How to Read E-Books in OS X. (.CHM, .PDF, .DJVU, .LIT, .PDB and .MOBI files)

Imagine carrying around a gigantic library on your hard drive. In this library, no paper was wasted on the production and distribution of any books. Sound like something magical and imaginary? It’s not. It’s the future of books – the E-Book.

While reading one on a monitor can be awkward, E-Books on a MacBook or iPhone/iPod Touch are gaining in popularity. Let’s look at the common E-Book formats you will come across and how to use them in OS X.

Each of the readers I’ve found will not only work, they are all free to download and use.

Portable Document Format (.PDF)

Adobe’s .PDF format is the most common format for digital printing. It’s DRM free and works almost everywhere you will need it to work. (Except with the Kindle.) It’s also supported natively in OS X. All you need to use is Preview. In my experience, about 75% of everything I’ve encountered has been in .PDF format.

Note: There are some .PDF files that will not display properly in Preview due to advanced formatting that isn’t supported. If you encounter this, head on over to the Adobe website and download the free Adobe Reader for OS X.

Microsoft Compiled HTML Help (.CHM)

Originally created by Microsoft as a way to encode help files, the .CHM format has since expanded into E-Books. It’s more compact than standard HTML, quickly searchable, and can be easily organized into a table of contents, chapters and index. Several .CHM files can also be assembled together into one file.

.CHM files aren’t natively supported by OS X. You will need to download a special reader for them. While there are readers out there that you can easily pay for, Here are three great readers that are free.

Chmox, an open source collaboration.
iChm by Robin Lu.
ArCHMock by Vyacheslav Zakovyrya.

DjVu – Déja Vu (.DJVU)

An alternative to .PDF that I’ve previously written about, DjVu was developed as a free file format by ATT Research. To read a DjVu file in OS X, download the open source DjVuLibre.

eReader / Palm Digital Media (.PDB)

Originally developed for Palm handheld devices, the .PDB format can now be read on many different platforms including OS X an the iPhone / iPod Touch. E-Booksin the .PDB format can either be free or for purchase depending on the publisher. Head on over to the eReader website to download the free eReader Pro for Macintosh to use .PDB format E-Books.

Microsoft Reader (.LIT)

Microsoft’s proprietary .LIT file format is based on the Compiled HTML Help format except it’s formatted especially for smaller PDA screens. The .LIT filetype isn’t an easy one for OS X. There is no OS X readers for the .LIT filetype as Microsoft owns and strictly controls this format. With no native readers out there, we have to resort to converting it to HTML files with the following CLI Binary and Script:

Convert Lit – The Binary with CLI interface
Lit to Html – An Applescript to assist, if you need.

Note: The Convert Lit Binary must be placed in the /bin folder in order for it to work properly.

Mobipocket (.MOBI)

The Mobipocket format is yet another E-Book format that doesn’t totally support OS X.

In searching for something that will either work or convert, I did come across LexCycle’s Stanza. While Stanza will open a .MOBI file in Mac OS X (as well as the iPhone), it strips out the images and leaves only the text. I’d only use this for a novel or other E-Book that doesn’t require pictures and diagrams. As it’s only in beta right now, there’s no telling if it will be free software in the future. Hopefully it will be.

Also, related to the Mobipocket Format is the Amazon Kindle Format (.AZW). Sorry, as the Kindle’s format is proprietary to the device, there’s no reader for .AZW files either.

One thought on “How to Read E-Books in OS X. (.CHM, .PDF, .DJVU, .LIT, .PDB and .MOBI files)

  1. I have found 2 .lit readers that work on OS X. They are very basic in that they strip out the “nice” formatting that .lit books can be created with but they both work for me. I don’t have any DRM books but I am guessing that they won’t open those anyway.

    1 – MacLit – http://www.twistedtheorysoftware.com/maclit/
    2 – Stanza – http://www.lexcycle.com/download

    Draklorien