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Geeking out: Gorgeous digital edition magazines

Browser-based magazines bring readability, style, and yes, ads, to online editions.

Who says magazines are dead? Not Fortune Small Business Magazine, Hearst Magazines, or Red Herring. And certainly not Olive Software, the Santa Clara, Calif., company responsible for creating the interactive digital twins of their print issues.

Fortune Small Business e-zine for November 2007

Like the best discoveries, I stepped into Olive Software's work by accident, while flipping through the digital leaves of Fortune Small Business Magazine. As a champion of downloadable and Web apps for consumers, I wouldn't normally seek out this kind of story, but the experience was too gratifying not to share. After all, would I hold back from you?

Click once and the magazine blooms in its self-contained online reader. Click again, this time on the right arrow, and the cover unfurls to reveal a faithful representation of the magazine's glossy, full-page interior, down to the shadowed hollow where the pages meet the binding. Flip through to read articles horizontally across multiple pages, each one adhering to the original layout, rather than dive-bombing into a vertical scroll that makes do with the Web's predilection for linear storytelling.

Best of all, the November 2007 issue of Fortune Small Business was free, the crisp, half-screen ads apparently financing the familiar, intuitive service.

Olive Software logo

OK, so I'm a sucker for the visual, tactile, and organizational qualities of flipping through a magazine. All that aside, the electronic magazine reader's usability is impressive. In addition to flipping, you can choose among layout views, quickly access the table of contents in a drop-down menu, search the text, and skip ahead. Olive Software's reader isn't perfect, however. For one, offline reading requires a list of directions for tweaking browser settings to allow pages to save; guidance, I should mention, directed only at Internet Explorer. That's going to become a problem for Firefox and Safari users, including iPhone evangelists, the latter whose devices' wide screens could beautifully accommodate this breed of e-zine.

While the digital handling of long, verbose works has been stirring for some time (I'm thinking of Google Books, Adobe Digital Editions, and Sony's latest e-book reader,) I haven't yet encountered a practical, well-implemented reader like this in the wild. I'm sure competing software is plentiful, some likely superior, and why not? It's time for ocular coziness to scrap for its place in our digital dynasty.