NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, September 2012
Microsoft Offers a Dozen Free E-Books
By Ira Wilsker, Radio Show Host,
Columnist, College Professor and deputy sheriff
(click to email author)


We all like getting something for free. In the past I have written about the thousands of free e-books from Amazon, Google, and other sources. A quick review of Amazon indicates that almost all currently published commercial books, including many college textbooks, are now available in digital format in addition to the bound paper versions. For all of the courses in my program at my college, the students have the option of using free online textbooks. Microsoft has now joined the free e-book club.

For those who may not be aware, e-books are generally full length books of all genres', complete with images and graphics, in color, that can be displayed on a variety of digital devices. Among the most popular e-book readers are Amazon's Kindle, Barnes and Noble's Nook, tablet devices such as the iPad, smart phones, and conventional laptop and desktop computers. E-books are exploding in popularity because they are often cost efficient (no paper, ink, publishing or shipping costs), and extremely economical in terms of space and weight; thousands of digital e-books can be stored on a reader, the device itself only weighing mere ounces. Many of the e-book providers, such as Amazon, allow the user to create a "cloud storage" account, which will store any of the e-books purchased or obtained for free, and then be viewed interchangeably using any compatible device. Personally, I have used Amazon's cloud service to access e-books on my laptop and desktop computers, as well as my smart phone. E-books are also immensely popular with those who promote a "green agenda" because no trees are harmed in their publishing (no paper), and no diesel is burned getting printed books to market.

One company that many people have a love-hate relationship with is Microsoft. While not generally known for giving away valuable content for free, Microsoft, through its Microsoft Press division, has made available over a dozen of its popular instructional books for just that price, free. These free editions, complete in all respects, are available for download from Microsoft in most of the popular digital formats, including PDF, .mobi, and ePub formats.

Digital e-books from any source in the popular PDF or "Portable Document Format" can be viewed on all devices using any one of the many free PDF readers. While the free PDF viewer from Adobe is probably the best known, and available for most operating systems including Windows, iOS, Mac, Android, and others, there are literally dozens (if not more) of free PDF viewers available that can display e-books in PDF format on just about any contemporary computer or smart device.

The .mobi format is very popular, and can be viewed on an Amazon Kindle as well as most devices running Windows, Symbian, BlackBerry and Palm operating systems; .mobi documents can also be viewed on Linux or Mac OS X devices using WINE. Amazon has made free Kindle viewers available for almost all computers and smart devices, including Android and iOS (Apple).

EPub, an acronym for "Electronic Publication", is a free, open source format that is becoming increasingly popular, with free readers available for almost every operating system, computer, and smart device. One advantage of using an ePub formatted publication on an ePub reader (according to Wikipedia) is, "EPUB is designed for reflowable content, meaning that the text display can be optimized for the particular display device used by the reader of the EPUB-formatted book." Regardless of the size of the screen, resolution, or font, ePub formatted documents are often among the most readable documents in terms of visualization.

The dozen free e-books currently offered by Microsoft cover a variety of software topics, including Office 2010, the new Office 365, several of the versions of Microsoft Server software, "Security and Privacy for Microsoft Office 2010 Users", Windows 7, Programming Windows 8 Apps, Visual Studio, and Programming Windows 7 Phone.

The first of the free Microsoft e-books that I downloaded was the 10.4 mb PDF version of "First Look Microsoft Office 2010". Consisting of 14 chapters on 202 pages, this book is a comprehensive guide to using all of the functions and features available in the Microsoft Office 2010 suite of programs, including Word, Publisher, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Outlook. This e-book, in PDF format, would be very helpful for anyone using Office 2010; I have recommended this free e-book to my college students, as well as to my students in my adult education classes. The most common response I get from my adult education students who used this e-book is, "You can't beat free!" I keep a copy of this e-book in PDF format on all of my computers, both at home, in my office, and on my laptop so I can have assistance with any Office issues that may arise.

Another of the free e-books that I have downloaded, and recommended to my faculty, is the PDF version of Microsoft Office 365. For those who might not be aware, the next major release of Microsoft office will be the Office 365 product that utilizes cloud computing to supplement the traditional computer based software. According to Microsoft, on the Office 365 e-book webpage, "It is secure, anywhere access to email and calendars, Office Web Apps, instant messaging, conferencing, and file sharing. ... So where is this cloud? The real definition of the phrase "cloud computing" simply means the ability to access files and applications online through multiple devices; your computer, browser, or phone." Microsoft has started promoting Office 365 as the replacement to Office 2010, and many businesses, educational institutions (including mine), and individuals are moving towards Office 365. The Office 365 e-book is a healthy 21.1 mb PDF download, and 337 pages in length. This e-book is also available in .mobi and ePub formats which can be viewed on many digital devices. Microsoft has announced that updated and revised editions of this book will become available in the future from the free e-book website.

Microsoft has been promoting smart phones and tablets using a form of Windows 7 to compete against the more common Android and iOS (Apple) devices. As Windows 7 phones increase in sales and popularity, it is inevitable that people would want to write apps (applications) for it, and Microsoft obliges by releasing a free e-book "Programming Windows Phone 7" in PDF (38.6 mb download), .mobi, and ePub formats. In addition to the e-book itself, Microsoft has also released sample program code in the C# and Visual Basic that follows the content as presented in the e-book. The program code is available from the same download page as the e-book.

With the near term release of Microsoft's newest operating system, Windows 8, programmers are eager to write programs and applications for Windows 8, which will have builds for computers, smart phones, tablets, and other digital devices. In order to help enable the creation of compatible software and apps, Microsoft press has published an early version of "Programming Windows 8 Apps with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript". Currently available only in PDF format as a "First Preview" (4.34 mb download), the .mobi and ePub versions will be available when the final version is released. Being a preview edition, the currently available Programming Windows 8 e-book is only the first four chapters of an 18 chapter book. In addition to the chapters, 27.5 mb of sample code is available from the e-book download page.

With several other free e-books available from Microsoft Press, the widespread use of Microsoft Office products, and the expansion of the Windows 7 and Windows 8 operating systems to a variety of devices, there is likely a free Microsoft e-book that most Microsoft users will find useful and advantageous.

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