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Safari Books Online 6.0: A Cloud Library as an alternate model for ebooks

There has been a lot of attention paid to ebooks lately, and for good reason. Electronic books are portable, searchable, and more affordable than print books. The web has accustomed readers to having the latest information at their fingertips; we all ask why books should be any less available “on demand.”

Amazon’s Kindle has received the most mainstream attention (with new entries like Barnes & Noble’s Nook making dedicated ebook readers into the latest competitive horse-race), but ebooks are taking off even faster on the iPhone and other smart phones. Ebooks are one of the most popular classes of iPhone application. Recent releases of O’Reilly ebooks as iPhone applications have even outsold the same books in print. Direct sales of the ebook bundles we offer from oreilly.com (PDF, epub, or mobi files) also exceed our direct sales of print books from the site.

Yet our most popular ebook offering by far is often not even thought of as an ebook. Safari Books Online is an online book and video subscription service, launched in partnership with the Pearson Technology Group in 2001. It contains more than 10,000 technical and business books and videos from more than 40 publishers. It has more than 15 million users (including the number of concurrent seats available through libraries and universities); it is now the second largest reseller of O’Reilly books, exceeded only by Amazon.com, and its revenue dwarfs our sales of downloadable ebooks. It’s also the most affordable of our ebook offerings for those who are regular consumers of technical content. The average Safari Books Online subscriber uses at least seven books a month, and many use dozens (or even more), yet the monthly price (depending on the subscription plan) ranges from little more than the price of a single downloadable ebook to no greater than that of two or three.

Here’s the rub: most people thinking about ebooks are focused on creating an electronic recreation of print books, complete with downloadable files and devices that look and feel like books. This is a bit like pointing a camera at a stage play and concluding that was the essence of filmmaking!

At O’Reilly, we’ve tried to focus not on the form of the book but on the job that it does for our customers. It teaches, it informs, it entertains. How might electronic publishing help us to advance those aims? How might we create a more effective tool that would help our customers get their job done?

It was by asking ourselves those questions that we realized the advantages of an online library available by subscription. One of the best things about online technical books is the ability to search the full text of a book. How much better would it be to be able to search across thousands of books? Safari Books Online was our answer.

And it just got better. Safari Books Online 6.0, released yesterday, brings a new level of ease of use. It’s a complete, bottom-to-top revamping of the original service. The old UI was, to say the least, getting long in the tooth.

The new UI is slicker and faster, with the kind of drag-and-drop goodness that people expect from a modern web application. In addition, we’ve added some long-requested features, including:

Improved Interactivity — With 6.0 you can make inline notes, in the actual text you are reading. You can dog-ear or bookmark specific pages. You can highlight text and associate it with notes. When you are done you can print those pages with both your highlights and notes on them. You can scroll non-stop through the pages of a book without any page refresh, or scan a block of pages in thumbnail view to spot the page you are looking for.

Personalized Folders – Rather than having thousands of books and videos organized by us in a single technology topic taxonomy, you can now put together your own organization, grouping books in the categories most useful to you. You can restrict searches to only the books you’ve chosen, and can search within the results of a saved search.

Collaboration – Even better, if you’re a corporate subscriber, you can share your categorization with other members of your company or workgroup. Not only can team members share folders, they can share book reviews, notes and highlights.

Smart Folders – New books, videos and articles are being added to Safari Books Online all the time. Searches saved as “smart folders” make it easy to keep up with the latest content in your area of interest. We have also improved our search user interface to allow you to search inside the book or in other books without leaving the page you are reading. Switch pages only when you find what you want.


As you can see, many of these features take advantage of the online medium in ways that aren’t possible with standalone ebooks. To be sure, there are times you want your own offline copy, and in Safari Books Online, you can indeed download books or chapters for offline use. But especially given the rise of the smartphone as an access device, the times when we are truly “offline” are becoming few and far between. The vision with which we started Safari, that of always-on access to a library of technical content, not just to individual ebooks, is now within reach. Safari Books Online can be used on a desktop or laptop computer or in the browser on a mobile phone. Everything is always in sync because your library is in the cloud.

An ebook cloud works the same way the web itself works. It provides ubiquitous access and shared experience.

Lessons Learned from the development of Safari Books Online

As I outlined above, Safari adopted a “cloud library” model rather than downloadable ebooks as its fundamental design metaphor. I thought it might be worthwhile to understand how we arrived at that decision, as well as some of the other lessons we’ve learned over what is now 22 years of ebook publishing experience. (O’Reilly published its first ebook, Unix in a Nutshell for Hypercard, back in 1987!) With that, a few reflections on lessons learned:

Embrace and encourage standards.

In the late 1980s, O’Reilly had developed a series of books on a technology called the X Window System, which was used by all of the large computer workstation vendors (and still remains an important part of Linux.) Many of these vendors were shipping our books as their documentation, and many of them said, “We’d like to do away with printed documentation. We want to ship only online documentation.”

They came to us with what they thought was a wonderful value proposition. “Just put your books into our fill-in the blank platform” — each one of them had its own proprietary system: IBM Info-Explorer, Sun AnswerBook, HP LaserROM. We replied, “This doesn’t sound like a very good business to us. We’ll find ourselves always chasing all these different formats. We have a better idea. We want to come up with a common format for technical books. You guys all learn to read it.” So, we started working with several of the vendors and came up with an open-standards SGML format for technical manuals called Docbook. (SGML was a precursor to XML.)

Perhaps most importantly, working with SGML led us to the World Wide Web. We decided early on that we wanted our ebook strategy to be a web strategy. We built a set of XML to HTML workflows that allowed us to produce multiple output formats from the same source files – a long, painful, and hotly debated process that took far longer to pay off than we expected, as the rest of the industry was slower to adopt ebooks than we were. In the late 1990s, we even offered HTML-based books on CD-ROM, a product line that we called “CD Bookshelves.” (These products, which put 5 to 7 related books onto a single CD, were a precursor to Safari Books Online’s original “bookshelf” business model.)

Eventually, we realized that we’d have to encourage downloadable ebook standards as well. Recently, we’ve seen the same format fragmentation that we saw in the early 1990s, where publishers are being asked to support multiple proprietary ebook formats. The XML publishing systems we’ve built at O’Reilly make it relatively easy to produce multiple formats; other publishers are not so lucky. But more importantly, multiple formats create a real tax on the reader, as ebook vendors work to create customer lock-in.

While we can’t control the actions of ebook resellers or other publishers, we can set a good example. That’s why O’Reilly today offers downloadable books as bundles of three popular formats, PDF, epub (an open XML standard), and mobi (convertible to Kindle.) Currently, Safari Books Online only supports PDF downloads. We’d like to see them offer ebook bundles as well. But more importantly, we’d like to see all vendors supporting epub.

Work with your competitors.

One of our mottos at O’Reilly is to “create more value than you capture.” When we launched Safari Books Online, we knew we were working to build an entire industry, not just a new product.

With this in mind, we reached out to the Pearson Technology Group, our biggest competitor, creating Safari Books Online as a joint venture between the two companies. Safari went live with the entire library of O’Reilly and Pearson books. (Pearson imprints include Addison-Wesley, Prentice-Hall, Peachpit, Sams, Que, Cisco Press, and Adobe Press.) Since then, Safari Books Online has added books and videos from nearly every other computer book publisher, including Microsoft Press, Wiley, APress. The Pragmatic Programmers, Manning, and many others.

While we still compete fiercely with Pearson in acquiring new authors and titles, and in selling those books to the public, we cooperate in coming up with new features that we think will help to make Safari Books Online a better product. We each have our own skunkworks for new features (in O’Reilly’s case, labs.oreilly.com), but once we understand that something works, we encourage Safari to adopt it.

It also turns out that while we cooperate on the technology and design of Safari Books Online, the cloud library model provides ample room for competition at the content level. One of the advantages of Safari Books Online as a separate joint venture is that it is a level playing field for all participating publishers. Remuneration to publishers and authors is based on actual usage of books and videos. This has led to some interesting side-effects, in particular, deeper usage of books that are out of print or in limited availability, confirming Chris Anderson’s long tail theory.

Electronic publishing requires an ecosystem

The other key insight that led us to develop Safari was that we realized that for ebooks to succeed, they would need a distribution infrastructure. In 1995, early in the commercialization of the internet, I wrote a paper entitled Publishing Models for Internet Commerce. In it, I wrote:

[Here] are some of the characteristics of the print publishing market that make me think it provides some of the best models for the commercial Internet I’d like to see developed:

  • Barriers to entry are low. Especially with the advent of desktop publishing, almost anyone can produce a book, a magazine, a newsletter.

  • Niches abound. Over 50,000 books are published each year in the U.S. alone. A major bookselling chain such as Borders keeps literally hundreds of thousands of unique titles in inventory. And despite major industry consolidation,and focus on a small number of bestsellers, there are still thousands of publishers, ranging in size from those who publish only a single book to those who publish thousands. What’s more, there are about 3500 general circulation magazines and tens of thousands of newsletters and other limited circulation publications.

  • So do business models. Books are sold “by the piece.” They are also available for free in the library, though in limited circulation. Magazines and newspapers may be had for free (perhaps subsidized by advertising or membership), for a single-copy newsstand price, or for a recurring subscription fee. Prices range from a few dollars to hundreds or even thousands of dollars for specialized newsletters.

  • No one “owns” the market, or needs to. A bestselling book might sell a million copies or so. The largest circulation magazine in the country, the AARP’s membership magazine, has a circulation of about 7 million, Reader’s Digest about 5 million. No one else comes close. It’s possible to have a successful book selling only a few thousand copies, a newsletter a few hundred, and a four color magazine a few tens of thousands.

  • The same technology is available to everyone. No one publisher has a “proprietary edge.” No one has a proprietary format. In some cases (consider Bible publishing), the publisher doesn’t even have proprietary content!

  • There is a rich ecology of mutually successful players. Authors sell to publishers. Publishers screen material, edit and produce it to add value, develop a marketing campaign, and build a network of distribution relationships to get the book to the ultimate consumer. Publishers may sell books directly to the consumer, through major retailers, and through wholesalers to smaller retailers whom they don’t serve directly. Other wholesalers service libraries and corporations–some of whom also order directly. No one has to do it all, and there are opportunities for many players to work together, each making a profit by performing services in a value chain that stretches from the author to the reader.

  • Access is universal and non-exclusive. You don’t have to belong to the local bookstore to shop there, and even if you usually buy your books there, you can go across the street if Borders or Barnes & Noble has a better deal. Distribution is spotty–you can’t find every book in every store–but with special orders, you can get virtually anything within a few days. You don’t find many books that you can only buy through a special outlet.

