Slate: The eBook

(For this week’s regular “Readme” column on weighty affairs of state, click here.)

Today is the greatest day for books since Gutenberg invented the printing press. Either that or it’s the worst day since the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria. (Or maybe it’s not that big a deal, but let’s leave this possibility aside if you don’t mind.) Starting today, the Microsoft Reader is available for PCs and laptops.

The Microsoft Reader, as its name implies, is a fantastic new device that automatically reads those interminable User Agreements that come with new software and tells you it’s OK to check “I Agree.”

No. Actually—as its name does not imply—Microsoft Reader is free software for reading electronic books, a k a eBooks, which—as their name does not imply—are not physical objects but rather computer document files formatted to be read using eBook software such as Microsoft Reader.

You may think: What’s he babbling about? I already read things on my computer—I’m reading these very words—but one thing I don’t want to read on a computer is a book. Software that puts the contents of a book on my computer is of no interest to me. To which we say: Hold on. What Reader puts on your computer isn’t just the contents of a book, but rather something fairly close to an actual book. That is, it has a cover and a title page and so on, and you move through it by turning pages rather than scrolling.

Most important, Reader uses ClearType, a supersophisticated process that anti-aliases the pixels, or alienates the anti-pixels, or pixilates the alien aunties, or some damned thing, but one way or another makes the type a lot clearer on the screen. As, in fact, its name implies. No, you still can’t take your PC to the john (though portable eBook devices using Microsoft Reader will be available soon, and Reader for palm-sized Pocket PC devices has been around for several months). But at the very least you can try an eBook on the big screen, see what all the fuss is about, and decide for yourself if it’s the end of civilization as we know it.

You will, of course, need something to read. That’s where Slate comes in. (You didn’t think we were so crass as to simply be touting our corporate cousin’s product, did you? Heck, no. We’re touting our own product too.) Slate is available for the Microsoft Reader in two ways. Twice a day we update an eBook file containing everything in Slate for the past week. Or you can go to MySlate and build your own eBook containing only the articles you want.

Give it a try. We think Reader software may be even more promising for magazines than it is for books. After all, you may swallow a sob or two as you set a bonfire of your lifetime’s accumulation of … what will we call them? Real books? Non-eBooks? Maybe preBooks? But nobody cries, except with relief, when they manage to get piles of old magazines out of the house.

Here are all the links you need:

  • On  Slate’s Microsoft Reader page, you’ll find a link to a page where you can download Microsoft Reader; a link to MySlate, where you can build your own Slate eBook (among other options); and a link to download the prepackaged eBook of everything currently in Slate.

  • On the official Microsoft Reader home page, you can download the Reader plus some other stuff (including a cool little thinglet that lets you turn any Microsoft Word file into an eBook), and get more information. (Maybe somewhere in there they explain what “anti-aliasing” means.)

  • Or download Microsoft Reader directly from here.

  • Go to an earlier Readme explaining all the wonderful things you can do with MySlate.

  • Download the prepackaged Slate eBook directly here. (Hint: If it turns out that you like reading Slate this way, you can drag ‘n’ drop this link to your desktop or make it a Favorite or Bookmark. Then, just click on it at any time to download, save, and open the latest update of the Slate eBook.) 

Related on MSN

Click here to see a list of 100 free eBooks available on, including Moby Dick, Candide, and Plato’s Republic.

Click here for a guide to eBooks.