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Programming Books Media Book Reviews IT Technology

Welcome to the Safari Jungle 211

Robby Russell writes "Paper books have a tendency to accumulate dust, take up large amounts of shelf space and be a painful reminder that you need to get rid of stuff when moving time comes and you find yourself packing up the same Pascal book for an eighth time. Granted, the book provides a level of self-accomplishment and it's always great to have your best books out in direct sight of anyone who may come over to your home or office. You know the type; the ones who are observant and notice the books that you want the world to know that you've read, as if you were to say, 'Been there, done that.' You can't tell me that you don't put some of them up intentionally. ;-)" Russell is taken with O'Reilly's floating-rental system called Safari; read on for his review of the system.
author (various)
pages (various)
publisher O'Reilly and other participating publishers
rating 9
reviewer Robby Russell
ISBN (various)
summary Technical book rental is here, and you may find the convenience a compelling enough factor to give up the paper versions of the available titles.

O'Reilly has come up with an interesting solution to your lack of physical shelf space: a virtual bookshelf. Safari Bookshelf is a great resource for all things technical. They recently went over 1,000 titles available online, 24/7. Several publishers have joined forces with O'Reilly to provide so many titles. Que, Alpha, Sams, Microsoft Press (and O'Reilly itself) are a few of the big-name publishers that are part of Safari. Currently, 75% of all O'Reilly books are available through Safari. (With plans for adding 10+ books per month, the selection is growing rapidly, too.)

Safari subscriptions can be had in 10-, 20- or 30-slot varieties, depending on how much you care to read (and spend). Prices end up close to $1.50 per slot each month, with slight discounts if you buy annually rather than by the month. (A $9.99/month 5-slot shelf is available too, if you just want to test the waters.)

Recently, I had the privilege of giving Safari a test-run thanks to the generous offer made to user groups.

The website's navigation was fairly easy to grasp, and I was able to start searching for books as soon as I logged into the system. O'Reilly's made browsing pleasant, by listing the main categories and allowing you to branch down into subcategories to find the book you may or may not be looking for.

I was given a 10-book shelf to start my trial of Safari. This account would typically go at $14.99/month (or $159.99/year). The bookshelf is great. You can add a book to your bookshelf and you keep it there for 30 days, after which you can remove the book and replace it with a different one. So, you can have 10 books in your "shelf" at any given time, and switch no more than 10 books a month under this account level. That is 120 books a year for roughly $1.33/book. That's impressive.

It just so happened that I was currently working on migrating from Sendmail to Postfix recently and wanted to read up more on Postfix to see if there was more I could do to keep my server running happily. I typed in "postfix" in the search, and voila! 109 books were found with that word in the title or description. The search results allowed me to View by Book and/or View by Section (which I found really helpful by showing me a section of the book that contained the word "postfix"). I scanned a few more books in greater depth, looking at the Table of Contents of various books and even looking at the books' chapter previews. A lot of text to look at before I even decide on checking out a book. Being in a bookstore wouldn't have been this good: you can't search through a bookstore for a specific keyword in all texts and get back these kinds of results.

After reviewing a small handful of books, I felt comfortable with my decision and checked out the appropriately-titled book by Sams, "Postfix" by Richard Blum and added it to my bookshelf. The book will be on my bookshelf for the next 30 days. Immediately, I went over to My Bookshelf and found myself looking through the same text you would find in the paper version of this book (but in the font face and size that I set in my browser preferences). It lets me print a page, send the page as an email to someone, etc. I was reading about open relays, and added a bookmark to the page which shows up on the "My Safari" personal page listing all the books I have currently checked out. That page also shows recent searches, newly available books, public notes, etc. With a few clicks, I can go from my computer desktop to page 152 of The Perl Cookbook which is quicker than me looking through my library of paper books and finding my place.

I have since added six more books and visit My Safari page roughly 5+ times throughout my day to read more on various topics. All this content available anytime I need it, and I still have spaces left in my bookshelf. They do offer 5-slot Safari Bookshelf for those who don't need 10 books a month, which is probably where I would fall. The great thing is that this is very affordable. (After calculating the costs of all the books I had bought in the past year, I could have paid for and viewed roughly 232 books plus the 8 technical books I bought last year.)

On the downside, colleagues who come by my home or office won't see my new copy of MySQL Cookbook because it is online rather than on my shelf showing another O'Reilly animal. I might have to print out the covers and tape them to my old school books to deal with that for the time being, but I am sure that Safari Bookshelf is how I plan to spend money on technical documentation from now on.

If it were a Tom Robbins book however, I couldn't see myself sitting in a cozy chair reading it on a laptop; this idea only makes sense to me for technical information because I am sitting at my computer anyways -- and where else would I need technical documentation?

If this idea intrigues you, visit O'Reilly's Safari Bookshelf page. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Welcome to the Safari Jungle

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  • Isn't Safari the name of Apple's new browser? I predict legal clashes if both of these expand in the tech world.
  • finally a viable business plan for ebooks! this will be soooo handy!
  • Safari? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Jack William Bell ( 84469 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:37AM (#5396036) Homepage Journal
    Oh, I get it! O'Reilly. Animals. Safari.

  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:37AM (#5396037) Homepage Journal
    Like the first part of the article mentions, paper books are useful for display, and not just in the showing off sense.

    When I walk into my professors office, they have two walls of metal bookshelves stacked to the wall with books. It's like walking into their mind.

    With a cursory glance, you can roughly tell what schools of thought they subscribe to, who they've read, their area of expertise, what subjects they're familiar with. It's really nifty.

    • When I walk into my professors office, they have two walls of metal bookshelves stacked to the wall with books. It's like walking into their mind.

