Kindle for PC – What’s in it for Educators?

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kfpcAmazon released in beta this week its Kindle for PC application, and educators will welcome this development. Even though you have heard me rant a bit about the anti-education direction the company has taken in the development of the Kindle ereader (loss of SD card slot, loss of replaceable battery, loss of external Whispernet on-off button, and so forth), I have been generally more positive about the development of the online and now software tools that the company has created to support the use of the device: Kindle for iPhone app–great, addition of ability to view notes and marks online–fabulous, and now, Kindle for PC–not bad at all.

Ereader software for computers is one area in which Amazon has NOT led the way; many, many companies have created ereader software for devices from the Palm Pilot to the netbook. These providers have contributed to the current plethora of formats for ebooks, and each has tried, in its own way, to lock readers in to a particular format, all the better to lock in business with them. This is a game that Amazon knows well and has played aggressively with its closed system and its proprietary format.

Adding a desktop app that integrates with your Kindle library and, of course, the Kindle Store, can be construed as just another tactic in the battle for business. But for educators, “this time we win!” (to quote Brad Pitt’s line from The Mexican). Why? Well, let’s start with the fact that, while there aren’t a whole lot of Kindles in schools these days, there sure are a heck of a lot of computers! Now, any student who goes to the library to study or who fires up the computer at home can view content in the format exclusive to the Kindle. With the popularity of the Kindle and the “cool factor” that it brings, this may be the way that schools and educators begin to think about making academic reading content available across their networks. Kids “get” the idea of a Kindle, and now that idea is readily available at every school in the country.

Could kids have been reading ebooks at school before Kindle for PC (KFPC)? Sure they could have, but in fact they weren’t. Now there is a model in place for a “anywhere, anytime reading” that includes the PC on the desk over there and the ereader device in my bag (and the iPhone in my pocket). Could this arrangement have been cobbled together before KFPC? Sure it could, but it wasn’t very convenient. Now it is. A win for the consumer mentality applied to the schoolhouse.

David Rothman at TeleRead has a nice review of KFPC from an ebook reader’s perspective that I don’t need to repeat here. The software is very basic, with a plain interface, and very few tweakable options that allow you to customize the interface. No two-page reading pane, that sort of thing. Can’t make notes while reading (a limitation for educational uses that amazon is working on correcting). But teachers like simple, teachers like things that don’t crash. So, for me, I think this app is a solid step forward for doing business with Amazon in an academic context.

And what is even better, maybe, for folks like Kathy Parker and her Kindle Crew out there in Seneca IL, is that a PC station qualifies as one of the six devices onto which most Kindle books can be downloaded and viewed. The minute I loaded the app and connected with the mother ship, a new mobile device popped up in my list of such devices on the “Manage Your Kindle” page: “William’s Kindle for PC”, right there next to “Will’s iPhone.”

Educators should not be confused by others’ confusion over whether KFPC will display books not obtained form the Amazon Kindle Store.a_book It absolutely will. In fact, once you open a “free” book that you got from Project Gutenberg in the Mobipocket format that the Kindle prefers, it will appear in your onboard KFPC library unless you remove it. In fact, all the books on your computer that are formatted a Mobipocket files will take on the KFPC icon image shown here. If you look quickly, you can watch the transformation take place. This makes it easy to check a file, a position number, a Table of Contents–whatever–on your PC before you view it on your Kindle. Handy.

For example, I created an article from Wikipedia using the Kindlepedia tool about the Berlin Wall. You can download it here. Once it is on your desktop, the icon will look like the book above, and it will go into your onboard library (NOT the library at the mother ship) and open up for reading. Note that this version of the article appears in full color and nice, sharp resolution on the screen. And if you don’t finish reading it in KFPC, just pop the file onto your Kindle and read up on this topic later. Really handy.

So its a big thumbs up for Kindle for PC from an educator’s standpoint. I will look forward to comment from other Kindle-curious educators about KFPC and the ways it makes ebook reading a reality in schools.

