Thursday, May 03, 2012

Turning security documents into ebooks

If iPads and iPhones are popular in your organization, you might want to consider distributing organizational security documents in a format that's iOS compatible (policies and procedures, security manuals, and checklists are all good candidates).

While Apple tablets and smart phones can display PDF files, the format isn't very usable on smaller screens. Text doesn't flow correctly due to the device's screen size and the constant scrolling and zooming in and out really detracts from reading.

Instead of PDFs you should be thinking ebook files. Apple and Android tablets and phones have ebook readers (either built-in or freely downloadable) that are designed to make reading and searching certain file types a snap. The most widely used ebook file format is called ePub. And converting Word documents into ePub (and other ebook formats) is surprisingly simple.

The tool of choice is a free (donations appreciated) program called Calibre. Calibre is designed to manage your collection of ebooks but it can also convert ebooks from one format to another; for example you can take an Apple compatible ePub file and convert it to an Amazon Kindle readable Mobi format file. Turning security documents created with Word into ePub files is pretty easy. Here are the basic steps:
  1. Save the Word document as RTF
  2. Run Calibre and add the file to your ebook library
  3. Select the RTF document and convert to ePub
Calibre will crunch away and convert the file, retaining the formatting. When it's finished, the file is ready to distribute as an ebook, and be happily read by staff members on a tablet or phone.

Calibre has been around since 2006 and is widely used and well documented. There are versions for Windows, OS X, and Linux operating systems. It's the defacto tool for ebook geeks, but you don't need to be a techie to successfully use it.

The other tool I have at the ready when creating ebook security documents is called Sigil. It's a free ePub editor. At times Calibre isn't perfect, and the formatting of a converted file can get messed up a bit. In those cases I'll open the file up in Sigil, pretty things up (it's just like using a word processor), then save the changes. Sigil isn't quite as mature as Calibre in terms of usability and reliability (it's still a work in progress), but it's still very useful and usable.

Note: If you're an open-source fan and use OpenOffice or LibreOffice there also are extensions available that allow you to create ePub files from within the word processor (such as Writer2ePub). I haven't had any experience with these add-ons, but they may be worth checking out.



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