These principles continue to guide my thinking about how to commercialize online content. (Despite its age, the whole paper is still worth a read.)

But I want to focus in on one point from the list above “There is a rich ecology of mutually successful players.” In a world where many players are trying to cut others out of the value chain, it’s worth remembering that vibrant industries have a rich ecosystem, not a monoculture. And distribution is an important part of that ecosystem.

In 2000, I gave a talk entitled The ecology of ebook publishing. I talked about my experiences as a print and online publisher, and what I’d learned about ebooks as a result:

Even now the web is not a fully developed ecosystem, but you can see that seven years after we started doing commercial Web sites, there is a rich ecology of players who help each other to succeed. There are companies that do analysis of your site traffic. There are companies that serve your ads. There are companies that understand to buy the ads. There are companies that follow the market and track who’s got market share. There are people who resell ads on behalf of other people and ad networks. So, over time we developed in the Web space a mini analog to what we had earlier in the print space, which was lots of different companies working together in a kind of business ecology.

So, with all this as backdrop, I want to just talk a little bit about where we are right now with e-books. I don’t know how long all of you have been working with e-books, but I’m now tracing my work in trying to get this puppy to fly, for 12 to 13 years. Actually, 14. Our first e-book was in 1986. And I see that the biggest problem is the lack of an ecology. And ecology is a really good metaphor for thinking about how marketplaces develop.

When you look at, say, ecological reclamations, for example what happened around Mt. St. Helens when it exploded, you have this gradual resurgence of species. One species makes way for another. So primitive plants will break down the rock and gradually make some soil so that something else can take root. There really isn’t time to grow mature forests on, say, the bed of just-cool lava. This is also the way ecosystems develop in business. You have to say, “Okay, you’ve got to break this thing down.”

And we’re still in that stage for e-books. I know this doesn’t really give us a great deal of guidance about what works in the e-book space, but it does give us a lot of guidance about what will not work.

What I think will not work are approaches that try to go it alone….

I believe that distribution systems exist for the same reason that we have alveoli in our lungs. They create surface area. Any of you who have been in publishing know that there are two classes of customers. There are the people who already know that they want your product, who can come to you directly, and then there’s the people who are going to encounter your product by chance. For most of book publishing and certainly for most of trade book publishing, the people who are going to encounter your product by chance are far greater in number than the people who are going to seek it out.

Now, I’m in a fortunate end of the business where, for example, a book like Programming Perl is the only book by the author of a program that’s very widely used and so people say, “Oh, there’s a book out by Larry Wall” and they look for it. There are tens of thousands to buy it and there’s a ready-made direct audience. And, certainly, you have people like Stephen King, or Prince, who has done this in the music world, who have already built up an audience over time and who can say, “Hey, come to me directly.”

But, for the most part, digital publishing and online publishing systems are going to have to re-create the kind of richness of distribution networks that we see in the print world.

So, the systems that we provide have to allow for the kinds of behaviors that have supported our print marketplaces. So when you’re evaluating an e-book distribution system, you have to ask yourself questions like “Does it have pricing and mechanisms that support pass-through by multiple layers of wholesalers or retailers or distributors?” because you can’t assume that you will have a direct relationship with everyone who might want to sell your books. Is there a mechanism for someone to pick up part of the margin? What does pricing look like? If you haven’t thought that through, we don’t have a viable system, or we have a viable system that will support only direct to consumer sales.

As a result of these convictions, we developed a portal strategy that allowed Safari to be skinned and “resold” by each of the participating publishers. We built a direct corporate sales force to call on Fortune 500 companies. We also developed reseller relationships with library wholesalers, training companies, and others who could increase our reach into the marketplace. We even tried (without success) to have Safari subscriptions resold by book retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.

More than 60% of Safari revenue now comes from corporate and library sales; 40% from direct customer sales via the various publisher portals like the ones at O’Reilly, Pearson’s InformIT and Peachpit, and Safari’s own consumer portal

What Job Do Your Books Do?

In order to understand how to succeed with ebooks, it helps to ask the right questions. As I mentioned earlier, the first question is this: what job does a book do? This is not the same for all publishers. If you publish bird identification guides, WhatBird.com shows how much more easily you can do your job online, and how you can do it even better on an iPhone. If you publish maps and atlases, Google Maps clearly does the same job, and does it better, than a print book.

Most publishers exploring the ebook market think of so called ludic reading, that feeling of getting lost in a good book. Jeff Bezos explicitly called this out as one of the goals of the Kindle.

“The key feature of a book is that it disappears.”

But this isn’t the only reason we read. Years ago, I heard Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christenson explain how different products do different jobs for different customers at different times. He gave an example of a Harvard study done of McDonalds’ milkshakes. Peak sales in the morning were to solitary commuters, whiling away a long commute. Peak sales in the afternoon were to soccer moms hurrying up a pack of kids who’d gotten a visit to McDonalds for a treat after practice. Two different jobs, perhaps two different products: In the morning, thick and slow is good; in the afternoon, a bit quicker to drink might make mom a bit happier.

I’ve applied this kind of thinking to our publishing strategy, both in print and online. Our books are used to learn about new technology, to search for task-relevant information, and to a much lesser extent, for entertainment. As a result, you’ll see a clear bifurcation in our publishing program between books that are primarily used for reference, like the Cookbook series, versus those that are used for learning, like the Head First series, or those that are read for fun, like Make: magazine. And in online publishing, we built Safari Books Online for reference and just-in-time learning, and the O’Reilly School of Technology for structured online learning with live instructors.

Where do we go from here?

One more important feature being added to Safari is a new, lighter-weight development model. The Safari team has been working with Eric Ries of the Lean Startup fame to adopt the kind of constant improvement that characterizes the best web applications. From here on out, we’ll be adding new features and functionality, and improving the interface, on an ongoing basis rather than in massive stair-stepped releases.

And yes, there are lots of features I’d like to see, including:

  • More cross-book links provided by publishers (and the ability for readers to make their own links across the site)
  • An improved version of the commenting features in Rough Cuts, Safari Books Online’s early access program for books under development. (You can see one experimental system, O’Reilly’s Open Feedback Publishing System at O’Reilly Labs.)

  • Support for multi-format downloadable ebooks. Right now, Safari Books Online users can download PDFs. I’d like to see Safari support epub and mobi (Kindle) file formats as well. In addition, I’d like to make the purchase of offline copies less cumbersome than provided by the current token system. (Subscribers receive a certain number of free tokens each month and can purchase additional tokens. Each publisher sets its own price in tokens for downloads.)

Please leave your own suggestions for improvements in the comments.

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Comments: 206

  1. When I saw the download format dropdown list, I got very excited. Supporting Kindle format would be a HUGE win for Safari.

    Thanks for the new site. It addressed literally all my complaints with the old site.

  2. This is a HUGE improvement! My only other comment is that for some geeks like me learning about new technology and searching for task-relevant information is entertainment. 😀

  3. Can you please bring back html view ? We shouldn’t require flash to read ebooks. The old html view was pretty good.

  4. I love the term “cloud library”. This is what we tried to achieve when we moved our focus from http://www.chalkface.com (publishes books for schools) to http://yacapaca.com (online assessments for the same customers, with the same ethos).

    But, as ever, you’re the man with the soundbite for it.

  5. “Here’s the rub: most people thinking about ebooks are focused on creating an electronic recreation of print books, complete with downloadable files and devices that look and feel like books. This is a bit like pointing a camera at a stage play and concluding that was the essence of filmmaking!”

    Which is precisely why retiring HTML mode was a ludicrous idea! The page images do not even approach the readability and flexibility of browser-rendered text. Furthermore, except in cases like the Head First titles where the physical form is an integral part of the design, total “print fidelity” in electronic editions is NOT in fact desirable, because this results in the retention of arbitrary page breaks.

    I’ve been a happy subscriber for five years. If a reflowable-text view is re-introduced I will gladly re-up a year in advance. If this doesn’t happen, though, I’m gone, and I doubt I will be the only one.

    Thanks for reading.

  6. I like the layout of the new design, certainly. But I have to agree that requiring users to use flash is problematic. I think it would be better to preserve HTML mode for customers that wish to use it.

  7. Bash, Brendan, Jamie —

    I hear you guys about lamenting the loss of HTML view. But data from usage showed that books that were in page fidelity mode were chosen over HTML by most users when given the choice. And that was with the old page fidelity mode. The new one is much better.

    One example: you now have infinite scrolling. Yes, you see the page boundaries, but they don’t stop you. If you want, you can scroll all the way through the whole book. By contrast, in the old HTML view, we had to break the book up into sections (some long, some short, depending on the structure of the book). Each section needed a new click. So you could scroll for more than a single page in some cases, but often less.

    In other words, try it a while, and I’ll bet that it grows on you.

  8. I’ve been a user of Safari Books Online for quite some time. In fact, my primary method of using it was to use the mobile site on a smart phone so I didn’t need to carry a library around with me. The move to Flash for page viewing has absolutely destroyed my ability to read books from anything but a browser with Flash enabled. Please reconsider.

  9. I guess I’m just getting to be a curmudgeon as I get older but this doesn’t seem much of an improvement to me. It’s an improvement along the lines of MS Office 2007–may be great for new users but it’s a major league pain in the rear for people who are accustomed to the old way of doing things.

    -1 for the new interface. Too bad too; I’ve used Safari for years and really liked it but the UI seems to have taken a step backwards.

    By the way, +1 for putting “My Bookshelf” somewhere easy to find like it used to be. I’d love to hear the reasoning that lead someone to decide that it was wise to hide that menu option. My Bookshelf should be the default view–after all that’s mainly why I use Safari. And I doubt that I’m alone in that way of using the site.


  10. Longtime Safari Reader

    The old interface has better usability. I found the new ajax/flash user interface is slow and hard to read. I was looking for “feedback” link from web site. I’m glad that I can leave some comments here.

  11. My libraries each have unique subscriptions via ProQuest. If this new system requires flash, can I now use the mobile site with the library subscription? Will it perhaps even auto-redirect me, with an option to go back to the full version? If there’s an iPhone app, can you release it in Canada, and will it also support library subscriptions?

    I love the service, but the books are still too hard to read for institutional customers.

    Louis from Toronto, where I’ve access to all O’Reilly books via the Toronto Public Library and to others via York University.

  12. Oh and when can we “check out” epub versions like OverDrive provides? I’d love to use my Sony Reader or a Nook while on the go instead of the iPhone, even if the check-out was only for a day or two.

  13. Tim,

    Thanks for your reply.