      Right, but what the article poster alluded to and what others are mentioning is that often times the majority of books that one owns are not ones that they have read. In many ways ones bookshelf is like ones online persona, you are free to appear to be whoever you want. So if I wanted to look like a c/c++ god, I'd have things like K&R and Stroustroup, and NOT some "dummies guide", even if I don't know how to properly format a 'for' statement. I always take one's bookshelf with a grain of salt, esp if it's full of books that look like my old college text books did (i.e. more pristine than the ones on the bookstore shelf).
      • I'm proud to say my books are trashed. You should see my copy of the camel book, it's cover is mangled and held on with tape. The pages are dog eared and wrinkled. Not to mention the book is about twice it's original thickness packed with printed programs and post-it note book marks. One can defiantly tell if a book has been read by it's condition.
        • I disagree, you can only tell if a book has been used by it's condition. I'm currently reading the following two books to refresh my knowledge:

          Once I'm done with them they will look relatively unused, other than a couple of post-its I've added either with my personal notes or as book marks to interesting concepts. I just won't need much of the book as a daily or even occasional reference. I'm reading the books from cover to cover and doing most of the problems, sort of like doing a course without a professer haranguing me to do stuff. This is the way it is with most of my texts, I read them, I learn what's in them and then they sit on my shelves for occasional reference.
    • Show me your bookshelf and i'll tell you who you are eh? Or quite possibly, show me your safari bookshelf and ill tell you what kind of geek you are. :)
    • When I walk into my professors office, they have two walls of metal bookshelves stacked to the wall with books.

      I would wager the vast majority of those books are "desk copies," provided free by the publishers as a way to provide instructors with free copies of the textbooks they're using, or to try and and entice instructors to change over.

      One of the best ways to build a dead-tree collection I've discovered is to get affiliated with an institution of higher learning. I teach one computer science course a semester at a local community college as an adjunct instructor. Thanks to this affiliation, I have nearly unlimited ability to obtain free copies of dead-tree books.
  • Libraries (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SlayerDave ( 555409 ) <> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:37AM (#5396038) Homepage
    I'm sorry, but reading a book on a computer just doesn't cut it for me. If I'm serious about a book, then I'll shell out the bucks and buy the damn thing. Otherwise, I'll hoof it down to the library and check it out. Libraries are cheaper than this Safari system and have the added benefit of not ruining your eyes and/or fraying your nerves by making you read a friggin book on your computer screen. Maybe one day I'll be more convinced by the concept of e-books, but until then, I'll stick to the dead-tree variety.
    • Re:Libraries (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kjd ( 41294 )
      I agree and prefer dead-tree format, but it's useful to have an online copy for reference while you're actually doing the work. There is a "search code snippets" option that lets you search for code to copy/paste/modify, which is naturally more helpful in an electronic format.

      Also it makes for cheap reviews of books you're interested in purchasing, if you're the type who buys a lot of tech books from the publishers included.
    • Re:Libraries (Score:4, Insightful)

      by maddboyy ( 32850 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:45AM (#5396113) Homepage
      Yes, dead trees and libraries are great. However, you seem to miss out on some of the benefits from the Safari/e-book system. eBooks are great for technical areas because you can cut and paste code examples while you're working on your project. Also, it's much easier to use a computer to search for terms in a book than to try to scan them by eye/hand. Furthermore, one of the great benefits of Safari is that errata/updates are linked directly on the pages. Paper books are great, but you shouldn't underestimate the convenience of ebooks.
    • Re:Libraries (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rudeboy777 ( 214749 )
      I agree, but perhaps Safari's niche won't be replacing their dead tree counterparts, but acting as a try-before-you-buy library. Your local library probably doesn't buy a copy of every new tech book that comes out, and even if it did you can't perform a search against a shelf of books.

      The monthly fee isn't peanuts, but if I'm starting a new project using a language I haven't used yet, I can fork over the 20 bucks for 5 books and find the best Python book out there, then try a few others as well.

      If this takes off, hopefully it will raise eyebrows at the MPAA and RIAA as to how an online service should be run (printing allowed, emailing content to friends, etc)
      • >> and even if it did you can't perform a search against a shelf of books.

        err. most libraries have opacs nowadays. A lot of which are on the web. plus there's the Library of Congress/Bibliosource etc etc

    • Re:Libraries (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:48AM (#5396146)
      What library do you go to that has all the latest technical books? I'm lucky if my local library has a "How-to learn MS-DOS in 24 hours".
    • Libraries can't afford to keep up to date with every technical book out there. We had just got the Photoshop 6 book in/processed/out on the shelf and back from an overdue borrower when photoshop 7 wa released.

      This at least lets you keep with it. of course your local library might have a bigger bookfund than we do :)

    • Re:Libraries (Score:5, Interesting)

      by eyeball ( 17206 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:55AM (#5396212) Journal
      In my 15 years of professional software engineering, I might've read one or two computer books, while the other few hundred were used strictly for reference.

      Since safari, I haven't bought a single paper-book. As a matter of fact, I gave most of my books away to my staff. Safari is the first link on my browser's toolbar, and have almost 20 books in my bookshelf, all for reference. There's the added bonus that the books are searchable, which dead tree technology lacks.

      Another advantage is you have access to you books anywhere. I program at the office, at home, on the road, and even from coffee shops sometimes. Shlepping books to and from is not an option.

      My only complaint is the site is a bit slow, but understandable considering the complexity of the site. With any luck this will improve someday.

      • >> There's the added bonus that the books are searchable, which dead tree technology lacks

        I have some dead tree books with this fancy breakthrough technology added, they call it an "index" or something like that. It lists keywords and the page numbers where those keywords are found. It adds search capabilities to paper books! I wonder if it's patented.
      • Re:Libraries (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jallen02 ( 124384 )
        I have a 10 slot bookshelf to Safari because... the average useful lifetime of the books I read is not very great.

        Certain topics change rapidly. Shelling out 50 bucks for a book that will be out-dated in a year is annoying.

        I have a well-worn C Reference manual that has served me well over the past 7 years. The content in the book is still perfectly relevant and useful.

        I have Java books that are good for making a fire, and little else.

