Amazon's new Kindle 2, which shipped Tuesday , has created a huge public splash -- and not undeservedly. The US$359 device offers a thin, portable, easy way to purchase and read books, magazines and other documents -- especially for those who have never been all that comfortable with technology or (on the other side of the spectrum) are eager to make sure they have the latest and sexiest tech toys in their personal arsenal.
It's possible that if I were to get my hands on a Kindle 2, I might agree with the enthusiasts. If that should happen, I'll certainly let you know. Meanwhile, though, I'll let you in on a little secret -- or, at least, something that hasn't been a secret to any addicted reader who has owned a computer or any kind of portable tech for the past several years.
There are a lot of e-books out there, and you don't have to own a Kindle to read them. You can purchase them or download them free and legally -- from sites that offer books that are in the public domain, from advertising- or subscription-based sites that offer original literature, or from authors who are offering free samples of their work in the hope that you'll buy more.
(You should also check out your local library's Web site -- some libraries now offer downloads of books in their collections.)
What follows is a list of some of the sources I've used to put e-books on various mobile devices. They vary in the type of books they offer, whether they charge or not, and the formats they make their literature available in. But no matter what type of mobile device you carry around with you -- a netbook, an iPhone or even an old-fashioned PDA -- these sites can help you ensure that you'll never be caught without reading material again.
The great-granddaddy of e-book sources, this site is beloved by many of us who have been reading books on-screen almost as long as there has been an Internet.
Started by Michael Hart as part of a student project in 1971 and rapidly expanded throughout the 1990s and beyond, Project Gutenberg now offers free access to thousands of e-books in a wide variety of text and audio formats, including plain text, HTML, PDF, Ogg Vorbis, Apple iTunes Audiobook and Plucker.
Project Gutenberg also represents a less commercial side of the Web -- it operates largely via the work of volunteers, who either submit the scanned documents or proofread them (comparing the scanned page image with the text produced by optical character recognition).