Hands-On with Microsoft’s New Books Experience

Posted on January 19, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Music + Videos, Windows 10 with 57 Comments

Hands-On with Microsoft's New Books Experience

Microsoft is adding a new e-book store and reading experience to Windows 10 with the Creators Update. Here’s a quick peek at how this will work.

Microsoft’s e-book experiences were outed earlier this week, though I expressed my concerns about trusting Microsoft as a content provider, especially since the content is locked to Windows 10. But this is a major new initiative and it deserves a look.

Which is now possible if you’re a Windows Insider on the Fast ring and live in the United States, thanks to the release of Windows 10 Insider Preview build 15014. (Presumably, these experiences will be available to a broader audience when the Creators Update ships in March/April. But given Microsoft’s history, those outside the U.S. are right to worry, I think.)

In any event, the e-book experience in Windows 10 will be comprised of three major pieces: A new Books area in Windows Store, and library and reading interfaces in Microsoft Edge. (Why Microsoft hasn’t created its own standalone e-book reader app is unclear.)

Books in the store

Thanks to a new Books area in the Windows Store app–which sits alongside previous areas like Apps, Games, Music, and Movies & TV—you can now browse for e-books too.

The Books area looks and works like the other top-level areas in the Store, and provides collections such as Top Books, New Books, and the like. There are category areas as well.

It’s not clear yet how Microsoft’s e-book store compares to, say, Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, or Google Play Books, but I checked it against my previous several purchases on Kindle and only some were available from Microsoft too. This includes traditional text-based books, plus some graphic novels, though those in The Walking Dead series were among the missing. My gut feeling is that Kindle is by far the richest and biggest e-book platform and will remain so forever, effectively. But we’ll see how Microsoft grows its own store.

What’s not available here, however, are periodicals—newspapers and magazines—or the ability to subscribe to such things, and could limit the appeal of this store.

The purchase experience works exactly as it does for apps and other content, as it should. This is one aspect of Windows Store that Microsoft has gotten right.

Books library in Microsoft Edge

Your e-book library is available via the Hubs experience in Microsoft Edge, which is accessed via a button in that browser’s toolbar, next to the Address Bar. Today, in Windows 10, Edge’s Hubs UI provides access to your Favorites, Reading list, History, and Downloads. But with the Creators Update, there is a new entry for Books, which sits right in the middle of those four other buttons.

The Books hub works as expected, listing the e-books you’ve purchased from Microsoft’s Books store in a nice graphical layout that shows off each book’s cover design. Obviously, you just select a book to begin reading it.

Oddly, you can’t also add any unprotected E-PUB documents or PDF files to your library, and then sync them to the cloud, making them accessible on other Windows 10 devices. That seems like an obvious feature.

Reading experience in Microsoft Edge

With the Creators Update, Microsoft Edge is, ahem, edging further from its traditional role as a web browser and into a new role as a digital reading hub. The Reading list feature was the first hint at this new direction, as it brought functionality into the browser that, in Windows 8, was served by a separate app. The additional of e-book support is, of course, another big step.

The issue with both Reading list and Edge’s e-book support is that they are exclusive to Windows 10, which is itself only popular on PCs. This just isn’t how or where most people want to read and until/unless all of this functionality is available on popular mobile platforms, it’s not clear how successful it can be.

My criticisms aside, Microsoft really has nailed the reading experience in Microsoft Edge, which neatly demonstrates how good text can look on modern, high-DPI screens. (This is true on the web and with Reading list as well, of course.)

All the expected customization is there, from fonts and text spacing and sizes to themes. You can navigate through a book using its table of contents or a Groove-like scrubber at the bottom. (It works much like other e-reader experiences, in other words.)

Is it weird reading e-books in a web browser? A little bit, but then I’ve always found Edge to work well with PDFs. There are bigger issues, as noted: The lack of compatibility with popular mobile platforms, of course, and the lack of support for periodical support.

But why stop at e-books? With Audible dropping its exclusivity arrangement with Apple iBooks today, I’m wondering now if Microsoft will be adding audiobook support to Windows 10 and the Windows Store next.

Maybe that can be a feature for Redstone 3.

Join the discussion!

BECOME A THURROTT MEMBER:

Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Register
Comments (58)

58 responses to “Hands-On with Microsoft’s New Books Experience”

  1. 1143

    Microsoft is trying to define a new category of devices. One that does not depend on dedicated apps. The pieces are coming together.