        I read a lot of programming books, some of the time on more esoteric/fast moving topics. Being able to have the book for a month and then drop it after it has gotten me started/further with a topic is a godsend. I then only need the books for reference. Usually I can live without a book as a reference since most of the libraries/languages I work with have some sort of reference materials. I really just like books for filling in knowledge gaps.

        I calculated it. I would have spent at least 500 dollars on books in the last 4 months without Safari. With Safari I spent maybe 45 bucks(the first month was free... I was hooked after that). The knowledge and benefit to me was exactly the same. It makes it difficult to justify the spendings when Safari fits very well with my programming and learning style.

        Some people like to cozy up to a good ole dead tree. I like to also. But when the knowledge is to be had cheaper, I can't refuse the cheaper solution. (With an LCD monitor my eyes no longer get the frying in place feeling, reading a book online doesn't bother me now).

        Anyhow, that is my draw to Safari.

        (Not to mention the Safari people have been real responsive when I find bugs in the service :)

    • I agree for the most part, but what about new versions releasing every few months? I have a couple of fat books on Java, just a couple years old. Now I can't throw them out, nor have the motivation to follow those.
    • Re:Libraries (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SlayerDave ( 555409 )
      I'm responding to the responses.

      First, the "technical" books I'm most interested in are math books, which don't suffer the troubling problem of being out of date the minute they hit the press. I am also a programmer, so I like and need books on central programming topics, such as the C++ standard library, numerical algorithms, and computational geometry. These, also, are not "bleeding edge" topics and so are likely to be in my library.

      Second, my library is not the local neighborhood library, but the Science and Engineering Library at Boston University (I'm a grad student here). It takes me all of thirty seconds to punch in the author into the library's search website to find out if the book has been checked out already. If it has and I need it badly, I can just put in a recall on the book. Also, as a graduate student, I get to check out books for 19 weeks. After 3 weeks, they are subject to recall, but that is not a big deal. Since this is a science and engineering library at a major university, it is relatively well-stocked with many recent CS/tech/programming books.

      As for searching, most books have indices and tables of content. These radical advances in information management work surprisingly well - try them sometime!

      Finally, I agree that if I were a professional coder or administrator working in IT, I would probably have a need for the lastest book on sendmail or MySQL or buzzword X. If that were the case, Safari might be for me. Since that is not the case, I'll pass on Safari. Besides, as other posters have noted, personal dead-tree libraries can be quite impressive. I hope mine is one day.

    • Re:Libraries (Score:4, Insightful)

      by JudasBlue ( 409332 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:56PM (#5398475)
      You are lucky to have a library that has up-to-date tech books at your disposal. The public library system in Berkeley CA does not offer this luxury. A couple of 6 year old books on making Dynamic Web Pages For Big Profit On Your Home Selling Web Site!!! seem to be the only technical books in the stacks.

      I am not a big fan of ebooks in general, but I like the safari system for giving me up to date technical information on whatever I am working on for a yearly price equal to two books. If I am using a book very frequently for a long period as a reference, I want a dead tree copy of my own. But in most cases I am heavily into a tech book for about three weeks, learn the concepts and then the book becomes another dead weight on my shelves, useful mainly for flattening out my tournament vinyl chessboard when it starts rolling up too much at the edges.
  • decent (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kjd ( 41294 ) <(kdraper) (at) (> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:38AM (#5396051)
    I've been using this for a bit, and it's a decent tool. There's a free 2-week trial (auto-rollover to 10-slot subscription) available on the site mentioned.

    Interesting to note that many books authored in troff are not available (currently including the Sendmail book from O'Reilly, not mentioned in the review though Sendmail was). Books authored in FrameMaker (and books eventually converted to it) are more easily converted to their online format.
  • I was a member of Safari about two years ago. I know I wasn't the first. Is something that happened two years ago generally considered "news"?
  • ... until there is e-paper that is easy on the eyes with a reader that I can stretch out on the couch with, forget it. As a tool a work maybe. But I also prefer to own my books, rather than pay money over and over for them, in the long run, it does turn out cheaper to buy them.
  • About Safari (Score:5, Informative)

    by LemurShop ( 585831 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:42AM (#5396083)
    I have been a subscriber (basic) for about three months and found it extremely helpful. One of my pleasant surprises and very commendable on the Safari guys is that they didn't fall into the drm/encrypted crap I'm sure most publishing houses would fall into in a similar undertaking. You can save a page as html, print it up, do what you want to without having to go through draconian security measures. I still would like to see more New Riders Publishing books; some of the best usability and macromedia books come from them.
    • One of my pleasant surprises and very commendable on the Safari guys is that they didn't fall into the drm/encrypted crap

      Not to take anything away from your good vibes towards O'Reilly, but since html is their delivery format, there really isn't much they CAN do about DRM. Once it's in your browser, you can do whatever you want and they can't stop it even if they wanted to. Forgive (and ignore) me if they are using something else to display the content (e.g. java applet, etc). In which case I agree, kudos.
      • of course they can do someting with HTML: use something else.

        What they are laudable for is precisely that they used a simple, user friendly, straightforward HTML instead of a bizarre plugin.
        • What they are laudable for is precisely that they used a simple, user friendly, straightforward HTML instead of a bizarre plugin.

          I guess I'm not convinced that their decision on using HTML is based on economic reasons vs any good will on their part. Given their audience, they can't just simply assume Windoze and IE, so any proprietary solution they come up with would have to support multiple OS's and browsers, which we all know is a monumental PITA. Again given their audience and it's predilection towards being against such technologies, they would have a tough row to hoe to get their intended targets to actually even buy in.

          Not to say I'm not glad they made that choice, I am, I'm just not convinced that their intentions were necessarily, "pure".
    • Re:About Safari (Score:3, Informative)

      by urbazewski ( 554143 )
      Back in December Tim O'Reilly wrote a thoughtful essay about why he isn't worried about piracy [], he mentions the Safari system there. Some of his conclusions:
      Lesson 1: Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.

      Lesson 2: Piracy is progressive taxation

      Lesson 3: Customers want to do the right thing, if they can.

