Microsoft Reader is free software designed to display books onscreen in an appealing way. It’s available for Windows computers, as well as being supplied with most Pocket PCs.

Microsoft’s copyright protection scheme was broken by hackers, so Microsoft has just rewritten the program. As an inducement for you to install the new version and try it out, Microsoft is releasing three free bestsellers a week for the next few months. Here’s the page where you can get the free books. This week it includes A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, which is simply brilliant – an entertaining and readable overview of current science. Future weeks will include The Joy Luck Club, Get Shorty, and The Blind Assassin.

It’s a bit unfortunate that reading “protected” books using Microsoft Reader means going through the process of “activating” your copy of Reader so that the built-in digital rights management can limit your ability to use the files. The “activation” process relies on the Microsoft Passport system, which I find very confusing. In my case, the “activation” procedure was also completely broken – I got caught in an endless loop online that took far too long to resolve.

So don’t forget that free books for Microsoft Reader are widely available. Project Gutenberg is doing a wonderful job with books in the public domain, and The University of Virginia has a particularly good collection of books for Microsoft Reader as well as for a similar reader for Palms and a few other formats.

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