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BY NICO VREELAND

[UPDATE: In my reliance on Adobe Digital Editions, I overlooked the fact that Sony EBL nows does the Adobe DRM internally, so you will be able to use library ebooks and ebooks from non-Sony stores with your Mac-based Reader. That was my oversight, and I apologize for it.

There’s one little annoyance left: you’ll have to find a Windows machine and register your Reader with Adobe on it, and then you’ll need to install ADE along with eBook Library on your Mac. A helpful TeleRead commenter has posted a step-by-step guide on what to do. I’ve revised the post below to reflect this information.

Also, a commenter mentioned below that these steps aren’t necessary with the PRS-600 armed with a new firmware (I was using a PRS-505 for this test). I’m still trying to get Sony to specify what’s needed by which devices.]

When I first got my Sony Reader, I used Sony’s eBook Library software on my old laptop running Windows 7. The results were not good. In fact, it was pretty much unusable; in fact, the best part about eBook Library was how unnecessary it was to the Sony Reader. I introduced my Reader to Adobe Digital Editions and never look back.

In the 8 months between then and now, I’ve switched to a Mac laptop, and Sony’s had plenty of time to improve their software and finally, finally make a Mac version. So my first question is this: is it better? My second, more realistic question: is it even usable?

The short answers are no, and not really barely. Even worse, Adobe Digital Editions doesn’t recognize the Reader, so Sony’s newly hyped library ebooks won’t work on Macs. The long and the short of it is that Mac users should think long and hard about getting a Reader. so you’ll need to find a Windows machine to register your Reader with Adobe, and then you’ll need to install ADE on your Mac, even though you’ll never use it (a helpful TeleRead commenter has a step-by-step guide here). The long and the short of it is that Sony clearly doesn’t like Macs, but if you can put up with some hassle and confusion (as you can tell, this system confused me to no end), you can indeed get ebooks on your Reader through a Mac.

Let’s get into the details.


Library eBook support: B

Adobe Digital Editions, which enables the DRM on PDF and ePub library ebooks, doesn’t recognize the Reader at all. This isn’t a bug, or an oversight; this is a known issue, as Adobe said when I started a support thread on it.

This is slightly shocking, seeing as library ebook support was the issue of the day at Sony’s big announcement Tuesday. You’d think they’d at least mention somewhere that it won’t be available on Macs.

It also means that Sony’s vaunted content “relationships” are unavailable for Mac users. Without ADE, you can’t buy books from any store but Sony’s.

What Sony’s done instead is allow their eBook Library software to open and work with Adobe DRMed ebooks. But you’ll still to install ADE on your Mac to register your computer with your Adobe account and enable EBL to use Adobe DRM. And you’ll need to register your Reader with Adobe on a Windows machine before you can use it on your Mac. Sound confusing? It is.

[UPDATE: Once again, a commenter mentioned below that these steps aren’t necessary with the PRS-600 (or presumably the 300) armed with a new firmware (I was using a PRS-505 for this test). I’m still trying to get Sony to specify what’s needed by which devices.]


Stability: F

EBL for Mac crashes. A lot. Like half a dozen times in just my first session using it. I’ve never used a Mac program that crashes this much―granted I’m relatively new to Macs, but I’ve still tried at least 100 programs.

Also, if you use Camino and you click the download link directly from Sony’s page, it tries to open the .dmg file in a browser window and crashes Camino. It works in Safari, but that wasn’t a good introduction to the program.

It doesn’t get much better from here.


 

Looks and Interface: D

The book management interface (see above) abandons that terrible lavender-vomit color scheme. But the ebook store section of the app (pictured at left) is just a ported copy of their website, so it’s just as ugly.

As far as interface, there are some nuisances. First of all, every time you start the program, it requires you to retype your password (that is, if it didn’t crash, forgetting all your login information).

The best thing about Sony’s software is that it allows you to create and manage folders (called “collections”) for your books, but even this feature is kludgy and annoying. You can’t drag a book directly into a collection on your Reader from your main library, you have to first drag it to your Reader or SD card, and from there find it again, and then drag it to the collection you want it in. Blech.

And, not surprisingly, the software still can’t edit metadata, so you’ll still have to rely on Calibre for those needs.

On the plus side, the issue where the interface “appears to freeze” has been more or less resolved. Congratulations!


 

RSS feeds: C-

RSS feeds through Sony are often impossible. Certain feeds crash the program immediately, and when I did get an RSS feed to update, it sometimes created empty files for no reason. When I did get an actual feed packaged, it didn’t look great (pictured).

Once again, Calibre is much better at managing this kind of stuff for your Reader than Sony’s own software is.


Sony’s eBook Store: D

Why are my expectations still this high?

Sony’s been making a lot of news recently about opening up its bookstore. Lower prices, ePub format throughout, and relationships with other content providers―all of those have been points of pride for Sony. Well, Mac users can cross that last point off immediately: no Adobe support means no other bookstores for us.

As far as ePub, nothing in the eBook Library program will tell you whether a Sony ebook is in ePub or BBeB (the proprietary format that Sony is planning to abandon). Once again, you’ll have to use Calibre to find out if the books you’ve bought are ePub or BBeB (they’ll show up as “.lrx” extensions if it’s the latter). Safe to assume for now that all Sony ebooks are BBeB-formatted, which is another disincentive to buy from Sony.

As far as price, the books I wanted were generally not in the sub-$10 price range. Ravens and Picking Cotton were just 30% off the print hardcover list price, about what you could buy the print edition for at a bookstore.

The bottom line is that the Sony ebookstore is simply not good enough yet to sustain an ereader on its own. Which makes the Sony Reader a very unattractive option for any Mac user. (The exception is that, for readers of non-DRMed or out-of-copyright books, the Sony store works fine.)


Tech Support: F- (If only there were a lower grade)

Here’s my little tale of woe.

I emailed Sony saying that my Reader didn’t talk to Adobe Digital Editions, and they told me they didn’t support Macs at all.

I emailed them back saying they did and giving them the link to their own download page.

They then re-emailed, very proudly told me that they now support Macs, and gave me the link I’d just given them.

I emailed them back saying I already had the software, and restating my original question.

They said my problem was too complicated for email and I need to call in.

I called in and they said I had to call Adobe and gave me a number (that couldn’t have been accomplished over email, I guess.

I called Adobe and Adobe never picked up.

I posted on the support forum, and Adobe told me that of course my Reader didn’t work with ADE on a Mac, it wasn’t supposed to. Why couldn’t that have been Sony’s response to my original question?

Sony tech support has always been awful, and it continues to be. Adobe sounds like they’ll be happy to help you, as long as you have a support contract. If you don’t, don’t bother calling in.


Overall grade: D-

I’m by no means a technical expert, but I’m above average, and I have a tough time getting Sony’s software to do anything it’s supposed to. In fact, Sony juked me out of my shoes with all these unnecessary (and inconvenient) changes to how Readers work with ADE. Somebody at Sony needs to realize that Kindle is winning customers based on ease of use, and that this lazy, lackluster treatment of Mac users is not going to win them any champions.

More importantly, there’s this: the inability of Mac-authorized Readers to work with Adobe Digital Editions means that Mac users still shouldn’t buy a Sony Reader, unless you use something like Parallels that can run Windows programs. Even then, this complete lack of attention to Mac users isn’t exactly inspirational.

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