November 15, 2005
Michael Hart conceived of electronic books (e-books) back in 1971. Most pundits agree that in the history of knowledge and scholarship, e-books are as important as the Gutenberg press, invented five centuries ago. Many would say that they constitute a far larger quantum leap. As opposed to their print equivalents, e-books are public goods: cost close to nothing to produce, replicate, and disseminate. Anyone with access to minimal technology or even the oldest computers can read e-books.
Hart established Project Gutenberg - a repository of tens of thousands of public domain texts, freely available online. It is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind and has spawned numerous imitators, emulators, and mirror site. E-books became a mainstream item with giant commercial enterprises - from Microsoft through Yahoo and Amazon to Google - entering the fray.
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