      Lesson 4: Shoplifting is a bigger threat than piracy.

      Lesson 5: File sharing networks don't threaten book, music, or film publishing. They threaten existing publishers.

      Lesson 6: "Free" is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service.

      Lesson 7: There's more than one way to do it.

      There was also a /. discussion [].

  • Nice to see a review on this. I have been using Safari for about 5 months now and I am in love with this service. I use it more as a trial service before I buy the actual book. I go to the site, do my search, browse the books and then choose which ones to add to my subscription. Then if I really like the book, I go ahead and order it. I too have the "hey look at how cool I am because I have these books" disease. ;-) The only problem is no one I work with thinks that animal books are cool... *sigh*
    • I'm in the middle of evaluating it for a coporate membership and I love it. Hardcopy is still great, but being able to search across the content of hundreds of books is really handy.
  • by prs_013 ( 639348 )

    You told us how the system works and that it seems to be a great way to be up to date and not waste space.

    do they have any company subscription plans which a major company can subscribe to.. so that its employees dont have to pay for it? This might be helpful to even start a virtual technical library similar to the public libraries out there... except that they you wont find Clive Cussler out there.

    Coming to think of it, if that occurs, companies can cram more employees into the same amount of space.. cos hey... your cube space just got smaller as you dont need to maintain any printed material at all !! One chair and desk would do... with wireless access and laptops. You would get up only to switch batteries or go to the restroom!!

    • Yeah, there's a company called Books 24x7 [] which my company, . subscribes to.
    • The university I work for has a campus-wide subscription. There's a limit to the number of concurrent sessions, but other than that, anyone on the campus network can access TONS of books through Safari.

      Send them an e-mail and ask, I'm sure they'll be more than happy to sell your company some kind of site license ($$$).

  • Works wonders, until you bring home that extra-observant super smart girl you've been trying to impress so hard. You thought you had it perfectly planned. Then she points out that the spine on your Complete Works of Shakespere collection is unbent.
  • I have used the service for about one month now. You can print the chapters of the books, they even have a special link to assist in this, but not save the content to your machine(as per user policy not by force). I use my laptop to read the online content a lot of the time, since as indicated by others, having to be stuck to the computer is not fun. As least with a laptop you an bring the content in bed with you :-) Glen
  • This digital library is a very good idea. For technical reference it's way better to have a online version of the book than having a paper book besides your keyboard (makes my neck hurt very quickly).

    Because of that I usually even search the net for some scanned version of books I have the paper version of.

    Reading a whole book from beginning to end is much more comfortable with paper versions, though. I also woudln't want to read (for example) philosophical or lyrical text online: these types of books just need paper versions, they're not the same otherwise.

    Despite that, nothing beats the beauty of a well filled (real world) book shelf.
    • I think a digital reference is great. However, I spend a lot of time actually reading technical books both to pass time and expand by job skills. Often, I'll read about some feature, tool or technique, then a couple of months later, a need for it will crop up.

      My first experience doing this was with the print documentation for MS Office (10 years ago). MS Office used to come with a shelf's worth of books. I was doing end-user training back then and thumbing through those manuals gave me tons of tips and tricks for my classes. Now, all of that documentation is in the on-line help, which I believe has actually gotten worse.

  • I like dead trees. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by silvakow ( 91320 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:49AM (#5396148)
    I've known about this service for quite a while, and I figure that it's just for people without a lot of book space. I'd much rather have a paper copy of the book than switch between screens on the computer. Besides that, books last forever. Online access to a book for $1.33 may be nice your first time through it, but what if I drop that book from my Safari shelf after a few months and want to take one more look at that sample code? Besides that, I probably wouldn't go through a technical book every two months, and the money for a subscription to the 10 book plan would buy me a paper book every two months. If I want an online reference, I will look for official documentation online. If I want a good walk through, I will buy an O'Reilly book on paper instead of switching screens.
    • Books obviously don't last forever. I have a lot of first editions lying around that are painfully out of date.

      To see your sample code again, you put the book back on your shelf again. Evidently you need access to it for another month... so you pay another $1.33. If you never look at book again, you've saved $38.66 by finding its not really useful for $1.33. Sounds reasonable to me. The only real risk is opportunity cost - the slot's not there for some other new book you might want to read, but as you say yourself how many new technical books do you read in a month.

      I'm not disagreeing with you completely - there's a whole lot of books I appreciate owning on paper. There are also some I wish I'd never bought, because I almost never look at them. This might be worthwhile as a screening process. I mean, if you find you really never take a book off your virtual bookshelf, you might as well buy a paper copy. If you read it through once and never look at it again, you've saved a lot of money.

      Then again, there's always the chance of a second edition... and searchable technical books looks like a real plus to me (sometimes I can't even remember which book a code example is in, much less find it in the index!).

      I can stand reading documentation onscreen. A good eBook reader would be better though.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I tried Safari for a few months then cancelled. The servers were slow to unresponsive. And even when they were responsive, the books themselves seem poorly indexed. I especially found this true with reference books where you want to find specific info, rather than read from cover to cover. It might be OK for that (reading from cover to cover) but as other posters have pointer out, I'd rather do that with a physical book in my lap rather than on a computer screen. I think it IS a good idea -- and perhaps they can make it work, but it didn't appeal to me. BootedBear (singed in as a coward as ny account appears to be fu'd)
  • The most frustrating thing I found was that they block the sort of offline browser that'd make that content useful. Being able to make use of their books while you are on the road or on a slow or pay-per-minute net connection would be fantastic.

    However I used the useful perl skills I learnt from the to write a proxy server which just happened to log the pages for future reference.
    • Could they block wget []? It can give any browser ID that you want, plus referrers. All they can do is to rate limit you.

      Personally, I have my Perl bookshelf for on the road. I don't need Safari yet, but the breakeven isn't much considering the price of new books. (a 10 bookshelf is about the same cost as between 4 and 5 real books on your shelf). I guess the next time I need to extend my zoo or to get newer animals, I'll expect to go on safari.