    1. Cellular PC

    2. Windows on ARMs

    3. Windows Shell that changes the look of the UI based on the type of device.

    4. Adding phone functions into Windows 10.

    This eBook reader will be great on a 6" (same size as a Kindle) Windows Cellular PC running the ARMs processor with the new Windows Shell.

  2. 10139

    Presumably, these experiences will be available to a broader audience when the Creators Update ships in March/April. But given Microsoft’s history, those outside the U.S. are right to worry, I think.)

    That is Microsofts biggest problem, outside the US windows 10 loses a lot of features, Microsoft seem to believe that US is the whole world. That one of the reason why apple and google are growing in the world market, they see the world as the market, not just the US.

    In south africa we have watered down store, we don't have access tot he movies/tv series, no music.. We don't even have groove pass.. One plus is the Crotana does not work either here. Which irritated me when I got Forza Horizon 3, as I could not use the groove radio station as that apparently requires a groove pass.

    So I don't think the books feature will be available in too many markets outside the US. They will let apple and google take that market.

    • 9201

      In reply to fbman:

      Microsoft has always been US centric. Google and Apple have a global perspective and understand there is world outside of the US, and hence why they dominate in consumer services. (c.f. Xbox Services and Cortana are really lame outside US and a few countries.)

      Most consumers no longer trust or want the Microsoft brand in their leisure pursuits, and Microsoft still don't, and never will, get it.  

    • 5496

      In reply to fbman:

      Not being available outside the US have more to do with the content providers then anything.

      • 1294

        In reply to lordbaal1:

        yeah, but they don't even try.  latin america is considered a single region for cable television, no matter where you are, if you pay for cable you get the same TNT, the same FOX, the same History Channel, so they don't have to provide a country based service, instead is region based.

        They never made any attempt to push the Band outside of the handful of countries that had it, even though there is not any content associated with it, it was just a wrist sensor.

        Here you find Play Stations in every store, but most countries are not even supported by Xbox Live, so while Sony sells their games officially, if you have an Xbox here you have to set it to a neighbor country or US, because your country is not really supported.  And yes, we do have local Microsoft offices, but they only push software.

      • 1377

        In reply to lordbaal1:

        All the content providers favor Apple? Or do they all just distrust MSFT?

        How about Netflix's latest quarterly results? Maybe MSFT needs to make its own TV shows.

  3. 5510

    This statement is wrong: "The issue with both Reading list and Edge’s e-book support is that they are exclusive to Windows 10, which is itself only popular on PCs. This just isn’t how or where most people want to read and until/unless all of this functionality is available on popular mobile platforms, it’s not clear how successful it can be."

    In addition, I also heard what Paul said about this topic on Windows Weekly. Though, the majority of what he stated in the podcast are points that I agree with, he is forgetting the fact that Windows 10 is already a mobile OS because it supports the newer technologies such as the 2-in-1 computers. Therefore the idea that "This just isn’t how or where most people want to read," is inaccurate. After all, isn't Microsoft "pushing" and trying to advance the 2-in-1 market and their Surface line? 

    I agree with everything else. Microsoft simply is not trustworthy as a content provider. To be honest, this UI, reminds me a whole lot the Zune Store. LOL...we know how that turned out.

    There is only going to be one way Microsoft will succeed with this and it's a two-parter. ONE, make a mobile Edge browser for Android and iOS; TWO, undercut Amazon's prices by alot.  If they can't do that, then God help the fool who will think to invest in a mirage that will eventually fade away.

    • 5554

      In reply to Bats:

      "disagree" all you want but the miniscule  2-in-1's market isn't looking for yet another ebook reader and store. 

      And basing this on a browser that only works on one version of one operating system is also completely idiotic, like most of MS's bad decisions in this Metro era of suck.

    • 1377

      In reply to Bats:

      How many Windows tablets, convertibles and 2-in-1s are there in use today? I figure fewer than 1/10 as many as Android phones and tablets (including Kindles) and iPhones and iPads. Maybe fewer than 1/100 as many.

      MSFT sure isn't trying for a large customer base tying its bookstore to Edge.