    Could the statistics about fidelity view be because it was the default view ? Considering how much Flash is a processor hog, you have also greatly affected people with low end computers.

    Maybe one viable solution could be to offer the old UI via a different url for people wishing to remain with the old interface. Ironically with this change you have highlighted one of the great disadvantages of cloud services in that they force customers to upgrade when they don’t wish to.


  14. tim said:
    > Safari adopted a “cloud library” model
    > rather than downloadable ebooks
    > as its fundamental design metaphor.

    you keep using that term “library”…

    > Access is universal and non-exclusive.
    > You don’t have to belong to the local bookstore
    > to shop there, and even if you usually
    > buy your books there, you can go across the street
    > if Borders or Barnes & Noble has a better deal.
    > Distribution is spotty–you can’t find every book
    > in every store–but with special orders,
    > you can get virtually anything within a few days.
    > You don’t find many books that you can
    > only buy through a special outlet.

    …but at the library down the street from me,
    i can check out books for free. _at_no_cost_.

    and “free as in beer” is what the average person
    actually means when they use the term “library”.

    what you have is a _bookstore_.

    where people can _buy_ books.

    or at least _rent_access_ to books…
    so, in that regard, it’s more like netflix.

    but the point remains that cash is a requirement.

    and given that requirement, your use of phrases like
    “access is universal and non-exclusive” is misleading,
    since that particular point doesn’t apply to your baby.

    and, um, your accomplishment of building an
    online bookstore (and/or rental outlet) is nice,
    i guess, but gee, don’t we really want to build
    one that is open-source, and not controlled by
    a consortium of print-bound corporate publishers?

    i also have many concerns with the technological
    choices you’ve made in the building of your store,
    choices that clearly seem non-optimal to me, but
    given the deep philosophical issues laying on top,
    i’ll rest my case right now.


  15. I agree with Bash.

    Tried the new UI from my MacBook Pro 2.5 Ghz 4 Gb Ram – really not a low end pc – and appear, in same network conditions, slower as the old one.

    Select and highlight is a pain. HTML view + Diigo was a much faster solution (of course, I loose all my notes now) and I was expecting you are integrating a solution like that or something even better into the HTML 5 path. Instead, Flash.

    At first I didn’t read anything at all. This was due why I have HTML view as default, on all books.

    By the way, I’m reading and writing from a iPhone.

  16. Loading…



    It’s slow and the fonts look rubbish. HTML please.

  17. Matt,

    The mobile site still uses reflowable text; I just checked.


    Thanks for the reply. While the new print fidelity mode is an improvement over the old one, it is still inferior to browser-rendered reflowable text in terms of visibility and flexibility.

    I concede that the gap between the two viewing modes has been narrowed considerably with the rich functionality of the new Flash reader, but it will never close as long as arbitrary print pagination is retained. Don’t forget that page breaks involve not just a break, but a header and a footer, which now must be manually stripped from copy-pastes– assuming text selection across page boundaries works at all, which it does not on my machine at present.

    My frustration is compounded by the knowledge that you must still have reflowable versions of your content on hand (since Safari was serving them right up to the 6.0 rollout), and what’s more you will continue to produce reflowable versions of new titles for the foreseeable future, given your commitment to support the Kindle and EPUB formats.

    Again, for titles explicitly designed with the printed-page format in mind, you’ve offered an impressive upgrade to the reading experience. I can only reiterate, however, that in failing to retain a reflowable-text viewing mode, Safari has regressed to pointing a camera at the stage and calling it cinema.

    Thanks for reading.


  18. I actually really like the new version of Safari Books Online. It comes off as easier to navigate and the page quality looks better to me.

  19. Brendan,
    I checked as well. Previously it would automatically redirect my browser, but wasn’t, so I assumed the mobile site was removed/deprecated. Specifying m.safaribooksonline.com did get me the HTML views. Now if only I didn’t have to change my user agent string when I’m using a system without Flash.

  20. It seems from these comments that HTML view will not be coming back. This is a pity as I’ve really enjoyed using Safari but in it’s current form I don’t think I can justify paying money for it.

    I find it strange that a company can decide to remove an option, without warning, from paying customers just because only a minority used it. It also seems odd that you can complain that “most people thinking about ebooks are focused on creating an electronic recreation of print books”, and then force an exact recreation of a printed page on your users.

  21. +1 that you bring the html view back.

    “Here’s the rub: most people thinking about ebooks are focused on creating an electronic recreation of print books, complete with downloadable files and devices that look and feel like books. This is a bit like pointing a camera at a stage play and concluding that was the essence of filmmaking!”

    Which is exactly what you have done in Safari 6.0

    “And it just got better. Safari Books Online 6.0, released yesterday, brings a new level of ease of use. It’s a complete, bottom-to-top revamping of the original service. The old UI was, to say the least, getting long in the tooth.

    The new UI is slicker and faster …”

    Obviously you haven’t tried the new interface. It is slower and more cumbersome, and badly uses screen real estate.

    Please give us the html view back

  22. I like the overall new look and feel of the site, and;

    +1 for bringing back HTML view
    +1 for allowing chapter/book downloads in epub and mobi format (c’mon this should be easy for O’Reilly published titles that are already offered in this format)

  23. +1 for the return of HTML view.

    I’ll be a good sport and try the Flash version for a few weeks, but I’m dissatisfied with it at this point. Scrolling is awkward, the title and button headers waste valuable screen real estate even in full-screen mode, and the PgUp/PgDown buttons require that I click back on the text before using the arrow keys to scroll within a page.

    But, most importantly, the fonts look terrible at any magnification, and some of the lighter example-code fonts require Clint-Eastwood levels of squinting to discern.

    You honestly won’t lose much money by losing me as a Safari subscriber – I’ll buy 4-5 titles a year from O’Reilly, but I can’t find much to love in the new interface, beyond the improved history and bookmarking capabilities, which are a nice addition.

    I rarely complain about any product. This, however, was a special project of mine: I searched the web for a place to complain.

  24. 508 compliance isn’t working at all. Screenreader can’t find any content on the page. I did click the preference for screenreading, but apparently the text is never made available.

    You did realize that many actionscript commands will interfere with screenreaders, didn’t you.

  25. The Flash requirement is a big disappointment. To me, HTML view was already a big step down from the dead trees version in terms of readability, yet there were other things to make up for it. Now, maybe not. All I really wanted before was a way to group my titles. I appreciate that you are working on improving the service, but this doesn’t quite feel like it.

  26. What is Tim’s opinion on royalties in a world of ebooks and digital safaris?

    It’s not a secret that Tim’s company doesn’t offer high royalty rates to its authors, especially on digital sales.

    AFAIK NoStarch offer 50% on ebook/PDF sales; O’Reilly 10%.

  27. I don’t like the infinite scrolling either. These are reference books, not story books. I don’t usually care much about the chapters before and after the one I’ve chosen and I don’t want to accidentally end up in them.

  28. The site overall looks cleaner now, quite an improvement – until I actually opened my book for reading. Switching to Flash is a big mistake. Maybe fatal to my account. It’s the annoyance #1 of the Web! The only thing it’s really used for is to create really invasive ads — equivalent of TV ads louder messages.
    Safari use: First of all, the font rendering is absolute rubbish! Years of ClearType improvements down the drain. These Flash fonts hurt my eyes, at any size. But at the default small size — the one that actually gets close to fitting the page on the screen, it’s just unreadable. The very un-subtle watermarking makes it even worse, as it’s a distraction on every page! Why? There’s no watermarks on the printed book.
    Second, the quality of the images scaled down to fir the Flash seriously degrades. At least with HTML view there’s on option to view the full-resolution image. Now I have to squint my eyes and guess what the poorly dithered image supposed to convey. For Pete’s sake — there are technical books, the details matter!
    Third, copying text totally handicapped — formatting is lost, pictures are lost, line continuation is lost.
    And, finally, the page breaks in continuous reading mode on the Web are completely ridiculous. The thing looks like the first self-propelled carriage — with the harness for the horse. The chapter breaks make much more sense, for any kind of reading, but esp technical.

    My summary: the site is all but ruined. If it’s not fixed by the end of my annual subscription, I’ll have tough time convincing myself to extend it. Considering the price had almost doubled (quietly) — no doubt money going into the “improvements”. Shame, it was such a great service…

  29. Wow – pretty unanimous flash hatred here. I’m really surprised given that all of the top Safari titles (the bestsellers, if you will) were in page fidelity.

    At any rate, the Safari team is scratching their heads about this since during their closed betas, they got nothing but praise — but they are also scrambling to see if they can come up with a solution.

    Personally, I do find it a big step forward in usability, while recognizing that some things could still be much better. I do wonder how many of you will still feel the same way after using it for a while.

    We’re also going to be closely watching actual usage. Are people voting for or against by how much they use the site?

    In any event, we’re taking in all the feedback. Thanks for sharing. Meanwhile, if there are any people who DO like the new interface (like me), feel free to speak up. 🙂

  30. The new interface takes (unbelievably) longer to load and use than the old interface. But worse than the performance is the fact it makes use of Flash.

    Flash is an annoyance on the web, but thankfully is rarely ever used for anything important. Requiring Flash to view the books I’m paying a subscription to view is insane. It boggles the mind that someone thought it would be a good idea to use Flash to display text. It is even more mind boggling when text viewing is the most critical part to the service.

    There is nothing convenient about the rest of the redesign. I don’t think the Safari Books team has any idea how their users actually use the service. The books on a user’s bookshelf should be the focus. Everything else should be secondary (as in not adding to the visual clutter).

    And yeah, the page fidelity view may have been the main view for the previous interface, but that has nothing to do with preference. That was the default view. Duh. Safari books is horrible at remember your preferences, so unless it was mission critical to view something in HTML (because of horrible page formatting) the default usually had to do. I would have killed to have HTML view be the default. But even if that didn’t happen, at least it was there as an option.

    What option do subscribers have now, but to leave the service.

  31. Jumping on board the “me too” train, forcing users to use the new format is a mistake. Safari Books Online should have done the big roll out with the option of continuing to use the old format. I don’t think enough A/B testing was done on a large enough audience. Especially testing for long time users.

    Books that was presented in Print Fidelity was difficult to use on computer displays. I was displeased with the old site when the Regex Cookbook would only display in Print Fidelity. I realize that the publishers dictate what outputs should be possible but this was an O’Reilly book.

    The biggest loss is text re-flow. Lots of wasted space in the margins at the top and bottom. Chapters, in fact the entire book, as one enormous scroll is less usable. (along with the distracting browser scroll bar and the flash scroll bar being displayed at the same time) Chapters being all on one page was a very useful feature.