    • The most frustrating thing I found was that they block the sort of offline browser that'd make that content useful. Being able to make use of their books while you are on the road or on a slow or pay-per-minute net connection would be fantastic.

      Tell me about it... it took me hours to figure out how to write a script to download entire books for offline browsing. Fortunately they have dozens of Perl/Python books so there's plenty of information on their site explaining how to go about it.

  • personally, I'm all for reading off of paper books. It gives me a chance to give my eyes a rest from the gleam of the monitor (I'm a poor college student who can't afford an LCD at the moment) and honestly, I can read books easier than I can read text on the screen.

    What would be a nice feature of the website would be if you were able to print off a book in its entirety (Acrobat PDF format or Word document or something), buy a binder or something for it.

    Although I would miss the softcover after a while, and miss out on the chance to build up a book collection.

    Still a good service
  • No real ebooks (Score:3, Informative)

    by javatips ( 66293 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:52AM (#5396176) Homepage
    I've checked their website, and it looks like your stuck with reading your books on the Web.

    They do not seem to have any option to be able to read your book offline or download it on your PDA (Palm OS or Pocket PC).

    When I read a book, I usually use the time I have in public transit. So unless they provide a way to read the books offline (I would prefer on my Tungsten T) it of little use for me (and I'm probably not the only one in that situation).

    The service is still neat and a step in a good direction.

    • They do not seem to have any option to be able to read your book offline or download it on your PDA (Palm OS or Pocket PC).

      You can do it yourself, though. You need cookies for authentication, which Plucker Desktop won't do ( :( ), but something like SiteScooper or maybe iSilo should be able to handle it fine.

  • by etcpasswd ( 641551 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:52AM (#5396181)
    As a recent Safari member, I concur with the reviewer about the advantages. It is a commendable effort to pool and convince so many publishers to have their books online at a fractional price of the hardcopy edition. This definitely is an advantage in the world of ever changing language/technology versions, where the new versions make the old obsolete. However, the Terms of Serivce are't as flexible as the book version.

    When I was put up with dialup modem, I wrote a script to download the pages of the book I had in my shelf (I hated waiting for a while before the next page downloaded). Not only did Safari prevent me from accessing the content, but also I received automated emails (one for each attempt) stating that this is unacceptable according to TOS (Obviously, I clicked on "I agree" without reading). Maybe I could have figured out how to fool their detection mechanism in a few more attempts, but low bandwidth isn't enough reason for me to violate the TOS.

  • I've been using Safari for a few months now. Although I still like having paper books, Safari is great in that I always have acccess to my bookshelf. No more lugging books between home and the office! One feature I wish they offered, however (are you listening O'Reilly?) would be a way to download a book for offline reading. Having used a variety of the CD bookshelf products for many years, one thing I miss with the online versions is the speed -- going over the web for every page just feels sluggish sometimes. My guess is that the reason they don't offer offline content is because it would be too easy to pirate-from/share-with friends and coworkers. Fair enough. But it seems to me that it wouldn't be too hard to come up with a way to distribute offline content (maybe in a webapp or something) such that it couldn't be shared...
  • Is it possible to get these books onto my pda.
    I like learning new languages on the subway...
  • by jj_johny ( 626460 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:58AM (#5396247)
    I looked at possibly using the Safari system but had a number of problems with it. Instead of Safari I used the Barnes and Noble method - get a cup of coffee at their in-store coffee bar and look at all the books I want. So here are my pet peeves about the whole idea.

    1. The books are generally fire and forget arrangements. Not to say the author didn't write a good book but by the time they finish it, the book is somewhat out of date. Thus you get lots almost up to date material.

    2. There is no real linkage between the online book and the online resources. So the book, whether in print or on line, just floats out there as a standalone entity.

    3. The point of view/writing style/aim of the author really makes some of the books good to read but not good for reference (online or off).

    That said I think that it is great that the service is offered but to me the need for good web based documentation is not fufilled by just putting the books online. It would be great to see an paid online reference that was high quality and well organized. For those of us in the tech world taht have to surf through lots of different disciples, the current crop of books, web sites and vendor support leaves a lot to be desired.

  • by mcgroarty ( 633843 ) <brian.mcgroarty@gmail . c om> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @11:58AM (#5396250) Homepage
    Safari could be so much more useful if it'd focus more on acting like an electronic book and less like acting like a website.

    Could we please please please have a way of freely adjusting the font size when reading Safari books?

    Please please please? I'm sure these are the webmasters' favorites, but they're not in line with other sites, so we have to adjust our fonts on visiting and leaving Safari.

    And could we please please please have a way of reading just the book, no banners, side columns, etc... just the content? I know you can collapse the side content, but that saves vertical space where horizontal space is the problem.

    Safari's layout sucks extra bandwidth and is pretty painful to navigate on a wireless PDA or a small tablet, where both the metered bandwidth and the small display space are at a premium. This kills all the joy of Safari for those of us who like to read electronic books on the bus and in bed.

  • Understand that this opinion is coming from a stalwart 'real books forever!' type. I've never liked reading documentation on a computer, when a book is available. (and don't even get me started on proofreading onscreen vs. a red pen and a cup of coffee.)

    This sounds like a cool idea for tech books. There are too many books I've spent LOTS of money on that I use for six months, and then dump. The StarOffice 5.2 book (at $80) was a fine example, except that I gave up on the whole damned program after about six weeks. (and wanted to after six days).

    Tech moves ahead, and too many books get obsolete fast. Just go to a used bookstore and look at the useless old crap books (50 copies of DOS 5.0 for dummies) that consumed trees. This is clearly a Better Way, and it sounds like they've done a good job of implementing it.
  • I used to have a Safari account and it was nice, but since I could only check out 5 or so books, when I was done with a book and it wasn't in my on-line book shelf, I could not go to it for reference later on, as where my physical books stay on the shelf and I may refer to them at a much later time, possibly even years.

  • One of the key ideas behind Safari was the idea of "Books as Bandwidth."

