Calibre, an ebook management software suite, debuted in 2008. Since then, the open source program has gained over 1.2 million users around the world. Originally authored by Kovid Goyal, it’s now supported by a large open source community.
Calibre (pronounced cali-ber) has an interesting set of functions, and I happened on it researching ebook conversion software tools. Although Calibre provides conversions from a large number of formats, it has many other functions as well, and represents an interesting direction for content management in the world of many competing ebook formats.
Six Integrated Functions to Manage Your EBooks
Calibre has an amazing conversion engine built into it. I went to Calibre’s main website and downloaded then installed the software. Calibre has a single interface from which you perform all its various functions:
- Library management—Manages your entire library of ebooks, regardless of the ebook format of your original, including the use of metadata, tagging and long comments
- E-book conversion—Supports a truly huge number of formats, in both directions. The conversion engine can rescale fonts, automatically detect/create book structure, and insert the book metadata into a “Book Jacket” at the start of the book
- Synchronization—Calibre will sync your ebook library with virtually any ereader you can find
- News fetcher—Provides access to over 300 news sources through syndication, delivering news feeds automatically to your ereader on a schedule you establish
- E-book viewer—Calibre can open and read ebooks in virtually any format known to man
- Content server—Sets your own computer up as your content server, making your entire library of digital books available anywhere you can connect to the internet
Test Driving The Conversion Engine
I added two different kinds of documents to Calibre’s library. One was a Word document, a simple short story. The other was the PDF version of a 300-page book I had done for a client. These were about as different as two documents could be. And the conversions that Calibre produced were also distinctly different.
In each case I added the book to the Calibre Library, then used the conversion engine to convert them each to ePub, the format used by Sony Reader, B & N Nook, and the Apple iPad. This format is also used by the Stanza ereader application, and I have the iPhone version of Stanza on my phone. It’s about the best reader for the iPhone that I’ve tried so far.
Calibre’s conversions are incredibly fast. It basically converts your text on the fly, from any format, to any format. If you try to send a book to your ereader, and the book is in the wrong format, Calibre simply converts it in the transfer process. This is the way software should work, don’t you think? After all, the computer ought to be able to make these decisions.
Here are two screen shots from Stanza on my iPhone showing the two texts and how they stood up to the journey to ePub.
The first was converted from the Word file. You can see that with a clean file like this, the transition is seamless, and all is good. The second was converted from PDF. In fairness, Calibre rates PDF translations as the least desirable of all on its long list, so it’s no surprise this didn’t translate that well.
The biggest problem is the insertion of hard returns on every line, breaking the text into almost unreadable chunks.
Automatic Retrieval and Direct Editing of Metadata
Among the services provided by Calibre is direct access to the metadata records for your books, and the ability to catalog and search your collection through user-applied tags, or by standard categories like Author, Publisher, and so on.
Calibre has some impressive tricks, too. Armed with an ISBN it can go to the web and download cover art and complete data records for your ebook titles.
Do You Need It?
Calibre does an amazing job of supplying easy conversion of formats so you don’t have to worry about them. After all, if what we want to do is read books, why should we have to worry about things like Mobi and PDF and ePub? Calibre seems to me to be a step in the direction of making ebook libraries much more manageable.
For instance, it treats each book as a single entity, no matter how many formats you translate it into. That just makes sense.
On the downside, not all the conversions will work well, and the interface looks a lot like early Windows software I remember from the 1990s. But with the open source community behind it, and the amazing conversion, news reader, library management and omni-format viewer, Calibre is a powerful asset. User acceptance has been increasing, and this month over 200,000 people downloaded Calibre.
So here’s my question to you: Do you foresee a time when you’ll need content management software like Calibre? How do you “manage” your ebook library now?
Takeaway: The era of the ebooks is here. We’ll need new tools to manage the electronic library and the devices we use to read them. Calibre is an interesting take on these functions.