This week Microsoft announced the end of its Microsoft Reader eBook platform. Released in 2000 to showcase the software giant’s “ClearType” text display technology for LCD screens, Reader was available nearly a decade before the eBook era ushered in by the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle. Those devices came out four years ago, and at a time when eBook builders were rushing to outdo each other, Microsoft was already preparing its Reader for retirement. The last major update to Microsoft Reader appeared in 2007.
The Microsoft Reader was a stable, usable product; it did what it said it would do. But it only did it on Microsoft platforms (recently, third party readers such as Stanza do provide some cross-platform support). When it came out at the turn of the millennium, Microsoft owned the Internet. By mid-2000, Internet Explorer-enabled systems outnumbered the waning Netscape Navigator variety four to one. IE ran on Windows, Mac, and Unix-based systems. So it was a no-brainer to provide a proprietary Windows-only reading solution.
Then came Kindle. In the four short years since that dedicated device appeared, eBooks have rocked the publishing world. But all that rocking didn’t faze Microsoft. And frankly, it’s not all that surprising. Microsoft is not a content company; it’s a software company. Without a dedicated eBook store (and just 60,000 books across all vendors), without dedicated cross-platform support, and even without a complete book-conversion solution—its conversation kit targets programmers more than publishers—it was only a matter of time before Microsoft announced the end of the product line.
I used to read books on my HP iPAQ using the Microsoft Reader. It was basic, but it worked. Now it won’t work at all. Starting this November, no new “lit” format books will be published, and full support will end on August 30, 2012.