Toshiba launches Book Place

There's no denying that e-books are a hot topic at the moment, but along with the launch of interminable dedicated devices comes a return to the technology's roots - at least, so Toshiba hopes.

Coming the same week as Amazon announces its Kindle for the Web initiative - which allows users to read extracts from Kindle-format e-books in their web browser, with no additional software required - Toshiba has launched the Toshiba Book Place, an on-line store designed to bring e-books back to laptops.

Electronic books never really took off at first, for the simple reason that reading long pieces of text on a computer monitor isn't really that comfortable. It took the launch of dedicated electrophoretic e-book reading devices like Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader to really allow the market to explode - to the point where Amazon reports that sales of its Kindle-format e-books have passed those of hardbacks.

Toshiba, however, reckons the time is ripe for the technology to head back to where it came from - hence the Toshiba Book Place, which company vice president Terry Cronin claims sets itself apart from the competition as it "takes advantage of the PC experience and offers an immersive reading environment for the consumer."

So, what do you get with the Toshiba Book Place that things like the Kindle can't offer? The biggie is the formatting - Toshiba's main selling point is that books published via the service retain their original design, with the layout, fonts, and images recreated in glorious colour - and an animation that the company claims means "pages that turn like the real thing."

Other notable features include a text-to-speech functionality - complete with karaoke-style word highlighting to help children follow their favourite books - built-in web searching, and DVD-style extras including author commentary and background music that can be embedded into the proprietary format.

Without naming names, Toshiba claims to have signed up "some of the world's largest publishers" to its Book Place, meaning that it launches with thousands of books for sale - and more than a million public domain titles available for free, most likely cribbed from on-line archives like Project Gutenberg.

So far, Toshiba has only announced the service for Windows, with no mention of Mac or Linux versions in the works - although at least the company has thought through households with multiple computers, allowing users to synchronise their purchases on up to four Windows-based machines.

The question still remains, however: can Toshiba convince people that reading entire books on a laptop is a pleasurable experience?