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Sunday, April 17, 2011

PDB Ebooks Easier Than Ever to Create

Out of the popular ebook formats, the hardest to create without buying an expensive program is the's pdb files. Epub has Calibre, prc/mobi has MobiCreator, but pdb only has Dropbook. Whereas the others take an html formatted file, easy to do from Open Office or Word, and creates an ebook in those formats, Dropbook requires that you take your book, add in the tags designating chapter headings, italics, bold, etc., and then save it as a text file and "drop" it into the box. If all your tags are valid, it will spit out a pdb file.

The difficulty of course comes in adding those tags into your book. You can do it manually, which is a lot of work. Or you can use search/replace actions in Word to add the tags around the needed text, which I've done in the past. Or if you're like me, you can create your own macro that will do it for you. But I've found something that even beats my macro for ease and less pdb tech knowledge needed, and it produces good results.

If there are other easier to use formats out there, why worry about this one? Aside from those who use devices that have pdb on it, it has a killer Windows desktop application. I like reading stories in it much better than most any other method, including Acrobat Reader, Word, or their equivalents. It is easier on the eyes and gives more of a "reading a book" feel than most ereaders you can download onto your computer. The Apple version may be good too, I don't know since I do use Apple. And most any smart phone can get a version of the ereader software to read books on those devices.

What is the solution, you may ask? It is an Open Office extension add-on. Here's the free software you'll need to pull off this deal:

  1. Open Office

  2. OO Extension: odt2pml

  3. Dropbook

  4. Graphic editing program like FastStone Image Viewer which can save in 256 color

Once installed, open the document you wish to convert in Open Office Writer. In your toolbars you should have the buttons which will do the conversions. It is called "odt2pml" in the toolbar view options. It shows four buttons.

Before you start, you will want to make sure that your book and chapter headings are all using the Heading 1, 2, or 3 style. Mark each chapter heading and select "Heading1" from the style drop down list on the top-left. If no style has been changed, you're likely to see "Default," but it could be anything depending on what program was used and what changes were made to the document.

If you have any graphics in the file, like a cover page, you'll want to click on the "Convert graphics" button. It will create the behind the scenes pml language needed to import it, and save a copy of the image in a sub-directory as needed for Dropbook to work. However, there is another step you'll need to do before you go farther.

Dropbook can't handle True Color graphics, which most are, and the graphic can't be too big. You'll need to use your favorite graphics editor to resize as needed, and save the images to a 256 color png image. Check your program's documentation on how to accomplish that, but if you downloaded FastStone linked above, here's how you would do it there.

  1. Using a file browser, find the sub-directory where the document's images were stored by the image conversion button you pushed.

  2. Open the image(s) in FastStone.

  3. If your image is more than 200 px wide, move your cursor to the left side of the screen to bring up the menu, and select "Resize." Enter "200" or less in the "width" field, the length should change automatically to keep the image in proportion. Select OK and it will resize the picture.

  4. From the same menu, select "Save as..."

  5. In the dialog box that pops up, use the drop down box by "Type" to select saving it in the png format.

  6. Click the "Options" button in the right-bottom corner of the dialog box.

  7. In the window that opens, using the drop down box, change "24-bit" to "256 color". Click OK and then again in the Save as dialog box, telling it to overwrite the old file when it asks.

  8. Do the same for each image in your directory.

Once that is done, it is a simple matter to click on the "Convert Text" button. Once it runs, you should see a file with the extension "pml" in the same directory as your Open Office document.

Now open Dropbook. Then drag the pml file created by the OO extension into the "box" in the program's window. If all goes well, you should end up with a file with the extension of pdb in the same directory as your documents. If you've downloaded the's pdb ereader program, you can now double-click on the file and it will open up in the reader. You can then examine to see if the output was as expected.

And that's it. While that may look on the surface like several steps, it is tons less than most any other method than buying a program that will do it all for you. And it doesn't require you to learn anything about the "Palm Markup Language."

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