Microsoft joins eBook push

Microsoft joins a slew of publishing firms and electronics manufacturers to establish a set of open standards for the electronic books industry.

The drive to legitimize electronic books got a big boost today as Microsoft joined a slew of major publishing firms, electronics manufacturers, and others who are working to establish a set of open standards for the emerging industry.

The announcement was made at the first electronic book conference, sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where the software giant joined its new allies in the fight for eBook acceptance. Some of its new partners include publishers Bertelsmann, HarperCollins Publishers, Penguin Putnam, Simon & Schuster, and Time Warner Books.

eBooks are digital versions of printed books, which display on specialized reading devices or on PCs and laptops. The group of firms said today that they plan to collaborate on a common set of specifications.

The firms hope that such specifications will allow titles to be read on all machines using these standards. It will also allow writers and their publishers to reach a wide audience without having to separately reformatting their titles for each machine, Microsoft said.

"The goal is to create as many titles as possible and win as many customers as possible--as fast as possible," Dick Brass, vice president for technology development at Microsoft, said in a statement. "The idea is to get eBooks off the ground."

At the conference, Microsoft announced the Open eBook standard for eBook file and format structure, which is based on HTML and XML languages used to format information on Web sites.