    There’s another loss using Flash to display the books content. When the zoomed out and the font is small, the letters become fuzzy and difficult to read. Where I work during the day, the LCD monitors have a low dot pitch and the non-cleartype text ended up giving me a headache ruining my day and evening. Letting the browser render the text allowed the display to appear sharper.

    In summary, the old site worked very well for me. Having the HTML rendering taken away from me while viewing this in a browser is very irritating. Let the user choose which feature they wish to use. Please don’t take features away.

    Thanks for listening,
    Jack Suzuki

  32. All the new features are great. I can tell that the developers spent a lot of time adding great features. I love the note taking and the ability to add folders. The new table of contents is also very well laid out. Unfortunately after all the bells and whistles, it all boils down to the actual “reading” of the book… The font rendering is awful, I got a headache after reading several pages. I’m sure it extra work to maintain the html view, but PLEASE OH PLEASE please bring the html view back! I for one wouldn’t extend my subscription if there is no HTML view.

  33. Nothing to add here except that I made an effort to search for this very page. I won’t continue my subscription with the new look; the noise-to-signal ratio is much too high.

  34. Like Jack says above, text re-flow is a huge loss. For anyone doing the majority of their reading on a laptop with modest screen resolution, the new view is simply inadequate.

    I’m on a 1440×900 MacBook, and to get the fonts readable, I have to size the page so that I can view just under 3/4 of it in full screen mode (and I have to have Safari the Browser at full screen as well). If I then click in space in the scrollbar I expect to see the next 1/4 of the page along with some of the following page. No dice. It moves me to the next page while skipping some of the previous page I was on. Not good enough!

    I appreciate that the new interface looks great – it just isn’t functional for a working coder. Half the time code samples are mangled or rendered ineffectively and copying from said code samples has become an exercise in frustration. Book page formats simply don’t work in a browser. Let the browser do what it does best – don’t try and contort my viewing experience into the confines of print aspect ratio just because of book piracy fears. Let me use the 1440×900 that I’ve got. Even just allowing 90degree rotation would be a help.

    I’ve just paid $250 for a year’s subscription and effectively much of the service has disappeared out from under me. I didn’t use print fidelity view before for navigational and text flow reasons. I’ll be asking for a refund very soon if HTML view doesn’t make a return.

  35. I dread the day that they make this entire App in Flex – this terrible flash text is just the start.

    Who would have thought O’Reilly would be switching from Open formats to proprietary DRM infested only readable on certain ebook readers formats and/or requiring Adobe Flash…

    If it wasn’t for the terrible Flash type this website upgrade is quite good but this – the core of the reading experience – The text is what we come for and all the awesome window dressing in the world won’t make the ugly text rendering pretty.

  36. Thanks so much for the great post. However, I second every one of those who left comments here saying that the decision to remove HTML View was a no-brainer no matter what the compulsion was. The charm of SBO lies in that incredible HTML view. I hate the old big Safari header that occupies about 1/10 (or more) of the whole page without providing any real value, but there were user scripts available to overcome that distraction. Please don’t get me wrong, to me it appears that the team that took the decision to drop HTML View doesn’t have any hardcore programmer (who is also a heavy Safari user) or was forced on them by fears of piracy or whatever.
    However, please be assured that almost all the books are available for free if you know where to look. So, people who were hooked to SBO were doing that because a) they wanted to pay for something that was of value and b) reading the HTML version of the book was far more easier than reading the pirated PDF. At least, I was, for these very reason. So, please bring the HTML View back.

    Also, Tim, do you notice that there are not too many people who are gushing about how great the Flash reader is compared to old HTML View. Those who are gushing about the new version are gushing about the sleek look and the new features like folders/notes/bookmarks and I am sure once they sit down and start reading they will not be happy, unless they really love reading the text with all those deficiencies. I love the SBO of old, and as I was cribbing from day one of version 6 launch, please bring the HTML view back as an option.

    Finally, I am aware that even if those 50 people who are cribbing leave SBO, it might not mean much in terms of loss of money. However, perhaps, you might be loosing the most passionate users. It is strange that no one in the closed Beta thought this was a problem. Perhaps you should tweak the choice/type of people who participate in such programmes so that it is more inclusive of all opinions.

    I am more than happy to let go of all the new features for the ability to use SBO in a “Classic HTML” mode (or whatever you call it). Thanks for reading. Oh, yes, I had already given went to my feeling by a complaint mail and on twitter here: . I hope you guys listen and bring it back. Thanks!

  37. Hi Tim,

    I have to say this sounds a bit like “New Coke”. According to the Coca-Cola folks at the time, all of the taste testers gave the new formulation glowing positive reviews. Yet when people did more than just sip samples they discovered they simply didn’t like it.

    And if you had UI specialists working on this new version, I would guess those UI specialists don’t actually use Safari Books Online or they would have caught some of these problems that people are pointing out.

  38. Hi Tim, congratulations on the new release!

    One thing I would love to see is some integration between purchased ebooks and Safari. For example, if I purchase an ebook via Safari, it would be wonderful if it were permanently a part of my Safari library and not count against my book count. This way I could use Safari for books on topics for which I have a transient or evaluative interest and if I decide I really want the book forever, buy the ebook and free up a Safari slot.

    PS – Re: the negative feedback on the Flash interface, I suspect some of it is legit and some of it is based on aversion to a change to a familiar interface. It sounds like your team are evaluating doing something quick to bring back an HTML option. You might consider not doing that for a couple of months and see if people warm up to the new interface after it becomes “the old new thing”. I know this ideas won’t make me popular on this thread 🙂

  39. @BillHiggins – I am afraid the outcry of negative feedback is based on aversion to a change to a familiar interface, as you suspect. Please check this nice pix comparison of the new Flash based interface (swf) and a PDF. If someone at SBO can do a similar comparison of HTML version vs Flash, they too can see the same difference. Plus it would be advisable to compare how well the text flows when you press the zoom or when you press the space etc. I think almost all the points highlighted in this thread is based on verifiable facts and not emotions.

    @Onorio – “new coke” is a great analogy

  40. I’ve been using SBO for quite a while and find it a very useful resource for technical reference books. However, the v6 interface reduces the usability of your product considerably due to the flash reader. For the content that I use, a HTML view is preferable, for the following reasons:

    * The flash viewer’s font rendering is poor. The font rendering that my web browser provides is excellent.
    * It is not possible to change the font used. I prefer sans-serif fonts on a computer screen, but there appears to be no way to change the serif font used by the flash reader. This is a serious misunderstanding of the correct use of fonts.
    * The book metaphor is a step backwards in usability – ironically I think this *is* like filming a play.
    * HTML uses considerably less computer resources. The flash reader is consuming ~1GB of memory and hammering my CPU.
    * The flash reader ignores usability principals by behaving in a different way to a web browser it is embedded in. Various keyboard controls that I would use in a web browser don’t work, the mouse wheel scroll rate is different and I can’t context click to open a new tab.

    I would urge you to re-instate the HTML view on SBO. As it currently stands, I find PDF e-books more usable than your current reader and will probably switch to using those in future rather than SBO.

    Although the idea of a cloud library is a good one, this change has highlighted a serious issue with cloud applications, in that I’ve had an unwanted upgrade forced upon me. Will SBO v6 be your Windows Vista?

  41. I think the new version was designed by people who never read books on line. No HTML option, Flash only is a big mistake.

  42. Flash version:
    * With my screen size, I don’t have anymore a single button or key that takes me to the next unread section. Page Down goes to the next book page, not to the next part of the page that was not visible.
    * Zooming to get a big font may end up requiring horizontal scrolling
    * The browser’s built in search does not work any more

    @BillHiggins, no, I don’t thing it is a matter of getting used. I’ve had years to get used to Adobe Acrobat Reader, and still find my browser much more usable

  43. Suresh –

    I looked at the SWF/PDF comparison you linked to, and while I agree that the PDF is a little clearer, it’s not meaningful IMO. But obviously, people feel strongly about this. I know the Safari team is scrambling after the unexpected reaction.

    (BTW, I wonder how much of this is due to people using machines with different screen size and resolution. I wonder if they did testing on a high res screen, and not on enough low-res machines.)

    In the meantime, if you love HTML view, there’s always m.safaribooksonline.com on your phone…

  44. Let me sum up why the old html view was much better than the new flash reader:

    1 The html view was easer for the eyes (native browser fonts are much better for reading),
    2. Loading was considerable faster in html view, with more text loaded into one html document than just one book’s page.
    3. In html view, the text lines were dynamically adjusted to the width x height ratio of the browser window, (aka Word Wrap)
    4. In html view there are no watermarks to see under the text, in you flash reader I have watermarks distracting me from my reading, that’s really annoying!!!
    5. who cares about the original book pages, borders and fonts?, I prefer the feeling of reading internet documents, most programmers are used to reading online manuals and howtos, we want to get to the text quickly, html is perfect for that.
    6. Flash is a proprietary technology, is not open source, it’s not a standard, and it consumes considerably more machine resources than html.
    7. Html view is probably best for movil devices.

    Really Tim, I think you made a mistake cutting down html view option, but the bigger mistake of all would be not to hear what your customers what, and we want html view back! Period.

  45. Agreed with all Alfred’s points.

    Please brink back HTML view , this is the only readable format for me.

  46. Tim,

    I have been a member of Safari online books since some time in 2000 or 2001. First I paid for own sub. for 2 years, then my company bought us devs an unlimited sub. for around 4 years. My company later cancelled and I again paid for my own sub. for the past 2 – 3 years.

    I read or research on Safari, every weekday.

    The new format is completely unusable.

    [– SLOW –]
    It is slow — yes, I have a high-speed connection — and I still often see the “downloading” message where the book text should be.

    Also, when you click to scroll the page, it just isn’t optimal. It’s painful to use. A user really can’t control the page scrolling movement very easily. It’s quite terrible.

    The worst thing, however, is how that there is so much wasted screen. As you read a book, you often — even in “fullscreen mode” — only see a few lines of text from the book.

    And I challenge you to get just one entire page of text to display on your monitor. You can’t really even see half a page. Makes it very difficult to get code snippets or back up over what you just read.

    This has all the indications of a solution that was created from a list of requirements which sound great in isolation, but all put together are terribly unusable. “Our business analysts say we need…” Aaarggh!

    I don’t care what the BAs think. Have any of them used the product for 8 years, every day? I have.

    By the way, it feels more like the reason you switched to the new interface is not because it is _slicker and cooler_ but because you were worried about protecting your content.

    [– BOTTOM LINE –]
    If fixes are not made to address these problems and make it similar to what we had in the past I will cancel my sub.


