Last month the Open eBook authoring group announced final approval of the Open eBook file specification, a much anticipated standard for publishing books in electronic form, at the second annual Electronic Book conference held at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md.

The B format, based on Internet core languages HTML and XML for the widest possible acceptance, is intended to ensure that texts can be read on any sort of electronic device: desktop and laptop PCs, handheld devices such as the Palm Pilot and Handspring's Visor or dedicated electronic book display devices such as NuvoMedia's Rocket eBook or the SoftBook. Underscoring the shift from an emphasis on dedicated hardware to digital titles readable on any kind of device, Ken Jenks of Mind's Eye Fiction, headquartered in Webster, Tex., presented software that can display e-books on a $30 Nintendo Gameboy.

The text of the new e-book standard, known as Open eBook Publication Structure 1.0, is available for viewing on the group's Web site (

Reaction from publishers was nearly universally upbeat. According to Jack Romanos, president and COO of Simon & Schuster, "The quick adoption of a uniform e-book standard is a milestone event in publishing. By removing uncertainty over competing formats, it provides publishers with the impetus and the tools to move toward publishing's electronic future."

Among other developments at the conference, SoftBook Press and New York-based agent Richard Curtis announced software add-ons for Microsoft Word that will save Word files as Open eBook files.

Allen Renear, director of the scholarly technology group at Brown University, was elected by the B authoring group to head the ongoing Open eBook committee to handle further developments of the standard. Among topics still to be worked out in future versions of the B standard is the lending of texts, whether by libraries or for personal use.