    You may own several hundred computer books, but how many do you read at a single time? How many during a 1 month period? 5? 10?

    Although Safari is actually a joint venture between O'Rieilly and Pearson (who own Addison Wesley, Prentice Hall, Sams, Cisco Press, etc), the idea of books as bandwidth was Tim O'Reilly's.

    Even though most of you would still want hard copies of books that you refer to continually, how many times do you have do learn something for work, and find yourself needing 5-10 tiles? Do you really want to buy 5 books on datamining, knowing that you'll only read a few pages of each, and be done with them in a few weeks? Next month you might need to be setting up a VPN. With Safari, you can subscribe to a half dozen datamining titles this month, and then next month, you can trade them in to subscribe to 5 books on VPNs. That's your bandwidth. Need more than 5 titles a month? Increase your bandwidth.

    Sorry for sounding like an ad. I still buy computer books, but I've saved a fortune using Safari. The full text search through the entire catalog kicks ass. People are always coming to my desk to ask me to for something in Safari.

    Lynn Bender aka Linear B []

  • by digerata ( 516939 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:02PM (#5396291) Homepage
    I started using O'Reilly's Safari service around April of last year, I believe. I was very excited when I first heard about it, immediately signing up.

    But what I found was that it just doesn't replace the convenience of having the actual book on your shelf. I found navigating the site very slow at times. Searching for books was excellent, however, searching for text inside an individual book left much to be desired.

    In the end, I canceled the service. Only to come back a few months later. It turns out, Safari is an excellent *supplement* to your existing library. How many times have you left a book at home or at work or at a friends house? How many times have you needed just that tiny bit of info that slipped your mind but is an hour away sitting on your night stand? With Safari, I now just check go and look up the book and find that tidbit I missed. Its defitely expensive when you buy the book anyway, but sometimes its invaluable.

    What I would propose to O'Reilly is that when you buy the hardcopy, you get the electronic version on Safari as well. I would even pay a premium of a few dollars for this, as well.

  • I just went over there to play around a little. Of course the book that I was looking for ("Mastering Regular Expressions") is NOT available, even though it is an O'Reilly title. Not a good sign. Anyway, I would have thought that there would be a simple and easy to find "submit a book request" button/link, but I couldn't find one. Is such a feature available to subscribers? Have current subscribers found any other "holes" in the library?
    • These are not holes, some books are old, these are converted and put online based on subscribers' requests. Here:

      Most Requested Titles
      Despite the growing number of books in Safari, we haven't included all of O'Reilly's books online. (About 75 percent of our books have been added.) However, we get requests from users all the time who expect to find a particular O'Reilly title in Safari, so we thought we'd talk about some of the reasons why some books are not in Safari.
      Most of our books are produced using FrameMaker and then converted to XML. Some of our older books were produced using Troff, however, and have proven to be more difficult to convert to XML. In some of those cases, we've decided to wait for the next edition of the book, when it will be converted to FrameMaker. Not all of our books are produced the same way, and we don't have conversion processes set up to handle every arbitrary input format.
      We publish about ten or eleven new books per month. On average, we convert about eight of those titles and bring them into Safari. We choose the books we think are the most important to convert, but we don't always make the choice that agrees with all users, so getting your feedback is important.
      • Thanks. FYI, the book I mentioned has a new second edition (I would be happy with either) that just came out last year, so it's not an age thing. I guess not that many people are wild about RE's (and so many other books sorta cover it). I wonder if they simply go by book sales to determine what titles to bring out next?
  • On the downside, colleagues who come by my home or office won't see my new copy of MySQL Cookbook because it is online rather than on my shelf showing another O'Reilly animal. I might have to print out the covers and tape them to my old school books to deal with that for the time being, but I am sure that Safari Bookshelf is how I plan to spend money on technical documentation from now on.

    The solution to that problem is easy.We need

    • a show case box, e.g. some plexi glas holder that is able to hold a postcard with a flashy sign that reads "my selection of the month" that you can bolt to your wall
    • either O'reilly mails you a postcard with the covers of titles in color print on the back, or you print it out yourself and put it into the show holder to impress your friends.
    • an autogenerated PNG image with the titles on the oreilly site, that you can link on your web page to

    This has some decoration value, still impresses your friends and you have some kind of documentation what you read, if you collect the cards.

    Note: Please send me a subscription, if you steal that idea, Tim. :)


  • Its interesting to note that it looks like in the past few months they have completely changed their look. Much better looking now!

    Even more interesting, the site used to be written in ASP. Back then it was dead slow. Its much faster now. No clue what the code is now.

  • I have two of the CD bookshelves sold by O'reilly, the Unix one and the Perl one. They include one real book, and five full books in an unrestricted/unencumbered PDF or HTML format on CD. I simply copy the CD to a directory on my computer and I have instant access to them.

    They were reasonably priced (~$40 US, IIRC).

    I can see benefits to having a subscription to Safari - In my position I am viewed as a problem solver first, and maintenance/upgrade/keep-current-with-technology guy second. Being able to add a book to my library for the few pages where it will aid in a specific problem without buying the entire thing is certianly advantageous in this respect. Knowing that the library that I can check books out from is large and up to date is also a distinct advantage.

    But it's still overpriced and too restricted. I'm certian many will use it who find value in exactly this system. I'm hoping, however, that it becomes an open market - the copyright holder sells electronic rights at a given price and resellers are allowed to sell them at whatever the market will bear. Right now it's a monopoly with a set price.

    They are turning this information resource into a service industry. Services typicially cost a lot until there is more competition.

    I'd rather see open source books made more available. The opendocs, various FAQs, etc make up a great knowledgebase (some of which is used as the sole basis for many books we now pay for). But writing well is a chore that requires a lot of work and planning. I wonder if there is a partially technical solution that could be married to an inexpensive organizational solution to facilitate the planning, writing, editing, publishing and distribution of good free electronic books. Publishing and distribution are pretty much taken care of, but we need an easy way to plan, write and edit (more formally than, say, a wiki) comprehensive documentation.