    A_User (not a BA working in isolation)

  47. Sorry Tim, as a long time and heavy Safari user, I gotta throw my voice in with the flash-haters – but maybe html-lovers is a nicer term. While I enjoyed the new ui at first, I quickly ran into the following, quite frustrating problems:

    1. My browser keyboard shortcuts don’t work from flash. (And can never work, a legacy of the old netscape plugin api) How many times in the past day or two have I hit ctrl-t, expected a tab to open, and instead got safari’s new Note taking dialog? Or tried to tab to a different browser tab, and fail? For people who navigate their browsers principally with the keyboard, flash is very painful. I usually use Opera’s keyboard navigation, but with Flash, that of course does not work. Worse yet, my keyboard focus get trapped within the flash content, and I must reach for my mouse to escape it. Very annoying.

    2. Far less reliable — I’ve had many pages fail to load when scrolling down, or when clicking index links. I tried for 5 minutes to get to a page of content I wanted, before giving up in frustration. The old html-view had never failed me once. This may not even be your programmer’s fault — I work with flash at work, and Linux flash is far less stable – definitely a second-class citizen to the Windows and Mac versions.

    3. While Adobe’s Linux flash support is poor, I’m glad I’m not on FreeBSD trying to access Safari… let alone a PS3, a Wii, an OpenBSD system, an older Windows install… or trying to access safari on a broken machine with lynx or elinks… Maybe ‘most’ everyone uses IE or Firefox and can use Flash well, but there is probably a ‘long tail’ of ‘weird’ devices, that nonetheless handle html gracefully, and that Adobe will never bother to support. While few people are probably trying to read Safari on their Wii (probably? but who knows), I’m sure there are many *BSD, Solaris, *nix users, who don’t have flash access. Especially given OReilly’s long history in this space, it is very disappointing.

    For some books (Heads First books, for example) I would use this print-fidelity view, and the new ui is an improvement over the old image based view. But if you don’t bring back the html view for typical book reading, I’ll be using Safari a lot less.

    Also, as a feature request, I’d really love (as you mention) to see built in epub (or equivalent) support. Other than the new lack of html-view, this is the only major complaint I’ve had with Safari over the last few years of use.

    Liking the new folders, haven’t tried smart folders yet, but will give them a go. Seem like a good idea. I’ve used a number of Rough Cuts books over the last year, that has been an excellent feature.

  48. Tim, thanks a lot for the response and for continuing to listen to the customers. With all due respect, the point of linking to that pix was primarily to show that a) flash based text sucks in comparison to even pdf, not to mention html, and we love html over pdf as I had mentioned in my comment (and something that scores of other customers are vouching for) and b) I had no way to compare the same text on the new View and the old View (since old View is not available anymore for me). So, if you look at it from that perspective, perhaps it will appear a bit more meaningful.

    It is not a question of resolution of the monitor. I use a 14″ laptop, a 17″ CRT and a 17″ LCD. Sorry to say this, but reading the flash based text in the new version is a far less satisfying experience than the HTML view. So, I am not sure whether it is about screen resolution alone.

    Suggesting we use the phone for HTML view is also not a great solution. Why? Because I cannot copy paste the code, and as many people have reported here the flash based text is not great for copy-paste op. Of course, I don’t even want to get into the fact that I don’t have a decent phone (I use a Sony Ericsson W205, the cheapest walkman phone :). Of course, perhaps, that is my problem.

    Finally, let us not forget that SBO is primarily a web site for programmers and most of them are using computers (in some form and not mobile phones) for their work. Plus, why work hard to become an awesome and well loved website and fight the basic strength of the web – HTML and the browser? So, please bring the HTML View back. Even the old form without the new features will do for me and many others. Plus, so many people complaining cannot be an accident. So, please…

  49. The biggest problem I have with the new interface is that it takes a lot more work to make a book readable. Scrolling isn’t very fluid, so I find that I need to view a whole page at a time. In order to do that I have to rotate my monitor to portrait mode and then zoom in on the page. Otherwise the text is too small.

    Even in the old “Print Fidelity” view I could scroll around a page much more easily and didn’t really have to deal w/ the zoom. But most of the time I preferred the “HTML View”.

  50. I have been a subscriber of SOB pretty much since it became available. Other than a couple of year break when my employer supplied access to Safari my personal account has been active the entire time.

    To me the primary purpose of SOB is just like the name of the service implies (Safari Online Books) online books. I really don’t use any of the extra features of the site other than search and bookmarks. Any notes and such that I want to take I put in my Wiki that way my notes and thoughts could never be held hostage. So in essence I use SOB for what the name implies to read books.

    Now that you know what I use SOB for you can image how I feel about this new and improved SOB. I pretty much hate it! Oh I can deal with the snazzy new interface that consumes so much display space to show so little content. But the new Flash based reader completely destroys the Book reading experience for me. And seeing that reading Books is what I come to SOB for that means I’m really upset about this new change. I remember when the first print fidelity books first hit the site and though Oh cool. Put one of the head first books on my book shelf to check it out. I read 2 pages and never opened the book again it was just to inconvenient to read online with that view. And to this day it really irritates me when I find a book I would really like to read and the only view available is the print fidelity view. For instance why oh why was RegExp Cookbook only available in print fidelity? When I find these print fidelity books only I remove them from my book shelf as fast as I can. As you can see I really did not like the old print fidelity view and this new Flash based print fidelity view is even worse.

    So the bottom line is this Content is King and if I can’t use/read the Content there is no need for me to continue my subscription.

    Tim –
    “Wow – pretty unanimous flash hatred here. I’m really surprised given that all of the top Safari titles (the bestsellers, if you will) were in page fidelity.”

    Yes the best sellers have a default view of Print fidelity. But most of them also had a HTML view as well which I would switch to immediately. No HTML view then off the shelf the book would go.

    I’m rambling now but I’m giving SOB until the end of the month (when my subscription renews) if the only option at that point is the Flash viewer I’m not renewing my subscription.

  51. Tim,

    I would not characterize my reaction to Safari 6 as blind “Flash hatred”. It does improve the experience… *but only for those graphics-intensive titles that must be rendered in print-fidelity mode*.

    The error was in failing to recognize the complementary and distinct advantages of retaining HTML mode for text-heavy titles. I and others in this thread have already explained those sufficiently at this point, I think. I am glad to hear that you are taking our feedback to heart, and dearly hope that it results in the return of a reflowable view to Safari in the near future.

    Thanks for reading.

  52. Let me join the all the people extremely disappointed with removal of html view for the reasons already well stated. I’ll not be renewing my subscription if html view is not reinstated.

    A few things that were not mentioned yet:

    1. As a quick fix, how about allowing to use http://m.safaribooksonline.com from a regular browser (without the need to fake User Agent) until html view is back in the main interface?

    2. If you want a positive example of html view done right, Apple’s new interface for developer docs (e.g. http://developer.apple.com/mac/library/documentation/DeveloperTools/Conceptual/XcodeDebugging/100-Debugging_in_the_Debugger/debugging_in_debugger.html) does it right: little wasted space, table of content that can be hidden, minimal search box (an icon that brings a pop-up box when clicked), next/previous chapter navigation in a fixed position, a discreet intra-book navigation scheme at the bottom. If Safari Books simply copied that interface for the html view, I would be ecstatic. If you could improve on that, it would be even better. There are no excuses for doing a worse job than that.

    3. List of books in the folder doesn’t have next/prev button at the bottom, so I usually scroll down, find out that the book I’m looking for is not there and have to scroll back up to see next page of results

    4. Speaking of the book list, it’s in its own scrollable element which badly interacts with browser’s scrollbar for the whole page. It’s bad UI design. Also, the list should have much more than 10 items – showing a list of 50 books is not a problem for the browser.

    5. How about setting up User Voice or Get Satisfaction for Safari Books? It seems that you guys don’t have a good handle on what people like/dislike about the UI and for users of your service (like me) the barrier to reporting bugs and annoyances in the UI is too high.

  53. I’ve been a subscriber for many years now.
    Now the services feels like a different service altogether. I HATE to wait, especially for feedback. Why on earth would you take something like this and put it on Flash?

    Honestly, I’d rather put in a batch request for chapters and have them mailed to me.

    Neither Flash, nor any other multimedia platform, is designed for the kind of flow and feedback that humans use when doing text-based research.

    Your beta procedures and particulars as well as probably the whole project lifecycle should be put into a book – What Not to Do – and it would sell enough money to pay for retooling your online book service.

    I hope your team really is looking at this. Your future testers should include people who are currently responding negatively.

  54. Dear Tim and the Safari Books team,

    I’m a private entrepreneur and freelance software engineer. My current source of income is in Actionscript programming (Flash) so you cannot mark me as a “Flash hater”. Also, I don’t “hate” the new interface – it’s just unusable for me. I’m on an extremely tight budget and schedual. The HTML view combined with the book search capabilities and other great things in the old interface worked perfectly for me. The print interface was working OK also. Along with google this been the number one source of information for me. This is the number one reason I bought a one year subsciption about 3 months ago and been since using Safaribooks on a daily basis. The current interface distrupts my workflow completely and it’s not economical for me to continue using it. I get lost, distracted, frustrated, annoyed. I don’t care how much user testing analysis you have done – for me it’s literally a pain in the neck. Therefore, if it stays like this I’m forced to cancel my subscription and ask for a refund. I’ve submitted my support ticket and am waiting for a definitive answer.

    Pekka Kuismanen da Silva

    Your readers “think out of the box”, please do likewise. Also, bring back the guy who did the old interface, he’s a genius.

  55. Sorry to carry on with the negative comments, but I’m now seriously considering cancelling my subscription because of the new changes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – the new format is slow and I find the rendering poor. I also think the choice to use Flash is not a good one. It’s ironic to think that a search for UAT brings up 721 results on Safari! Can we have the old version back, please?

  56. A number of you have asked why we switched from HTML to Flash.

    We made this decision after careful consideration based on a variety of inputs (years of customer feedback, several surveys of current/past users, over 100 one-on-one user testing sessions, and months of beta testing). Our focus in this release was on answering our users needs and unifying the HTML and Print Fidelity experiences.

    That being said, the new 6.0 interface will continue to be our platform for developing new features. We understand that the way we got here is through customer feedback and customer loyalty and we continue to listen to your feedback.

    Since we launched, we have heard from a portion of our user base that they would like a return to HTML view. Therefore, today we decided to do just that. The HTML view will be available as an option as soon as possible. Please stay tuned.

    We appreciate that we have great users that offer open and honest comments about the site. We will keep you posted as things progress.