      • 8172

        In reply to hrlngrv:
        If just a small percentage of Windows 10 users end up using this service then it will be a success... You people seem to think that you have to be #1 or #2 to be successful, but that's not true... How many car brands are out there that make a profit?... TV brands, bicycles, motorcycles?... Quite a few!
        Being #1 or #2 is a good thing, but it's not critical for success!

         

        • 1377

          In reply to billreilly:

          Automobiles are the most outstanding example of a global industry with considerable overcapacity which, at least outside the US, soaks up government subsidies to keep voters happy.

          eBooks are a market where MSFT, Apple, Google and Amazon are intermediaries, where margins are and should be thin, and where risks are considerable due to the possibility of security breaches and theft of customer account data. That is, a low revenue-high risk business which makes money on VOLUME. The more the volume, the better the business model. The lower the volume, the worse the business model. By locking itself into using Edge, the browser used by fewer than 1 out of 5 Windows 10 PC users, MSFT is guaranteeing low volume, so ensuring a suboptimal business model.

          Do you believe it's impossible or even moderately difficult for MSFT to have IE11 also support their eBooks?

  4. 5577

     Honestly, I just don't get Microsoft. They are huge company, but they always seem to do everything half-assed. Why are they launching a bookstore over a decade after Amazon did it? Do they really see a viable business here? Or are they just totally unrealistic? What would be their advantage over Amazon or other established player?

    Given the failure of things like Plays For Sure, why would I ever trust Microsoft with this sort of service?

  5. 5349

    unprotected epubs? Aren't they all unprotected? They're just repurposed zip files. change the extension to zip and it should open. But I only have a very surface knowledge of these so I could be wrong.

  6. 5592

    Looks like a lot of the late Bill Hill's OSPREY reading technology is there.

    Nice to see somebody actually caring about how books and their amazingly refined UI really work.

  7. 1292

    For those of us that hope that the Store takes off in a real meaningful way rather than dying on the vine, this is a welcome addition. Sadly I suspect it to be U.S only for short to medium term.

  8. 9903

    The pdf app should have been the perfect app for this reading solution. Also at this poiny microsoft should have bought a booking company to enhance its collection or something. because knowing them this is going to be behind the rest

  9. 459

    I bought SevenEves by Neil Stephenson to test. I just read the first chapter on my Surface Pro4 in Portrait mode. Not bad at all. This could actually work! (And the start of the novel is amazing!)

  10. 5767

    Why should I use MS services for anything? 

    These are what I use:

    Apple Music, Google Services(Search, Maps, Music, Mail, Youtube), Chrome.

    Why should I use Groove or MS eBooks? There are no compelling reasons.

    • 4800

      In reply to MutualCore:

      There is always reasons for having more competition.  Even if you don't use Microsoft Services it will push the providers you do use to compete for your business.  Also if Google ever does something to make you upset you have a place to go.

  11. 5538

    They really should have had a separate app for books. I don't think of going to Edge to find my library of books. I think of Edge for internet, but if they want to dilute that name with other things then they can go ahead and continue to just suck.

  12. 8035

    Didn't Microsoft purchase part of Barnes and Noble years ago? What ever happened to that collaboration? It could have led to something great.

  13. 2238

    This will become more intriguing to me when I can side load my own (non-MS Store) e-pubs into the library.  I like the size of my Surface Pro 3 as an e-reader for technical books, especially if there are a lot of illustrations, but the touch-based apps I've tried so far don't render e-pubs as well (or as consistently) as iBooks.  I have a fairly large e-pub library already *coughfieldguidecough* and it would be great to add them to my Windows Books library if the rendering is good.  Hopefully OneDrive integration is down the road.

  14. 5520

    In reply to MutualCore:

    "no compelling reason"?

    Which airline do you habitually fly on? Aren't you glad they have competitors to help keep their prices in check even if you don't happen to use their services?

  15. 397

    As the likes of Zune etc never made it to the shores of the UK, this is not a facility I'd ever look at even if it came here.  Sorry, I cannot trust Microsoft as a content provider, period, and just don't want to know.  How long will my content be available?  Even the News app is peppered with "sponsored" news (read ads) and the front page of Edge is the same.  Far better stick with tried and trusted sources such as Amazon for example, who at least have a good track record.

  16. 397

    I see the provision of e-books as a way to try and convince users to migrate to Edge more than anything.

  17. 5314

    Surely the killer app here would be a deep ink integration a strong focus on textbooks and a great document library database? 

