number between the “3” and “4” at the bottom of the screen. Maybe this was one of the fonts that the PDA needed to be reset to use properly? So I tried a soft reset. Sure enough, after restarting the program, the page number at the bottom is now bracketed by left and right arrows instead of 3 and 4. The program has adjustable type size, which was nice, and the capability to add bookmarks, which is necessary. But I still couldn’t get it to see any other ebooks, so I started wandering through the help file and discovered it was looking in the My Documents folders. So I moved my eBooks folder into the My Documents folder. I also accidentally found out how to “activate” Reader, and it requires logging on with a Passport ID (using Internet Explorer, it told me Firefox doesn’t support activation), but the help file says any Hotmail, MSN, or Passport account will do. Of course, I don’t have ANY of those. This is turning into a major pain. (Gee, what a surprise with a Microsoft product.) However, the login page also said I could use a Windows Live ID, and I had to get one of those a few days ago to download Windows Mobile Device Center, and fortunately I long ago set up a “login” folder and filed the confirmation email for my Windows Live account in that folder so I can actually find it now! So I login and now I get ANOTHER error message. “You must install the Activation ActiveX control before you can activate.” And I can’t go any further without allowing Microsoft to install ANOTHER program on my computer. Reader is looking less and less attractive now. Before giving up completely, I checked to see if Reader would recognize and read any of my free Gutenberg .txt files. No matter where I put them in the My Documents folder, they failed to appear in the Library. I also tried a book in epub, Plucker, QiOO mobile, and Mobipocket formats, moving them all to the Personal folder to make sure it was somewhere Reader could find it. It didn’t recognize any of them. Does anyone actually jump through all of Microsoft’s hoops in order to use their “free” reader?

eReader was the last one I tried because it came in a zip file and I hate dealing with zip files. But Microsoft has made it too hard to use Reader so I guess I’ll try eReader now. I right-clicked on the zip file, told it to “extract all,” had to wade down through two levels of folders to get to the extracted files, and clicked on BookInstaller.exe – at least they made the title obvious. Install was not so obvious. There are three choices on the screen and none of them are to install a reader. I selected “install books” and it prompted me to tell it where to look for the books to install. It didn’t find any of my .txt books so I moved all the odd-format files (that I tried with Reader) into the ebooks folder and it recognized one of them. Wish I knew which one, but I guess it doesn’t matter because I got the dreaded “this program may not have installed correctly” message and there is no new reader in Programs. (Turned out to have been the Plucker file, I found it on my CF card later.)

So my choices are: (a) buy an ebook reader (which may just saddle me with another program that doesn’t work); (b) let Microsoft install another program on my computer and see what other ridiculous hoops it makes me jump through to get Reader to work; (c) keep using Pocket Word as my ebook reader, which doesn’t let me insert bookmarks on txt files; or (d) give up on reading ebooks on my PDA (which is a major reason I bought it in the first place). But I’ve had enough trauma for one day. Tomorrow is another day.

Oh, and the Freda icon is STILL in the Programs folder. Guess it’s time for a hard reset after all.

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