    John Chodacki
    Director, Product Management
    Safari Books Online

  57. This is great news, John. Thank you very much for listening to us.


  58. Just want to add my voice to those calling for a return to the old interface (or at least, the option to read the books in the old html interface).

    I’ve been using Safari for two years now, and loved the convenience of reading/searching through all those ebooks; but 10 minutes in the new interface left me frustrated and lost.

    Safari in its current incarnation is unusable to me. Search is worse than it used to be, there’s too many frames-within-frames taking up screen real-estate for me to read anything, and it’s even slower than the old site (which was not fast to begin with). As such, I’ve canceled my subscription.

  59. John and Tim, Thanks a lot for listening and it is heartening to listen to the news that you have decided to bring back the HTML view. Having said that, I am saddened by the thought that Flash is going to be SBO’s future, but hey, as long as you provide me with the classic HTML View without any version 6+ bells and whistles (no, I don’t want Notes/nice UI/folders/infinte-scrolling) I will be happy I guess.

    In fact to tell you the truth, I was so excited about the impending version 6 release since I assumed (lesson: never assume anything) all those great improvements being shown in those YouTube videos are being built on top of HTML View. If you had hinted about this then itself (say a month or so back) I am sure almost all of use would have provided this feedback then itself.

    But please, please, don’t fight the browser/web, leaving the customers/power-users SO unhappy in the process. Also, perhaps you should include a more diverse audience for your user testing of new features (something I talked about earlier) so that we can avoid breaking changes that compromises the user experience. Thanks a ton for listening!

  60. Suresh-

    If you (or any other subscriber) would like to be part of future user testing programs, please send me an email with your name and email address. We are always looking for participants.

    I will let you know as future opportunities come up.

    Look forward to hearing from you.

    John Chodacki
    Safari Books Online
    Director, Product Management

  61. Apparently the O’mperor has no clothes.

  62. As someone who is on a trial subscription, without a long history of use, let me give you a slightly different perspective. After having used the service for about a week suddenly the interface changed. All I know was that suddenly I couldn’t tell the difference between brackets and parentheses in the sample code even when zoomed in! The “print quality” went out the window overnight and pages were taking forever to load. Flash?? Seriously…

    I had wondered what had happened until I stumbled upon this post by accident.

    As a potential subscriber I don’t plan on joining Safari until the complaints referenced here are addressed. FWIW this is coming from someone with a stacks of your print books.

    Onorio’s “New Coke” analogy was the best!

  63. o’reilly should be congratulated for listening to its users on this.


  64. Have you considered opening up the API so that people can use whatever interface they see fit? That way people wouldn’t feel bound by decisions beyond their control. It would open up new uses too. For example, safari books integrated into your editor/IDE would be pretty useful.

  65. Did you note the not so tiny userstamp now added in the middle of every page? So annoyng.

  66. Tim,

    I’m a long time Safari customer. I will renew when John Chodacki and the team bring back HTML view. Otherwise I won’t.

    John, please review the approach that you took to identifying end-users that tested the 6.0 interface. As you can easily tell from this thread, had there been a sample of real-world users, you would have received this feedback long before you launched 6.0.


  67. Like Jack Harrys (and I suspect that many others too) I won´t renew my subscription unless you bring back the html view.
    Last week I was thinking in upgrading my subscription, because I was so happy with the service as it was. Now I won’t upgrade even if you bring back the html view.
    How can I trust a company that destroy a wonderful product without asking their users? And when you hear the users complain, instead of realizing and admitting the mistake, you continue to “believe” that new UI is the way of the future? What a myopic view of your business.
    Maybe you have forgotten that you business is providing access to some content, not telling us how you think we should access that content.
    Your only worry should be to make the content available for us in every format we want.

  68. I am a former Safari subscriber–cancelled the day HTML view was removed.

    I probably used Print view more often than HTML view–after all, it was the default. I read a couple of books in this format: the iPhone app book, a book of political cartoons from last year. In general though, this print view was only good for reading in short spurts–a page or two, maybe ten.

    If I wanted to truly read a book, a serious book like SBO has worked so hard to stock, I needed HTML view. If HTML view was not available for my chosen title, I needed to find an alternate title. Indeed, HTML view was more important to me than author or publisher.

    In fact, I would equate SBO’s removal of HTML view to that of Netflix removing native English-language movies from their library. While I am often happy watching foreign movies, I’m not going to be happy if forced to watch only subtitled/dubbed movies (both are substandard to watching in the native language).

    I was very angry about the HTML view removal, but angry because SBO was such a great resource. I considered it among the best values on the Internet (unlimited bookshelf). Had it been of marginal value, I would have simply cancelled and not cared. Such a passionate customer base really does speak volumes for the work SBO has done.

    Bring back HTML view, and I will happily resubscribe.

  69. Thanks Tim and John. Missteps happen; how you handle them says a lot. 🙂

  70. Thanks for listening to your users.

    Another significant issue with the website redesign is its insistence on placing cookies from sites like 2o7.net, omniture.com, et al for web analytics and other uses (possibly nefarious?). I’ve configured my browser to only accept cookies from safaribooksonline.com and not 2o7.net, omniture.com, etc. It’s not too big of a deal right now because these third party cookies are only required on the home page (which I haven’t seen yet because I refuse to accept these third party cookies).

    Please explain why these third party cookies are required to view the home page (and perhaps some other Safari Online pages). Also, what information is being collected? Please remove the dependency on third party cookies.

  71. Very glad to hear that you are bringing back HTML!

    HTML view + Opera zoom + portrait mode monitor =
    Happy Subscriber!

    #define Flash UNHAPPY_SUBSCRIBER

  72. As a developer, I feel for you. You did everything right, but you really failed. Everything is better EXCEPT for the major activity – reading the book.

    Happy you’re returning the Html view.

  73. I know this topic is almost done and dusted. But I had to look up some info today, and while doing that, luckily stumbled upon three versions of the same book — Programming SQL Server 2005 by Bill Hamilton published by O’Reilly — on Safari Books, Google Books and HTML version.

    I have uploaded snaps of all the three versions for the same page:

    http://pics.brizzly.com/C5V.jpg [Safari Books]
    http://pics.brizzly.com/C5X.jpg [Google Books]
    http://pics.brizzly.com/C60.jpg [HTML]

    Once you reach the image page, please click on it to see the full size image. Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind as to which one looks the best and which one looks the worst? I don’t have, and I hope no one has, any doubt that the HTML version looks the best.

    As I read on Twitter, it is hard to believe that “you thought going *from* HTML *to* Flash would be a good idea? Seriously?” [http://twitter.com/logicelf/status/5292309936]

    Also, interesting that someone actually said “Safari Books Online 6.0 is the best e-reading experience I’ve yet encountered” [http://java.sys-con.com/node/1162497]. Not sure how many pages/books or what kind of books he reads!

    So, whatever be the future product development plans and whether Flash is the future or not, please don’t remove the HTML view in future versions also.

    PS: I created the HTML from the chm version of this book that I stumbled upon while Googling. Even the chm version is better than SBO (though I have spared you that screenshot).

  74. Suresh —

    Thanks a lot for sharing the three images. I’m curious what computer, what browser, and what screen resolution you’re using. On my Macbook Pro, running Firefox, at 1440 by 900 resolution, the Safari 6.0 image is the most readable, hands down. Google Books is the second most readable, and the HTML view is very difficult to read.

    Of course, they aren’t entirely comparable, because in HTML view, you’ve got the book in a sans-serif font, while the other two are serif fonts. You’ve also got the HTML view with a much longer line, which I find less readable. So the test isn’t entirely equivalent.

    I’m wondering how much of this disagreement is simply about preferences. HTML allows you to change your preferences for line length, font, etc. to whatever you find most comfortable, while the Safari 6.0 view does not. People who like to read print books (which usually use serif fonts) like the print-like quality of the Safari 6 view, while others do not.

    I’m also mindful of the sudden nature of the change. There is a story famous in UI design circles about the time ebay suddenly changed the background color of their home page from gray to white, and caused a user revolt. A while later, they changed the color gradually over a period of 30 days, and no one complained. The story is retold here: Changing That Home Page? Take Baby Steps.

    In any event, Safari has decided to bring back HTML view as an option. It will be very interesting to see, over time, how users “vote with their feet” in choosing one view over another.

    Thanks for the feedback. I completely understand how you (and others here) can hate the view of Safari 6.0, while others (as you point to in a sys-con post) say it’s the best online reading experience ever.

    As Kathy Sierra once said, in a fabulous post called Be Brave, Or Go Home:

    One thing we noticed from our Amazon reviews [of her bestselling Head First books] was that we get mainly five-stars and one-stars, but not much in the middle. They either love it a lot or they hate it with a passion. Whenever I start to feel bad about a scathing review, I remind myself that Don Norman said, “If someone doesn’t really hate your product, it’s mediocre.” And mediocre is where you SO do not want to go.

    She goes on to tell the story of a Harvard Professor who studied Amazon ratings.

    “But the most telling variable is the one star rating. Professor Gronas found that books high on what he called the “controversiality index” are given almost as many one-star as five-star ratings, creating a horseshoe-shaped curve. As it turns out, these books also tend to have high sales.”

    In any event, those of you who hate the new interface are exactly what Kathy has always urged everyone to find, to encourage, and to create: passionate users. Thank you for your passionate feedback and your care for the best possible product.

  75. Tim, thanks for those nuggets and continuing to listen.

    To answer your questions, all the PCs I access run either Windows Vista or XP. I use Chrome dev build (4.0.x.y) almost all the time, but I guess I did check the output in IE8 as well (rechecked just now in IE8 while writing this, it looks as good or as bad as the Flash text does in Chrome for me).

    FF I had checked it on day one of v6 — while I started feeling the frustration and disappointment — and the experience was bad. I was using FF 3.6 beta build2 then.

    All the pix I posted today are taken on WinXP/Chrome/1024*768/17″LCD

    In fact I changed the resolution from 1152*864 to 1024*768 this morning since I was finding it difficult to read SBO (not kidding).

    Anyways, since a sizable chunk of the users might be on Windows, I guess this is a real problem, and not just because of the change, IMHO.

    Finally, I think you nailed it when you wrote “HTML allows you to change your preferences for line length, font, etc. to whatever you find most comfortable, while the Safari 6.0 view does not”. Plus, the screenshots of source code would have made it look even worse, not to mention the annoyance of the Flash corrupting the code layout. As a programmer-user the Flash version is a disaster and not just a minor annoyance.

    Thanks so much for reiterating your commitment to bring back the HTML view, and I hope you continue to support the view of users like me who want the HTML View going forward as well. Plus, would you mind letting us know a tentative date by which HTML View will be back?