    The organization could be supported with sales of paper and CD copies of the books. It would require a few editors and a few good project leaders who can guide (and push) volunteer writers, editors, and proof readers. It may not compete with 'real' books in terms of polish and marketting, but as long as it's correct, readable, and useful we technical types would likely support such an effort.

  • I tried Safari for awhile. Didn't particularly like it as:

    1) It's a bitch balancing a monitor on your lap while your on the shitter.

    2) Highlighter on the screen sucks. Especially when you scroll.

    3) Higlighting a monitor while balancing it on your lap in the bathroom is just a a home safety accident nightmare.

    4) Dragging a monitor into the bedroom will just get your ass divorced fast.

  • This generally is where books are going IMHO. As an IT professional, books are invaluable in our research of new technologies, learning new tools, and general reference for our infrastructure and applications. While it's nice and cool to have dozens of books on the shelf that are easy to access, I'm shifting towards the online versions now.

    We recently implemented a subscription service for the IS department at our company through a company called Books24x7 ( They offer personal bookshelves as well and it basically boils down to a few hundred dollars per user. That may seem like a lot but I currently have about 60 books in my bookshelf. Full text search across my bookshelf, or all the books they offer is available as well.

    It's certainly a value added service. A lot of people seem to gripe and complain that they don't have the paper version in front of them but a good online service like Safari or any of the other competitors gives you just as much content and flexiblity without having to consume a lot of shelf space. Also I can access my books anywhere (home, office, etc.). Saves lugging home giant tomes of knowledge when I want to do some work on the road. It's not for everyone though, as some people just can't read books online, but for a reference library it really can't be beat.
  • I'm on a 56k modem and I found that my trial subscription to Safari was not useful for two reasons:
    1. It took too long to download the pages which were presented with unnecessary (for presentation) extra framing
    2. Having once downloaded a page there was no way to cache it with Squid, so I had to download it again if I wanted to flip back and forth (which is what I do with tech books
    I completely understand why OReilly made these design decisions, but it makes them non-useful for me. I prefer to get CDs of etexts or just the good ol' paperback (pity about the reduced quality bindings they've introduced)>
  • by PunchMonkey ( 261983 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @12:39PM (#5396721) Homepage
    I tried out safari, but for myself, I was quite happy sticking with the CD Bookshelves []. For the cost of a couple O'Reilly books you get ~6 on CD-ROM (plus one in print as well) in HTML format. Slap that puppy on your webserver and you can access it wherever you go. I'd usually sell the print copy on ebay to recoup some of the cost.

    My biggest gripe with safari was the layout and the speed vs. CD Bookshelves. The CD Bookshelves are as fast as your computer and the pages take up the full browser screen - none of those menus to get in your way.

  • I choose (well, when I can) what format I want for a book based in how I will read it.

    If its a conceptual book to be read from first page to last (i.e. DNS and BIND [], or Web Database Applications with PHP and Mysql [] to name a few) I prefer them in paper, so I can read them in bed, in the bathroom, in a bus or in the beach, where I'm more comfortable for the time that I will be reading it... at least, for the first time is a must.

    In the other hand, books like the "in a nutshell" series, or dictionary-like books, or books where I have to read or focus only in one chapter without having to read all to understand, are best reading in a computer. In this category I surely put "books" like the PHP annotated manual []. Also for this are best the "cookbooks" or the books that would be useful to have cut and paste. Or even the conceptual books of the first kind, once you have readed it in a printed version and the concepts are enough, but you have to verify something or reread some chapter.

  • I thought about posting a comment about the neat places that you can find O'Reilly books cheaply... less than %25 of cover price.

    Not new... but, still.

    Then I realized that all of my favorite stores would be Slashdotted and there would be no O'Reilly books left for me.

    Scott: 1 - Slashdot: 0

  • I am a Safari subscriber, and find it invaluable for reference searching on things like the MySQL API.

    Recently, however, I've started teaching myself Haskell, and I've noticed that there is next to nothing in the range of books - which includes books by publishers other than O'Reilly - on Safari that deals with Functional Programming in general or Haskell in particular.

    Mind you, most people doing FP probably have access to very good university libraries, so I guess the market isn't that huge...
  • The review is pretty good (I am a Safari subscriber myself), but there was one big error that anyone considering the service should be aware of - some of the books in the service consume multiple "slots". For example, an EJB pattern book I wanted cost two slots. So the 10 slot plan (which I also have) does not necessarily mean you can hold ten books at once...

    I think the multiple slot thing might be for really large books that fetch a lot of money, not many seem to take up more than one slot.
  • by Gil Da Janus ( 586153 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @01:20PM (#5397244)
    As usual with the /. crowd - they want their cake, they want to eat it, they want it everywheere, they want someone else to gather the parts, mix well, edit well, host it well, and of course, want it on their platform of choice (even if it won't fit), and, of did I mention, they want it to be free to boot.

    I've been a user of Safari for over 16 months and I find it a very useful service - especially once they got other publishers and authors to jump on the band wagon. When they started this, it was ONLY O'Reilly books - and not very many of them.

    What drew me to the service was the ability to have access to a set of books and not have to cart them from home to the office (even when you live 3 blocks from your office, a pile of books every day is too much!), or off to a meeting with a client.

    That way if I have a particalar question on something I'm actively working, and I'm home, I can just look at it on the web on the shelf of books I have checked out.

    There is one feature that would be nice - if you are subscribed to a book, get a special discount if you order a physical copy - yes, you still need the book sometimes, but it has gotten less. Lots of the folks in the office use this service - and O'Reilly does offer office plans.

    I recommend the service, it's not for everyone, but if you can afford it, it will pay for itself.


  • Like many other slashdoters, I signed up for Safari way back when it was introduced. After a while I found myself using it periodically and eventually cancelled the service. The fact that the library at my university also provides free access to approximatly 140 books on Safari was also a big influence here.

