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Google vs. Amazon: Clash of the booksellers

Google introduces new eBooks and eBookstore applications, while Amazon touts a new desktop e-reader.

December 7, 2010 04:02 PM ET

Computerworld - Are you a fan of those 1960s Japanese monster movies like Mothra vs. Godzilla, where two enormous animals battle insanely while the tiny human onlookers scream in horror?

Well, if your favorite film isn't available on Netflix or Hulu, you can still enjoy a clash of the Titans this week, as Google pits its new e-reading application, Google eBooks -- and its new retail venture, the Google eBookstore -- against Amazon.com's huge inventory.

For a while, there has been some speculation that Google was going to come out with its own e-reader device, like Amazon's Kindle or Borders' Kobo. Instead, Google made headlines on Monday with a strictly software-based strategy: a bevy of applications for Android devices, the iPhone, the iPad, the iPod Touch, desktop/laptop Web browsers, and two specific e-book readers, the Nook and the Sony Reader. (Other e-book readers can also access books from Google's eBook collection if they can read either the ePub or PDF formats.)

Amazon, for its part, today announced its own desktop Web e-reader, which has been in beta since September and which, according to Amazon, should be available sometime during the next few months.

Like Microsoft with its Windows Live offerings, Google is using similar (and somewhat confusing) names for its related services. The general Google listing of free and non-free books that are available to browse, sample and review is called Google Books. The library of books that an individual reader collects, whether free or paid, and can then read on any device is called My Google eBooks.

The place where that reader can purchase new books using Google Checkout? That's the Google eBookstore. (None of these have anything to do, by the way, with Google Reader, which is Google's RSS service.) Google account holders can access all of those services by going to Books.Google.com.

Desktop reading via Google

I first checked out Google's browser-based e-reader, which works on any browser (unlike Amazon's current desktop e-reader, which is a separate application and must be installed on a Windows PC or a Mac).

You access it from the main Google Books page by clicking on the "My library" link. This brings you to the main page of My Google eBooks, where you can choose which book you want to read.

Google eBooks
On the My Google eBooks page, you can choose one of your downloaded books to read.

The e-reader has a plain look that offers very few distractions from the text -- I was quite favorably impressed. Clickable arrows on the left and right let you page forward and back. Discreet gray icons on the upper left side of the page allow you return to the home page and see a table of contents.

You can change settings such as typeface, type size, line height and justification. You can also switch from "flowing text" (in other words, straight computer text) to scanned pages (images of the pages exactly as they appear in the printed book). There are also icons for search, information about the book (such as where to find a hard copy and user reviews) and help.

Google eBooks
The reading interface for a Google eBook is clean and easy to adjust.

However, users of Google's Web e-reader may also need to exercise some patience in trying to navigate the huge and varied Google interface. For example, if you search for a book on the main Google Books page and click on the "Add to My Library" link, you will not find the book in "My Google eBooks" when you go back to your main "My library" page. Instead, you will need to scroll down a page that contains several other "bookshelves" with names like "Purchased," "Reviewed," "Recently Viewed" and so on. I finally found the "Reading now" category (which is how I'd classified a new book I'd chosen) just under "Favorites."

If you want the book to be part of your Google eBook collection -- and therefore accessible on all of your devices -- you have to click on the book and then click on the "Get it now" link on the right side of the book's screen.



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