  76. Tim O’Reilly said:

    “I’m wondering how much of this disagreement is simply about preferences.”

    Yes, the disagreement is about a simple matter. HTML allows the user complete control over how the text is displayed. Flash gives zero control. Absolutely simple.

    “A while later, they changed the color gradually over a period of 30 days, and no one complained.”

    Bringing this as an example seems to indicate that you still don’t get what us users are complaining about.

  77. Bruce – I can see how you’d read the comment about ebay that way. But I wouldn’t underestimate the role of familiarity in any user-experience reaction.

    Question for you about the “complete control” that HTML provides. How often did you change the defaults that were offered? And as to “complete control,” it is limited to window size and font size, but not to the amount of text that makes up an HTML page. One of the biggest things we struggled with in HTML view was the varying length of sections. Some are very short; some are very long. All become an HTML page. You have no control over that.

    That’s also one of my biggest frustrations with reading multi-page articles on the web – where I often end up going to print view so I can just read the whole darn thing. So “control” may mean different things to different people, who value different parts of the user experience.

    For me, earlier versions of Safari were always frustrating, as I was often having to click more often than I wanted to, because of the artificial page boundaries imposed by HTML section headings. I admired what I considered the better reading experience in Google Book Search, where a page was a known unit, and you could scroll smoothly through as many of them as you want. For me, that’s a better experience.

  78. Tim, thank you for your explanations and your decision of bringing back the html view.

    I honestly think your team will benefit from meditating on this question: What are your users paying for?

    I myself pay for being able to access the great content SBO’s books have, and I would expect to be able to access it in whatever format I feel comfortable with.

    I think it’s in your own interest to provide as many entry points to the content as possible, and not trying to build the “Grand unifying UI”.

    Thanks for your time,

  79. Tim, I am with Alfred(o) here. As I already mentioned though we could access pirated content or read using Google Books, we (programmers) decided to pay for SBO. Why? Because we loved the HTML View and the incredible flexibility it provided. Not to mention the fact that I still haven’t figured out how to copy paste from Google Books :).

    I might be dumb, what I have noticed is that I can’t read a technical book — be it on Engineering or Programming — as fast as a novel or a business story on Google or whatever. Because of that the frequency with which I flip pages (HTML View) is nowhere near the frequency with which I flipped The Lost Symbol or The Alchemist or “The Search” or Sherlock Holmes…hope you get the point.

    Plus, navigating was not really painful since I could just press Alt+1 and Alt+2 to go back and forth (though a more intuitive key combination is n/p or j/k).

    Forcing the readers to follow “The One True Way to Read” would be a travesty — whether it is today or in the future. This is especially true when that true way doesn’t hold true to the nature of the web browser.

    So, while I can appreciate why you want to have infinite scrolling, the usability and flexibility of HTML View far outweighs the lack of scrolling. Again, not even for a moment am I suggesting that you don’t read technical books (I don’t know, but I hope you do since you are well versed in so many things). So even if you like your technical books inside Flash, people like me find the HTML View far more friendly from all perspectives.

    I think I will rest my case at that. Thanks for listening.

  80. One thing that’s important to clarify, in my opinion, is that in many programming books, sections can be quite lengthy. Having the ability to reflow the text, actually did reduce the amount of clicking and/or scrolling required in many cases.

    Personally, I use Safari most often on laptops that have 1280×800 native resolution. With print fidelity view and/or the new Flash interface, in order to have a comfortably readable text size, I have to zoom in. All of the space on the sides when zoomed in (due to the missing reflow ability) leaves less room for actual text and causes me to have to click much more, so it’s like a catch-22.

    I noticed on the old (version 5.x?) Safari, that the only books that were not available in HTML were the diagram-and-graphic-intensive books such as the “Head First” books. Personally, I avoided reading these online and got print copies instead, for the reasons mentioned above – and these reasons remain in the new 6.0 version.

    But then with text-intensive books, I had quite the opposite experience – “Programming C# 3.0” is one example where I own a print copy, but I found it easier to read online in HTML view, since the sections can span many pages, and so reading it online meant actually less flipping back and forth compared to the physical book (or less clicking compared to print fidelity view) to reference the the diagrams and code examples.

    So, one more thing that should be noted is that this isn’t about hating Flash, it’s about hating the missing ability for text to “reflow” combined with the ability for the text to be combined into larger “section units” rather than “page units”. If you really must go Flash-only in the long run maybe it is in fact possible to have such functionality (i.e. reflow + text combined into sections rather than pages) in the Flash interface…?

    For me (and I suspect many others) “print fidelity” view would work very well for story-based literature and novels (e.g., fiction, biographies) where the text is typically read from beginning to end, with little regard to sections/topic. Technical literature, however, is not read in the same way as story-based literature, typically being viewed as an information/reference resource rather than a linear collection of pages to be scrolled through in a linear fashion.

  81. You don’t deal with customers complaints by telling them that they’re wrong to complain. I don’t want to hear why you think the new safari is better because it isn’t. I’m hanging on till you reinstate HTML view with no page breaks, decent fonts, the ability to view more than a postage stamp of text at a time and scrolling without pauses. But you seem so out of touch with what I want that I expect to be disappointed.

    I use safari books online because its better than printed books. Why try to make it more like them?

  82. Tim, I stumbled upon this article of yours while trying to understand more about epub format (I am new to it since I don’t have either a Kindle or iPhone): “Why Kindle Should Be An Open Book” over at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/2009/02/22/kindle-oreilly-ebooks-technology-breakthroughs_oreilly.html

    You wrote:

    “Safari has a different model than downloadable e-books–it’s an online subscription service that provides access to more than 8,000 books and videos for a single monthly fee. But it’s also HTML- and PDF-based, using formats that anyone can read on any device…

    “Open allows experimentation. Open encourages competition. Open wins. Amazon needs to get with the program. Or, like AOL and MSN, Amazon will wind up another online pioneer who ends up a belated guest at the party it planned to host.”

    Just wondering what changed between then (Feb ’09) and now (Oct ’09) that forced you to drop HTML and embrace Flash!

    PS: I know HTML View is coming back but as scores of people are saying here and over on Facebook perhaps meditating/soul-searching might not be out of place here.

    PS2: Like scores of things I learned from your writing over the years, today I discovered the free bookworm e-book reader (from that Forbes article) and promptly created an account and uploaded a couple of epub books I have (but was consuming in pdf form since I thought epub is about iPhone). Again, HTML rocks and wins hands down. And yes, it supports j/k and n/p in a wonderful reading mode. Thanks!

  83. Alex –

    I haven’t been telling people they are wrong to complain. Just exploring the problem space so we can understand it better.

    Suresh –

    The development of the Flash UI was not something I directed. When I saw it, I liked it, and thought it was a big improvement. Obviously, I was wrong, at least for many users. I don’t think that has anything to do with being open. Open is why we provide our books in many different formats. We sell downloadable ebook bundles in pdf, epub, and mobi, we support Safari (which is a separate company, albeit one we’re a part owner of and on the board of), Amazon, and anyone else who’s trying to build an ebook future. Each of them has their own vision of what’s a better reading experience, and each one is in effect an experiment. That’s open, in my book.

  84. Just opened up Safari this morning and was greeted with the new UI.

    Nice flash interface, tho a bit slow and processor hog(like most flash apps). Upgraded notes and bookmark features…good

    But where is the HTML mode?? I really liked the HTML mode. I’ve always thought the basic HTML mode was much easier read than the print version.

    The print version/Flash version uses far too much of the screen space wastefully. The margins of the book pages are too wide, which means I have to resize continually to get the page to a readable size

    I’m with the HTML lovers…bring back the HTML mode


  85. I like the way the Symfony project presents its books in HTML form. http://www.symfony-project.org/doc/1_2/ The Definitive Guide To Symfony is available on SOB so I can make a direct comparison. Text is clearer, especially code blocks, which are colourised. Scrolling is much smoother so I can easily jump back and forth within a chapter. Navigation is flatter, just chapters at the top level – no sections. The chapters are a good size to view as one page, not split into tiny sub-sections – like the old SOB sometimes did. If I could add anything from SOB it would be the navigation bar so I don’t have to scroll to the top of the page to find the chapter contents, and back to the contents page to change chapter.

  86. [– HTML MODE REMOVED : WHY? –]
    So, what was the reasoning behind the removal of the HTML mode?

    • Would take too much development time to support the HTML feature going forward.
    • Oversight. Oops, we missed it.
    • HTML is too open. We need to secure the content.
  87. A_User:

    If HTML being too open were the reason, why would we be selling all our ebooks from O’Reilly DRM-free?

    I really think the Safari team wanted to create a unified interface. Many of the publishers weren’t providing HTML – it’s always been easy for O’Reilly to do this, because we have an XML-based toolchain, but it adds cost and complexity for other publishers. In case you hadn’t noticed, many of the Safari books were already only available in page fidelity view.

    They felt that supporting the two views added complexity to the interface and the development cycle as well.

    And at O’Reilly, we went along because data shows that books in page fidelity get more usage. And because when they showed us the interface, we thought it was an improvement.

    Obviously, for many of you, we got it wrong. But there’s no need for conspiracy theories.

  88. I think the biggest thing you could to improve the new page fidelity mode would be to fix the scrolling. Compared to Scribd (which also uses flash for document viewing) Safari just feels clunky.

    For example, take this sample document (random doc taken from Scribd’s front page):

    First, they provide a “grabber” tool much like Acrobat. Second, scrolling with the mouse wheel is smooth and doesn’t jump around.

    However, on Safari, using the mouse wheel causes the page to jump around at an almost paragraph level. For me, this really breaks up the flow of reading.

  89. I’m disappointed that the start of your article suggests that you have an ebook solution already. I subscribe to your service as a reference for technical books, but the only way I am allowed read them is while online and sitting at my computer. You don’t realistically support the new wave of e-ink devices as your system of download tokens is awful to use. I feel that I am being punished as someone who is willing to pay for the content as reading books online and at a connected desktop really limits how I can use the service. I would love to have an e-ink device, synchronized with my bookshelf, with a long battery life that I can read while commuting, sitting on a couch etc.
    I don’t get the HTML vs Flash arguments, the difference the new interface makes to my reading experience is minimal. However having offline access to the subscription service on an e-ink device would really improve the service.

  90. Cormac –

    I agree with you that the current Safari Token system is sub-optimal, and I know the Safari team is working on it. (I’ve been banging the drum at board meetings for a while.)

    However, support by e-readers takes more than just easier downloads. The readers have to provide format support.

    We could (and should) allow subscribers to download epub and mobi files as well as PDF, and I believe that’s on the roadmap. (We already do that for standalone ebook sales from oreilly.com.)

