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Microsoft offers free e-book downloads

The software giant says it will offer free downloads of 60 best-selling e-books during a 20-week promotion. It hopes to increase readers' familiarity with Microsoft's Reader software.

In a move aimed at bolstering the use of its Microsoft Reader program, the software giant announced on Wednesday that it would offer free downloads of e-book bestsellers over a 20-week period.

Although Microsoft has launched similar promotions in the past to boost users' familiarity with Reader and attempt to snag market share from Adobe's omnipresent Acrobat software, the new promotion is the largest in scope and duration that the company has offered, Microsoft eReading group product manager Cliff Guren said.

"Customers are satisfied with the reading experience once they engage with it, but we wanted to build awareness of e-books and Microsoft Reader. We want to expose more people to this," Guren said.

Microsoft Reader debuted in August 2000 and has since received 6 million downloads. The company released Microsoft Reader 2.0 a year ago, along with an online catalog of e-book titles available for the software.

As part of the five-month promotion, users can download three e-books a week from Microsoft's Web site via a Pocket PC, a Tablet PC, a laptop or a desktop. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, and Fear Itself by Walter Mosley are among the titles offered.

About 60 percent to 70 percent of e-book customers using Microsoft Reader also use Pocket PC devices, Guren said. Pocket PC is Microsoft's technology framework for small devices, incorporating the Windows CE operating system. The framework is licensed to other companies that make Pocket PC-branded handheld devices.

"In large part, it's due to the portability of the Pocket PC. But we're also starting to see people interested in the Tablet PC," Guren noted.

Security has been an issue for Microsoft Reader. In January, a developer posted a program online that's designed to dismantle Microsoft Reader's anticopying technology.