Initial Thoughts on Apple’s New Initiative

When I heard about Apple’s new education initiative, I got excited. For one, it’s Apple. And yes, I’m a fanboy. So, like… Squeeeeeeee.

Tony, you have a problem

But it’s not algebra or geography books geared towards primary education that excites me (although that’s pretty cool), it’s how it could revolutionize IT ebooks.

Right now the primary market for technical books is print books. There are technical eBooks available on a variety of eBook platforms, but for the most part, technical books are a print business, with eBooks as an afterthought.

This approach has worked since the tech industry begain, but it does have its limiations.

For one, tech books usually have a percentage of its content that’s out of date by the time it reaches the shelves. Technical books can take over a year to get from outline to ending up on the shelves, and naturally the fast-paced moves from under the book. And going an update or corrections to a book is a major effort. If it’s C programming, it’s probably not too much of an issue. But a book on FCoE or VXLAN? There’s bound to be lots of changes and corrections within the span of a year.

What do you mean my book on cell phones isn’t current?

Also, eBooks right now are mostly just electronic versions of the paper books (ed: duh). The electronic format could do a whole lot more than just words on page, as shown by Apple in their presentation. With a fully interactive eBook, there could be animations (really awesome for networking flows), interactive quizzes (and huge test banks, not just 10 questions per chapter).

And right now eBooks seem to be an afterthought. Not all physical titles are available in eBook format (hint, several important and influential Fibre Channel books), and the ones that are can seem like a rush job. In my preparation for the CCIE Storage written test, I picked up this ebook on the Kindle platform: CCIE Network Storage. The ebook version was riddled with formatting errors which made it sometimes difficult to follow. Also, it looks like they’ve seem to have even taken it off Kindle.

Right now my favorite eBook format is the Kindle. Despite being an Apple fanboy, Kindle has the largest library of technical books, by far. And Kindle’s reader and cloud storage make managing your library stupid easy. Apple also makes it easier, although the platform is limited to Apple devices, and the tech library doesn’t seem to be as comprehensive. All of this this is in stark contrast to Adobe’s shitty eBook platform, which seems to want to destroy eBooks.

The Controversy

So the controversy is in Apple’s EULA. If you create an iBook with the iBook Author, that “Work” must be distributed through the Apple iBook store if you charge a fee for it. The tricky part is how Apple defines the term “Work”. Right now it’s a bit ambiguous. Some claim that the term “Work” defines the totality of the book. Others (like the Ars article) say “Work” only defines the output of the iBook Author program (PDF of Apple’s proprietary eBook format).

So if I write a book, and create an eBook version of it with Apple’s iBook Author (which looks like it create amazingly interactive ebooks), can I take the material from the book and make a (probably less interactive) Kindle version of the book?

Tony’s Take

Whether you like Apple or not, you have to admit this certainly ups the game. It’s high time eBooks took center stage for technical eBooks, instead of being an afterthought.

Right now the networking and data center landscape is changing fast, and we need new and better ways to cram new knowledge into our brainbags. A good interactive ebook, riddled with animations, audio, and large test banks would certainly go a long way to help. I don’t really care if it’s Apple or Amazon that provide that format. But right now, it looks like Apple is the only one saddling up.

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