    Imagine loading up your textbook (or PDFs)  with searchable handwritten notes, highlights etc and, because it's in Edge, cortana and lookup functionality. 

    Get edge onto the major phone/tablet platforms and you've got a solid niche for yourself.

    I appreciate that most of that could be done in OneNote but it would get around the weaknesses it has with large document handling and organision.  

  18. 2787

    Since my initial foray into a single screen to replace multiple paper 'things' - starting with my first Palm Pilot that replaced multiple contacts lists and calendars and eventually to some degree many of my books - I've used 'devices' to consolidate my consumption (and lately content creating) on to, as much as possible, a single device.  I've learned that a single size screen is not be the best way to view everything, so now I'm more interested in a single experience that can be used across all screen sizes.  Today, I primarily use three screens - phone, tablet and PC (actually my Surface, dock and monitor) - that can access all of the stuff I view or create.  If Microsoft were to incorporated both Nook and Kindle formats viewing ability into their Edge "reader" I could consolidate my libraries of these formats into a single library.  Of course, a dedicated E-Reader available on Android and iOS as well as Windows would make that single library available on my Android phone and further advance my single experience agenda. As availability across platforms, now primarily through apps, continues, the platforms themselves become less important leaving only the uniformity of experience on any screen size.

  19. 7355

    Like Windows Mobile it suffers from one fatal flaw that will always limit its market. It is several years late. 

  20. 514

    From a content perspective, I don't see this.  Certainly as currently implemented in the latest fast ring insider update, it's fine.  But Amazon (within a month or two) will have over 5 million titles in its eBook store.  Maybe as much as 40-50% of that represents titles from indie authors, and Amazon's own publishing imprints -- probably never to be available from the MS book store. 

    Over time much (perhaps most) published mass market material will bypass the traditional publisher's distribution channels (authors get far higher royalties, and retain the rights to their stuff by pursuing the indie route).

    Short of MS and Amazon doing a distribution deal -- something that seems unlikely given their past history, I can't see this offering as being anything other than a niche product -- it certainly is not going to be a big revenue driver.

    OTOH, in addition to ePub support, it will support the PDF format (but none of the Amazon native formats) -- that might make this an attractive place to view technical manuals.

    This appears to rest on Edge's "reading view" feature, and to that end in the current insider fast ring build, "reading view" scrolling now appears to be horizontally rather than vertically.  For reformatting web pages in general, I much preferred the vertical scroll -- perhaps this will be an option by final release.

  21. 5496

    So what if it's in the browser.

    This is still in beta. You have to get deals with the publisher be Microsoft can put their book in the store.

    Just give it some time.

  22. 131

    It looks like you're doing all your testing in desktop mode.  Does the UI/experience change when in tablet mode?

  23. 8111

    I see this having a chance if the ebooks also could be synced easily to non-Kindle e-readers like Kobo or other brands. And it also should include magazines, newspapers and educational material for schools and universities.

  24. 3180

    I know it's only the first few hours but they don't even have any of the Halo novels in the book store.

    Oh well. I found a book for $0.99 that I can test with. Should be interesting to see how edge holds up as a reader app on a mobile device.

  25. 5539

    They really needed some free demo books out there that were easy to find. If there are any they aren't easy to find. Some MS Press books they tend to give away anyway come to mind. I'm not spending $10-$80 testing this. If these are locked to Win10/Edge, unlikely I'll bite at all. I'll buy from Groove. Those are DRM free and if MS dumps it like Zune, Reader/.lit, Band, their own apps for Windows Phone, I can still listen to my Groove purchases on my iPhone or Pixel. They are really wanting me to pay for books I can get from Project Gutenberg for free in ePub, and limiting me to where I can read them?

    Now, as far as people not wanting to read on Windows, there are plenty of nice book sized (8") Windows tablets from Asus, HP, Dell etc. These things are also real PCs, so better than an iPad in some respects. So the hardware is available, just not well marketed. What else is new.

    Oh, and not letting me include my own ePub/PDF titles in the Book interface? Really?

  26. 8616

    I guess everything depends on how they protect their books. If they're just watermarked and can be downloaded without too much hassle nothing is stopping you from putting them on your favourite reading device. 

  27. 5485

    I find it odd that MS has prioritized the launch of the People Feature (whatever the is) after an entire new business selling eBooks on a PC and Hybrids.