    That being said, Safari is a great service that is well worth it for sysadmins and programmers. I've found it to be a great way to learn about a multitude of things when I either don't have any books relevant to a given subject and google just doesn't cut it.

    Now, what would make it really killer would be if that when you purchase a book via safari, you could pay a small additional fee (say $5) to have free access to that book via Safari for a year or two. However I'm sure that this would piss of O'Reilly distributors and bookstores that carry their books to no end. (hmmm... kinda like the RIAA)

  • 1 Slot 1= 1 book? (Score:3, Informative)

    by theguru ( 70699 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @01:24PM (#5397305)
    When I evaluated Safari last year, most books took up more than 1 slot in your bookshelf. Beginer, and "SQL at a glance" typee books took up 1 slot. Intermediate and pure reference books took up two, and advanced books took up 3.

    Is this still the case? It made the system actual value a lot less that it initially seemed. A 5 slot shelf can only hold one advanced book and 1 reference book at a time. At $9.99/mo, I decided it was better to purchase these books.
  • At first, I was surprised that the comments for this article hadn't degenerated into a flame-fest about IP models and renting vs buying books. After a bit more thought, however, I think there are two key factors that make this model appealing.

    Firstly, many if not most O'Reilly technical books have a fairly limited useful life. They must evolve to track tool version upgrades, and many potential users don't need the content of a particular book for longer than it takes to complete a project. Secondly, the service offered is not rental of a specific book, but rather online access to a broad library of titles. You're paying for the convenience of not having to find a physical lending library that carries the book.

    What other books would be appropriate for such a rental model? If you could access Springer-Verlag's yellow books online under a similar model, would you do it? How about a library of major American literature, 1920-1970? How about a library of (mostly pot-boiler) mystery or scifi titles? If the usability issues can be worked out, I would seriously consider buying a monthly subscription to an up-to-date online scifi library (think of a much expanded version of what Baen now offers for free). It would probably be a better value than the tripe I get from my cable TV subscription.

    Two last items for thought, however. First, if this model becomes as successful as I think it could, will we be in danger of losing the option of purchasing a book outright? Second, what will be the fate of public libraries?
  • I have used Safari for about 6 months. It is marketed as something where you can access a particular book online for as long as you pay $XXX per month for that book (e.g. $1.50/month). If I am going to be using a book ongoing, I will just buy the book, as I find accessing the site (or pages I saved to my disk) vastly less convenient than having the paper book in my possession.

    However, I continue to use Safari because I do not need to keep a book longer than 30 days, so what I can do is have access to a book for 30 days for about $1.50, and if it is something I would like to have around, I will buy the paper book; either way, I take the book off my Safari bookshelf after 30 days to make room for another book I can preview for 30 days.

    I suppose I could go to the bookstore and buy the book and read it, and return it if I do not like it, and that would be cheaper, but I do not want to make that many trips to the bookstore. :-)

    And of course if it is a book I only feel a need to read through once, then I do not even need to consider buying the paper edition.

    There are other pricing options for people who want to preview more or less than, say, 10 books per month.


  • Great idea - current books I can access as long as they're useful (everyone out there with obsolete books being used as footstools/table levelers/bookshelf ends, raise your hand).

    But my desk usually has a pile of books open, face up or down or with pencils or yellow stickys marking pages. I'm still looking for a way to map this to a single too-small-already computer screen.

  • Have you ever wondered how Oreilly is able to publish the same book online and in print? .... think DocBook [] . There is a section in the online book (free), 1.5.1. A Short DocBook History [] that describes how Oreilly developed the necessary tools and systems to allow separation of content and presentation.

    DocBook is almost 10yo (1991) and shows how a company can successfully publish (what ever the medium) using sgml/xml. Remember this the next time you see some "...xml is next thing...", hype.

    • ...There's a common misperception that, because there are no printing and shipping charges, ebooks should be less expensive than print books. Yet, these functions account for only about 15 percent of a book's cost...

    I do however have a gripe about the costs of online v's printed book. It urked me to read this. Whatever way you look at it (even if they update the contents), a book beats the web hands down. It's my book I can carry it around, I can lend it out, photocopy it and not have to pay repeat subcriptions.

    O'reilly does however have the Open-books [] section that allows you to read some titles online for free.

    • [links:]
      DocBook [] - DocBook reference online (free)
      Interview with Jon Udell about Safari [] - ml
      Open books [] - free and out of print books online.
  • Frank Zingrone wrote, in the Media Simplex (published 2001 by Stoddart,
    ISBN 0-7737-3293-4), pp.78-81: "Since television viewing severely reduces the healthy stimulations of high-beta wave activity in the brain, we should expect that the patterns of chaos in healthy brains are missing in television viewers, and there is strong evidence that they are. Studies conducted at the Australian National University in Canberra by the Emerys, a husband and wife team, determined that television viewing reduces cognition to low levels and thwarts learning, in the normal sense of material being subject to conscious recall.

    "The evidence is that television not only destroys the capacity of the viewer to attend, it also, by taking over a complex of direct and indirect neural pathways, decreases vigilance- the general state of arousal which prepares the organism for action, should its attention be drawn to specific stimulus." [the Emerys]

    "The Emerys display their findings in a "Summary Map of Relativities for
    Radiant and Reflected Light Perception." This chart shows the slowness
    and relative speed of brain-wave activity given specific tasks. The
    results when compared across several other investigations are clear: all
    perception attending to television viewing is considerably slowed down,
    whereas watching reflected light, from film to book reading, produces
    significantly faster brain waves."

    "It remains to be seen just what effects projection TV has on brain-wave

    "Television viewing leaves the left hemisphere almost in darkness.
    Magnetic resonance imaging and EEG techniques, too, give us mesmerizing
    pictures of the brain's dynamic actions. These techniques show that
    verbal centres shut down and all lively brain activity is severely
    reduced in response to tv watching."

    He then goes on to write about how CRT/VDTs (including computer monitors,
    and this would include LCDs, though perhaps less) incur similar effects
    in hampering learning.

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI