O’Reilly Safari Bookshelf review

I subscribed to the Safari bookshelf a couple of months ago and I thought it would be worth describing their system in more detail. I blew through the trial period’s page limit in under a day when I tried it initially. It is worth using however to see if you can handle reading books online.

This review is as accurate as possible at the time of writing, April 2007. If they change anything for the better I might try to mention it on the blog. I am talking about the ‘Library’ subscription where you have no limits about the number of books you read.

It’s true that reading books online is slower and clunkier than the dead tree variety. Safari however does do a pretty good job of presenting the books and I was pleasantly suprised at how easy reading a book page by page was. There are two possible views for a book, a print fidelity view which matches how the book appears in print and an html view which can be easier to read/flow in a web browser. Not all books present all views.

Downloads are a lot more limited than I expected. You basically get 5 download tokens per month if you have the library service and they have a 3 month expiry period. These tokens allow downloading a chapter to PDF. The PDF is as far as I can see doesn’t have any restrictions but it does have your name in the document. From my point of view this is fine, it gives me a good way to print a chapter out in decent quality. The thing that I thought was limited was the quantity of downloads allowed. I had expected to be able to download books to read offline but that is not the case. You can download some chapters but you won’t get through many books per month, in fact if you tried it just by downloads you would take several months per book.

Search is deceptive. If you search for keywords rather than a title you will get reasonable results. The problem I had was that because of the way they were formatted I didn’t realise it at first. My expectations after search with Google is that search results would show some of the relevant text. The safari search results looked like it was showing me the first 3 chapters of the books it thought had relevant content. In actual fact they are the 3 chapters with the relevant content. Once I got over that I realised it was incredibly useful and allowed me to find useful information in books I wouldn’t have thought to look in. That does make it more useful than simply having access to lots of books.

The book range is pretty impressive. The main reason I held off looking at Safari originally was because I thought it was going to be Oreilly only publications. As it turns out they have lots of respected publications on there. Not all books are there but definitely enough to be useful.

It doesn’t tend to work in small browsers. I tried to access the service from my windows mobile and a Nokia 770 without success. I just couldn’t log in. This makes the service a lot less desirable if you don’t tend to be near a network connection all the time when computing. I suspect that they will have a load of issues with making it available to mobiles that aren’t just technical but I hope they overcome them. It would be an absolutely killer service if it worked on a mobile. Working well would be amazing!

In short, Safari is great if you are connected and want to be able to dip into lots of books. They have a great range and search is quite useful. If you commonly need to look into a lot of subject’s it’s really valuable.


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