Programming books on Kindle

Recently I stumbled upon a Facebook pool asking whether I read programming books on Kindle. I voted yes. Definitely yes. I felt it didn’t express my experience well enough, so I wrote a comment. What you’re reading right now is the English version of this comment.

I started reading programming books when I was a student. I was lucky enough that the public library in the city where I used to live offered access to many valuable books on software engineering. Some of the titles include Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software and Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change. I also managed to buy books like Thinking in Java and PHP Objects, Patterns and Practice. And it was all paper.

It didn’t last long before I read all the paper books I was interested in I could borrow or buy easily. Happily, around that time, I got a job. It made me able to shop for any book I wanted without worrying about running short of pocket money. Well, sort of. Paying tons of money for a book shipped from a different continent didn’t seem sane.

I’ve found a solution! Now I read exclusively on Kindle. When I was a commuter, I used to carry a book with me. Before I got my e-book reader, I read a blog post praising the possibility to read controversial e-books in public. I didn’t quite believe in that. Would somebody notice the cover of my book? Soon I figured it out. I remember once when I was reading the previously mentioned Java book, one guy looked at me. “Java…” he said, in a voice full of disgust. I’m pretty sure he was a Modern Language Programmer or one of those macho guys who always consider things like a garbage collector or operating system an unnecessary overhead. If I had my Kindle, I’d avoid all the shame! But who knows, maybe I’d never check out Ruby.

There’s another reason why I prefer electronic versions of books over paper when I read in means of public transport. They weight nothing. Compared to huge hardcover books, I can easily hold the reader in one hand. When I don’t read, I can put it into the pocket of my jacket. My whole library in my pocket. Isn’t this amazing? It doesn’t matter if I’m going to a nearby city or different continent. It’s always that easy!

By today’s standards, e-book readers are not impressive computers. But they’re computers, after all! Every time I recall that I read about something in some book, the built-in search function turns out to be a lot more convenient than the index at the end of a book. And did I mention that all the books fit into my pocket?

I don’t like messy notes in margins. That’s why I hesitate to take them on paper. But with the on-screen keyboard it’s a totally different story! They don’t make the main text messy. They don’t force me to write tiny letters. Great!

Because English is the lingua franca of computing, I prefer to read in English. Unfortunately, it’s not my mother tongue. Thus, some words are unknown to me. But it doesn’t worry me, as all I need to do is to hold a word on the screen it and its definition pops up! So I not only carry the whole library with me. I carry the English dictionary as well!

But the most important thing is that there are countless books to read. Shopping for books abroad can’t be easier! And it takes seconds to deliver a book! If I couldn’t buy some of the e-books I read, I’d never read them. It’s simply too hard to get some paper books. From time to time we can even get a book for free. For example, O’Reilly Media publishes many e-books for free.

The E-ink screen is one of the biggest advantages of an e-book reader. It’s also one of its downsides. The relatively small, gray-scale screen works great most of the time, but sometimes it’s just too small and too gray. Recently I read a book describing a lot of color theory. There were big, colorful diagrams. I mean, I think there were. I haven’t seen them. To me they were small and gray. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen too often. If I’d be consuming more content of this kind, I’d consider trading great battery life and sunlight visibility for great colors and get a tablet.

I’m not a Kindle fanboy. The reason why I got it is that I hoped it would be a simple and problem-free product. I was right. It does everything I expect it to do and I can honestly recommend it. However, I try to avoid shopping exclusively for it. I prefer to buy e-books not only in the .mobi format, but also .pdf and .epub. That way if I decide to change my device, I don’t lose the books I paid for.

I believe the things I mentioned sum up my experience with Kindle quite well. If you are considering getting one, please bear in mind that your needs may differ. I want to travel light and read in a foreign language. If you can easily get all the paper books you want and you don’t mind carrying them, you may not need an e-book reader. Or maybe you already have one?

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