     

  28. 2627

    As you said, there is no use to read books on a pc, except maybe for studying or finding infos while working. I really hope windows will get along with mobile devices sooner than later, because I'm afraid the total of stuff bought on Google Play will eventually prevent me from ever going back to Microsoft.

    • 5134

      In reply to Pierre Masse:

      since Windows 10 is restricted to run on PC only your point really nails it - or does it ?

    • 899

      In reply to Pierre Masse: I do all of my professional/textbook reading in Kindle, Vitalsource Bookshelf, or PDF formats on a Surface Pro 3 or Desktop PC with multiple, large displays. I also use my Surface, occasionally, to read novels that I own on Amazon, although I must admit I still prefer physical books for my most used textbooks and all novels. Transmissive LCD screens still don't match the readability of a well-printed book in my experience. I've not yet owned a PC with an OLED display. But when I can afford one I look forward to giving this new(ish) display technology a try. With their monochrome, reflective, e-ink displays I think a Kindle device would be a good option for reading novels, particularly when outside. My wife loves her Kindle Paperwhite. But the one device I never use for ebook reading, fiction or non, is my phone. It has an excellent FHD transmissive, LCD 5-inch display, but I find it to be way too small for reading e-books. Too much scrolling :)
    • 1377

      In reply to Pierre Masse:

      Picky: Edge runs on WinTel tablets, so not just PCs. However, no books on phones seems beyond foolish.

  29. 10104

    "All the expected customization is there,"

    Oh, man, you really really don't read in a really customizable ebook/software reader. Interline spacing, first line paragraph indent or paragraph spacing, text justification, auto night reading mode, scroll/page, number of columns (with or without column separator), number of pages to finish the current chapter/section, dictionary access, annotation (text Highlights, comments, draw over the text -Windows 10 has INK)... Text to Speech, auto scroll...

    And as said in other comments, you don't read in a PC. You read in a tablet, a phone or a dedicated ebook reader.

    I think this is a loss of time and resources that would be dedicated to resolve other severe problems Windows 10 has, like completely random losing all ink stuff, or keyboard handwrite recognition, or dictation, or typing to nowhere, or make a better tablet interface, or another zillion of improvements. 

     

    • 10104

      In reply to rfog:

      Oh, forgot to say I prefer Edge will sync the reading list and the passwords and other data than having a new dumb ebook reader.

      Yes, I know it syncs, or supposedly syncs, because it never worked reliable for me. I have 5 PC and 5 different reading lists and 5 different credentials list. Sometimes sync, someothers not. As said, I prefer those resources to resolve those nasty problems than to have a new "fashion of the death" crappy ebook reader.

       

      Sigh!

  30. 486

    I'm not running this version, but have a couple of concerns. Does it sync where you left off across devices? And can you make the UI disappear while reading?

  31. 2039

    In reply to Pierre Masse:

    You realize Windows 10 has 12% or something around that of tablet market and it's certainly a place where people want to read books?

    I'd also be amazed if we won't see Edge on Android and iOS by 2018.

    • 5554

      In reply to Vidua:

      Maybe they should fix the world's crappiest, most half baked browser on Windows first before turning people off to it on other platforms. Like the browser still freezing often when opening a new tab.

    • 5539

      In reply to Vidua: Always have to wonder what definition of tablet is being used. Is it size? Lack of keyboard? A Surface Pro 4 with an i7 and a TB SSD doesn't ship with a keyboard. Is it considered in the  same bucket as a Nexus 7? Is a tablet something that could be used without a keyboard, just touch and pen? I have an ancient 4.5lb 15" Toshiba that came with XP Tablet edition. The screen spins around and folds down over the keyboard. Is it a tablet, just like an iPad mini is? Is an iPad Pro? Would anyone want to read iBooks on a 12" iPad Pro anymore than on a Surface Pro? What the heck does tablet mean anymore?
    • 1377

      In reply to Vidua:

      MSFT may have a reasonable share of the tablet market, but tablets are tiny compared to either phones or PCs. MSFT ebook store is effectively leaving books on phones to its competitors, and books on PCs may not reach an appreciable % of PCs in use since PCs aren't ideal for reading books.

      MSFT seems to be going after at most 5% of all ebook buyers (10% of PCs [generous], 15% of tablets, 0.5% of phones).

Leave a Reply