January 28, 2010

Requiem for Word RMR

The equivalent of Adobe Acrobat (and its many low-cost clones) is still waiting in the ebook wings. The Kindle now rules the roost, but while Mobipocket Creator can import Word files by doing a Word-to-HTML conversion, it doesn't consistently do a very good job of it.

It messes up chapter titles if you just use returns to create white space. (You have to create a style in Word that defines the white space instead.) The conversion utility won't center text vertically (as on a title page). And complex formatting such as lists will probably get scrambled.

To get the layout right, you really have to dig into the raw XHTML (which isn't all that difficult, but it does intimidate people and it takes more time than it should).

The Word RMR plug-in converts doc files to Microsoft Reader LIT files from within Word (a button on the toolbar). It can't vertically center text either, but it handles lists and blockquotes better and interprets line returns correctly. It also justifies the same as in the original document.

Keep the formatting simple (after a chapter break, two returns, chapter header, two returns, body of text), and the Word RMR plug-in will create decent-looking LIT ebook from a Word document. (You still can't center vertically, so on the title page use a couple of returns instead.)

Alas, LIT is a largely orphaned standard. But even if you can't use it to produce commercial ebooks, you can use Word RMR and Microsoft Reader to quickly create clean-looking, "paperback-style" ebooks during the editorial process. It really does change the way you perceive the text.

With a better interface on the Reader side and support for formats such as MOBI, Microsoft could make Word RMR the one-click equivalent of Acrobat. Microsoft developed the best ebook text display engine but let the platform languish. It really needs to resurrect it and give it a second life.

The Word RMR plug-in was designed to work with Word 2000 and 2003. Word 2007 compatibility is not assured, but from what I've read it kinda mostly works.

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