If you read the comments on my previous post, you’ll see also that Roger Sperberg asked a key question: “Do you think that ebooks — even ones on ereaders that share rendering engines with browsers, like Bookworm — will make more headway on (readability) than the web in general?”
I’m sorry to have to say that the answer is that I’m certain readers will do better – at least the ones that don’t share rendering engines with browsers – and that the Web cannot become a real platform for publishing while the final display of book content for the reader is at the mercy of those different rendering engines, because they destroy any hope of consistency for publishers – even using standard markup.
It’s a sad fact that increasingly-popular Web standards are no help to the online book publisher at all. To test this, I was careful to use only Web-standards HTML and CSS3, and validate it with the W3C’s tools.
However, the same markup rendered differently on each browser. FireFox on Windows, and Internet Explorer, at least have FullScreen views (and the FF developers have done some work on it recently – I can tell because I filed a repaint bug a few weeks ago, and now the problem’s gone…)
I want FullScreen because I want readers to be able to get the effect of the book design without any annoying menus, toolbars, favorites bars or any of the other rubbish which is necessary when you’re browsing, but visually distracting when you’re trying to read. I never want scrolling in a book of this type!
FullScreen doesn’t exist in Safari, or in FireFox on the Macintosh.
Are any of the browser developers listening to publishers of content meant for sustained, immersive reading? It doesn’t look like it to me.
The potential of the Web for illustrated content ought to be huge. For example, there are thousands of beautifully illustrated books which not many people can afford – like for instance, the Arthur Rackham-illustrated version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It ought to be easily possible to put works like this online. But the only really satisfactory versions of these I’ve seen are in “reader” applications created for that purpose (either as browser plugins or standalone applications).
As long as there’s no consistency between rendering on different Web browsers, they’ll never be able to handle this kind of content in the right way. And does anyone seriously believe we’d ever get all the browser teams to agree to do this? No chance whatsoever.
One interesting fact I did find during this experiment was that – on my 133ppi machine – the best rendering of the text itself, in the particular font I used, was on the Macintosh, and not using ClearType on Windows…
Don’t get me wrong. I still believe that the best reading experience you can get is on Windows, using ClearType with a font optimized for that purpose.
However, creating a font like that involves a non-trivial amount of hinting. The font I chose for the book was Papyrus, which isn’t well-hinted at all, and has a deliberately-ragged edge to the characters, which are themselves pretty thin and spidery.
I picked Papyrus for its artistic look. It suited the content admirably, and works nicely when printed. On the screen, however, the best-rendered versions are definitely the ones created using the Macintosh engine. It’s probably also a result of the higher resolution of this screen. At lower resolutions, Mac rendering is blurrier – but the blur becomes less intrusive as resolution gets better. I’ve included a comparison below as a 24-bit bitmap graphic so there’s no fudging of the issue by JPEG or other compression. Click on it to see the actual unscaled image.