Kindle for Mac, anyone? (Amazon says it is on the way.)

  6 comments for “Kindle for PC – What’s in it for Educators?

  1. Gene Venable
    December 28, 2009 at 1:32 am

    Kindle for PC has a HUGE advantage that reviewers seem to be overlooking. You can read your Kindle book and take advantage of the OTHER software you have on your PC while reading the book. For example, I use the no-cost mind-mapping software Freemind while reading — that is impossible on a Kindle, but easy with Kindle for PC. Also, when I want to browse the web, I can switch to whatever browser I choose, such as my current favorite, the Google Chrome browser — but next week I might rather run Opera — no problem!

    It also happens that you can easily use Kindle for PC in conjunction with Wine on a Linux machine — set Wine to emulate Windows 98 for best results. I am not a Wine expert, but I got it working with no special effort in Ubuntu on my ASUS eee PC 1000h, and under Windows 7 as well.

    I find myself using Kindle for PC for about half of my reading, despite the fact that I own a Kindle 2.

    Kindle for PC has a few drawbacks — but notice that when you start to wish for more, it means that whatever you are doing must be working fairly well — revisit your adolescence for an example. Kindle for PC doesn’t support mark and transfer, aka copy and paste — so when you want to preserve information, you have to type it in as new. And as mentioned elsewhere, Kindle for PC doesn’t let you change background or text colors — that is coming soon, I hope. And there is no integrated dictionary, so looking up word meanings isn’t as quite as easy as on a real Kindle.

    But for my money (none, it happens), the advantages of Kindle for PC go above and beyond the price issue, and there will of course be improvements to come. I suspect that Kindle for PC may become a testbed for new features that may later be incorporated in the Kindles of the future. Color, for example, and an actual integrated mind-mapping program that you can freely cut and past to. Yummmm. Those are just the beginning of a great future for Kindles and Kindle for PC.

  2. willd
    November 14, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Diana, great questions. As to the one about the cover, KFPC and other ereaders appear to have a function where they grab the first image in the article and use it for a cover. Note that the title of the article does not appear on this type of cover. If Kindlepedia made covers, we would include the title with the image. So, the cover you see in KFPC was created automatically by KFPC.

    Your other question is a great one as well. Amazon will only archive stuff you bought from them. For anything else you must find your own storage and management. So, you could either email the article to your Kindle using the email address you have for the Kindle you are sending it to (e.g. yourname@kindle.com) and it will appear on the device pretty quickly, or you could follow the procedure you describe: connect your Kindle to the computer with the USB cord and drag the article into your “documents” folder on the Kindle.

    Hope that helps!

  3. Diana
    November 13, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    One more followup question…. in your berlin kindleized wiki article, how did you get the picture to be “the cover”?

  4. Diana
    November 13, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Thanks for that great blog, especialy the part about adding the wiki entries to the KFPC, which I hadn’t thought about. Followup question – when you say that “if you don’t finish reading it in KFPC, just pop the file onto your Kindle and read up on this topic later”, do you mean that I should just turn on the Kindle and sync or do I still need to use the USB cord to put the file on the Kindle? I thought the former, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. Can you Edukindle me?
    Thanks

  5. willd
    November 13, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Thanks Paul. Given the feature wars going on out there, that is a bit of a slip. I regretted in an earlier post the loss of the button to turn off the Whispernet because it meant that I had to have the device in the active mode to even determine whether the battery-eating service was on or off. With the Kindle 1, I could monitor that no matter the on-off-asleep status of the device. That’s from an educator’s perspective–the kind of device management that a teacher might have to perform. In any case, thanks for the comment!

  6. November 12, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Just to correct a miss-statement you made above, the Kindle does not have WiFi. It uses something called Whispersync which uses the mobile phone spectrum. Also, its’ not always on, but can be turned on and off through the Kindle menus.

    Thanks for mentioning David. Regards.

    Paul Biba
    Co-Editor, teleread.org

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