Linux dominates in Amazon Kindle competitors

Just a few days ago the first Kindle 2s started shipping from making them the first e-book readers to be released to the public this year — and you may be surprised to learn that what’s inside isn’t some proprietary software running on Windows CE but rather the good old Linux kernel.

The Kindle 2 is the second version of the highly successful original Kindle eBook Reader from Amazon which used an eInk screen capable of displaying four shades of grey at 167dpi. The original Kindle was only useful within the United States though as it could only download eBooks via its inbuilt CDMA EV-DO mobile broadband on the Sprint network incompatible with the  GSM/3G standards used in most other countries.

This time around the Kindle 2 is lighter than a typical paperback at 289g as thin as most magazines at 8.5mm and easier on the eyes with 16 shades of grey on its display. The new Kindle 2 still uses EV-DO on Sprint counting out other countries from using the wireless download capability but it now also allows side-loading of content via its USB port.

Despite beating all others to the draw Kindle 2 will not be the only e-book reader to be released this early in the year. Close on its heels is Foxit’s eSlick Reader which is scheduled to be out in March (though initial supplies have already sold out and a second production-run is scheduled for April.)

You may know Foxit from its excellent free Foxit PDF Reader software known for its snappy performance compared to Adobe Reader.

The eSlick Reader has a price tag that is much cheaper than the Kindle’s $US359 ($588) price tag. It is selling at a pre-order price of $US259 ($400) and with such a price saving it may well capture a respectable chunk of the market despite Foxit’s lower marketing power. eSlick which has a weight of only 181g is nearly 40 per cent lighter than Kindle 2 although it is slightly thicker at 10mm.

Both e-book readers are powered by Linux. Unless a surprise announcement is made there will be no new e-book reader that will be running on any other operating system in 2009.

So far the last of the new e-book readers that’s expected this year is slated to be released in the third quarter. This one will be coming from a German start-up company named txtr and will be called the txtr reader.

If plans push through for the txtr reader it will be about as thick as Kindle 2 but slightly lighter at 261g. It will also use the same e-ink technology that drives the displays of the other two readers. And like the other two it will also be powered by Linux.

It is only being targeted initially at the German market so it is not expected to directly compete with either Amazon’s Kindle 2 or Foxit’s eSlick Reader. However its inbuilt 3G/GPRS connectivity does mean it would work in many more parts of the world for wireless download than Amazon’s CDMA-based Kindle 2.

It’s exciting to see eBook Readers moving outside of the bounds of the United States and also being based on free open-source operating systems. Hopefully the use of open-source and lower component prices such as the eInk screens will allow a migration from dead trees to portable electronic readers sooner rather than later.

Would you buy an eBook Reader in the era of the iPod Touch and netbook? Let us know what you think in the comments.

EDITOR’S NOTE: John Carl Villaneuva joins the APC team today covering Linux exclusively. We’re delighted to have him with us — he has been blogging on Linux for some time with a special interest in Linux in smartphones and devices and we thought he was doing a great job. Please join us in making him very welcome!!