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Kindle and Calibre

2010-06-24 3 min read Electronics Anonymous marco

I’ve been using Calibre on and off to get content to my Kindle, and I have to admit the software is gaining a lot in functionality as it matures. The version label (currently 0.6.42) doesn’t do functionality, stability, and ease of use justice at all, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a Kindle, regardless of use.

What do I do with it? I mainly add all those files I couldn’t otherwise read on Kindle. Calibre allows me to easily do the following:

  • Display web pages
  • Get RSS feeds
  • Convert text-based PDF files
  • Show ePub files
  • Access Project Gutenberg ebooks

The flow I have to follow for each task is slightly different, but all in all they are fairly easy to get used to and in some cases downright simple.

To get a web page onto your Kindle, for instance, you just save the page as HTML and convert it by simply adding it as a new ebook to Calibre. You automatically get the best feature of Calibre: once you tell it what the target device is (Kindle, in this case), it will automatically convert to a format (.mobi) that works on that device, and it will format the ebook for he device properties.

RSS feeds are solved differently (and justly so) in that they are scheduled in a separate module. You can add your own RSS feeds, and there are some pre-defined ones. The adding process is not as straightforward as it could be, mostly because RSS feeds are so different – some come with full articles, others with a brief preview, others still with just a link. Once you choose the feeds your are interested in, you decide how often you want them updated, and Calibre will download, convert, and push as often as you’d like.

For PDF and ePub files, the process is the same as for web pages. The main difference here is that some PDF and ePub files are protected. Calibre doesn’t know how to deal with that (which is quite to be expected). Otherwise, it does a pretty good job, handling only headers and footers poorly.

Gutenberg is finally smarting up to Kindle and is starting to publish some of its ebooks in .mobi format. That means you can download them straight to your computer and either add them using Calibre of simply adding them to your Kindle documents folder. Really dead simple.

I would be perfectly happy with Calibre if it added just two features:

  1. Sharing of “recipes.” Things like RSS feeds and header/footer detection need advanced settings that are recipes of some form (XPath for header/footer, for instance). It makes very little sense to write a recipe if you are the only one that uses it, and there is no easy way to share them. I know it’s a pain to set up a repository for automatic sharing, but it would make like so much easier. The current recipe for PDF header/footer, for instance, detects the headers and footers that web browsers put on printed pages. Admittedly a good default – but what am I going to do with the PDF of a book, with the standard chapter heading and page number as h/f?
  2. Direct download of URLs. It annoys me that I have to download a file from the web – be it HTML or .mobi – to add it to my list of books. I guess direct integration with ebook providers (for free or for pay) would be really welcome, as would an option to add a book from URL.

I’ll keep you posted. You should certainly try out the program, though, if you like your Kindle for more than reading Amazon offerings.