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Adobe adds features to e-book software

The maker of graphics and publishing software releases two products designed to make electronic books as convenient as their paper and ink counterparts.

Adobe Systems, which makes graphics and publishing software, released two products Monday designed to make electronic books as convenient as their paper and ink counterparts.

The Adobe Acrobat eBook Reader and the Adobe Content Server software will let e-books written in PDF format be loaned to friends, purchased by the chapter or leased for limited periods of time. Customers will also be able to highlight sections of the text, print text, take notes in the margins, and read their purchases in a two-page, booklike format.

Both products were developed using technology from Glassbook, which Adobe acquired in August 2000.

The move is Adobe's latest attempt to ignite the still nascent and slowly developing e-book market, where it competes primarily with Microsoft's Reader. To date, less than 50,000 electronic reading devices have been sold in the United States, according to Internet researcher Jupiter Media Metrix. Sales are expected to reach just 1.9 million by 2005.

However, analysts say the key to Adobe's success is not just creating more dynamic products, but gaining market share among major publishers. Experts say the company that lands these major contracts--be it Adobe or Microsoft--will be most likely to make inroads in the e-book market.

"At this point, the issue for both companies is to get publishers onboard with a large variety of content to speed adoption," said Susan Kevorkian, an analyst with IDC. "There needs to be the digital mass of content titles available on the Internet approximating a good book store or a library. There has to be real content offerings."

Although the digital book market made headlines last year after author Stephen King released selected works online, the market has a long way to go. Large publishing houses such as Random House, Simon & Schuster and Time Warner have yet to make their entire content available in electronic format, and consumers have lacked interest to browse among limited selections.

Adobe, however, is hoping to push the use of e-books in educational, business and medical settings. A representative for the company said these areas offer more potential than the leisure reading market.

In the medical market, for example, doctors could carry portions of the "Physician's Desk Reference" on their handheld computer, said Adobe spokeswoman Layla McHale.

In the college setting, students could find many ways around the expensive cost of textbooks.

"If your teacher says you only need chapters 2 through 7, you could buy those chapters for maybe $30 instead of $100 for the whole book," McHale said. "Or you could buy a book just for a semester, and it would time out after three months."

Analyst say these markets are obvious and lucrative ones.

"I think those two markets have, up until now, been undeserved, so I think it's a very good move on Adobe's part," said IDC's Kevorkian.