    However, we’d also love to have folks like Amazon as Safari resellers. We’ve tried to interest them many times, and have gotten nowhere. That would be ideal.

    All that being said, in our sales of downloadable ebooks, we’re finding people reading on the iPhone more than on e-ink devices. And you can do that quite well with Safari using http://m.safaribooksonline.com (although not yet with offline mode support – another thing that we need to have on the roadmap.)

  91. Thanks a lot for the reply and I’m glad that this is on your radar. I’d love the subscription service to be available on the Kindle, would pay extra for the subscription and to buy a compatible reader. Hopefully I’m not the only one and it could be a profitable business for you.

  92. I saw this tweet and thought it was worth posting here.

    @issaco wrote: “Government starts using flash like @safaribooks did – at least someone in the media noticed http://daringfireball.net/linked/2009/11/02/foresman-adobe-formats


    Click through to read that article over at Ars Technica: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/10/adobe-pushes-flash-and-pdf-for-open-government-misses-irony.ars?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rss

  93. Do you have any idea of when the HTML view will be brought back, other than as soon as possible? My next billing period is a couple of weeks away, and I’d like to see the new HTML before deciding if I should renew. At present it feels like I’m paying for a service that is almost unusable.

    As a side issue, why is there no forum for Safari? I suspect a lot of these issues might have came to light sooner if we’d had the chance to discuss the changes openly.

  94. Alex Miller-

    Regarding the settings for the scroll wheel seeming choppy: We hear you and are looking into alternative settings.

    Hope to have a smoother experience up on the site soon.


    John Chodacki
    Director, Product Management
    Safari Books Online

  95. Please bring back HTML mode!

  96. With the noise re: the HTML view, I must register my vote against the HTML format for ebooks. Surely I cannot object to making an option available to users. But deliberately making a bad option available seems like a bad choice.

  97. I miss HTML mode.

    Getting code samples out of the book and into a text editor is now impossible. Whether or not HTML mode comes back, I hope this gets easier soon.


  98. Ok, I’m a very polite person…normally…just like most of the people making the above comments.

    But I have persisted with the new interface for a week now. I have tried to like it. I really have. But I can’t help myself:

    It sux. Sorry. It really does.

    The blurry font. Sux. Sux. Sux.

    The search. Click on a result and it doesn’t drop you on the page you want. Sux.

    Page text mysteriously disappears halfway off side of the page. Sux.

    Garbled text, sometimes in key paragraphs and code examples. Sux.

    No hyperlinks. Sux.

    No links at the bottom of the page to similar topics. I really liked those. Sux.

    Page doesn’t resize with the browser window. I often had Safari open alongside my development environment. Now I have to fiddle around with horizontal scrollbars in the browser to see things. Sux.

    I liked HTML view. You could read it.

    You could copy code samples from it easily. Ctrl-C then Ctrl-V. Simple. No stupid fiddly menu that you have to navigate.

    What is the difference between clicking on the link to get the next page, or scrolling endlessly…I’m still using my right finger! Actually, I think that I used it less in the old html view.

    Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Moving to Flash definitely falls into this category. Remember, sometimes less is more.

    Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. Good decision to go back to HTML view. It’s what browsers are meant to cope with. Please don’t take long.

  99. Ok I’ve given it a week and I actually dislike it even more. But most of the stuff I can over look but the flash reader I can’t. Why because it constantly crashes my browser. And what do I get back as a reply from Safari Customer service when I tell them my browser is constantly crashing due to this piece of junk flash app? A lame response that tells me to basically go complain to Adobe (64Bit linux with 64bit flash). So it looks like in my case Safari does not even want my business any more even though I have been a subscriber pretty much since the site opened. I’m just a little more than pissed off (sorry) but I am.

    I just hope O’Reilly understands that it is their name on Safari and it has just been destroyed in my book. So here I sit with a paid subscription to a service I can’t use what a waste money. I’m sure you can understand now why I’ll be canceling my subscription first thing in the morning. Yea I would have used the online version but that is hosed as well.

    Safari you were the one best place to find technical content but alas I knew it was too good to last. So for now I must find my content somewhere else.

  100. Am I the only bookshelf user working on a 64-bit linux computer? I have been a happy user of bookshelf since March 2006 and now I’m blocked.

    This is not a matter of not liking the new UI, it’s simply that you have blocked me from accessing a service that I am paying you a subscription fee to use.

  101. No, your not the only user using a 64-bit Linux computer. The new flash interface causes flash to crash after about 30 seconds on Ubuntu 9.04, 9.10, and Fedora.

  102. G’day … I’ve been a Safari subscriber since 2004. It’s been a really useful service.

    I don’t think the new Flash-based view is at all usable or accessible.

    It seems a retrograde step to try and recreate the experience of reading a traditional book, on screen. Why have page breaks in an online environment? They’re a completely artificial and unnecessary constraint within a web browser.

    HTML is the native web browser format and the broadly accessible format. With Safari HTML view I could resize my reading window, resize the text, copy-and-paste, print, etc. And all this came ‘for free’ as the functions are built into the web browser.

    Now Safari programmers have to reimplement these basic functions in Flash … which must be very expensive and inefficient to do, and the results aren’t as good as HTML view was.

    The new Flash view doesn’t allow traditional keyboard shortcuts and features to work (eg, Find … Ctrl+F). There is more mouse-clicking involved, which is a bad thing for computer users who already generally do too much mouse clicking – leading to injury.

    I think devices such as iPhone are challenging the dominance of Flash, and providing options such as scalable vector graphics, and the JavaScript ‘canvas’. I don’t see Flash as the technology of the future at all.

    At any rate I currently can’t get Safari to work properly with Firefox/Linux (eg can’t add a book to my bookshelf)

    It’s a shame to have to unsubscribe, after five years – but it’s now necessary for me to do so.

  103. OK, HTML is coming back, right?
    Real soon, now!

    It’s been a week since you’ve unleashed this fiasco on us loyal and previously satisfied subscribers.

    And you didn’t have a plan for rollback?

    Or a plan to make the old interface immediately accessible again?

    That it’s taken so long to bring back HTML is even more dissapointing than the unasked for and unpreviewed switch to the unusable Flash interface.

    I’m sure I’m not the only user who is losing their patience.

  104. i was wondering when somebody was gonna
    talk about flash causing machines to crash…

    (the fact that flash and crash rhyme so well
    means that i can feel a poem coming soon.)

    between the .pdf browser-plugin and flash
    all over on the web, i figure good old adobe
    holds most responsibility for the presence of
    the spinning can’t-do-nothing-now beachball
    i see far too frequently on my mac these days,
    and — by extension — the sad state of affairs
    most people experience from their machines,
    with the hanging and crashing that’s going on.


  105. It’s time for you to tell us when will the html view be back? I can’t believe you let 2 weeks pass without even give us a time estimate.
    I will not pay any more for a service I can’t use.

    Tim, you said before: “we’d also love to have folks like Amazon as Safari resellers. We’ve tried to interest them many times, and have gotten nowhere”…
    Well, from the fiasco that this new UI of yours have been, and the lack of response from your team, maybe Amazon is doing the right thing.

  106. Tim, Thanks for letting us know that you were not behind the decision to use Flash. Having seen the nature and volume of protest from the subscribers (forget how they are protesting, I hope we can see that the WHY in the why they are protesting is justifiable beyond any question) and considering the fact that today is the 10th day of the new version and no news seems to be coming out about WHEN the HTML View will be back, who can say I am wrong if I think that the SBO folks just don’t seem to care.

    Yes, they are fixing the issues and perhaps working real hard to bring the HTML View, but why make us pay for each of the last 10 days without being able to use the site? Why not either have the old version running in parallel or at least allow us to access the mobile version from the computer? Why not let us know that when will the HTML View be exactly back? Can’t anyone out there see it is important to communicate so that the customers are assuaged, especially when customers are NOT at fault?

    Please allow us to access the mobile version of the site from the computer. Why punish the customers so badly?

    PS: I had to do some long reading sessions over the weekend and finally I got tired of reading the Flash version and the headache it causes if you read it for 6-8 hours per day (as I was doing), and I had to waste a token to download the last chapter of what I was checking out. It is a waste of a token for me but I had no other option. I was lucky I had to only refer one more chapter. If I had to refer more pages/chapters/books, I wouldn’t have been able to unless I was ready to suffer the strain or spend more coupons. Will I get it back since I had to use to because of a problem with the system? Your guess is as good as mine!

  107. Alejandro R. Sedeño

    HTML view provided a much more flexible and cleaner view of almost all the contents of the books I’ve been reading.

    The most recent example was The Art of SQL. The only thing I used Print Fidelity view for was the art at the start of every chapter, which I went back to when I remembered because I found it amusing. For the meat of the book, I found using HTML view made for a much more pleasant reading experience.

    That said, HTML view was not perfect either, so since Tim and John are paying attention to comments here, I’ll expound upon what I found.

    First, some context as to how I do most of my reading. I’m using a Thinkpad x61 tablet, in portrait/slate mode because it’s more book-like that way. I’m running Ubuntu, and using Firefox 3.5.

    My first issue was font size in HTML view. I had three choices of font size, and the largest size was not all that large. This isn’t actually a problem for me because I can just open up firebug and edit your CSS to adjust the font size to my heart’s content, but I shouldn’t need to.

    As Tim said, some pages were too short, and some were too long. I think that’s okay though, until the pages get so long that the page flip controls have moved off of the page, which brings me to my second gripe.

    The page-flip UI controls that framed the page should either frame all of the contents, or float along with me as I scroll. I never minded clicking for more content, but scrolling back to the top of the page to get to the nice big next-page widget was frustrating. (Yes, there were also small next page buttons at the top and bottom, but tiny targets are not as convenient with my stylus.)

    Those were my two biggest problems with HTML view, and I’d love to see them resolved when HTML view returns, hopefully in the very near future, because I really have no interest in using the flash-based interface.

  108. I have some suggestions:

    Provide a time schedule to when HTML View or it’s alternatives will become available. This would set expectations on when this will get resolved.

    Set up a message board and feedback area that’s not part of the social websites. For some cubical warriors, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter is blocked. There’s obviously a community here that was mostly happy, quiet, and productive. Having a place where SBO can receive this kind of feedback would be more effective then running a poll as seen on the front page.

    More transparency. Maybe a SBO blog on current upcoming features and challenges that the team is facing. This would create a tighter feedback loop on what the customer wants.

    Thanks for listening.
    Jack Suzuki

  109. Just noticed this on the FAQ page: http://www.safaribooksonline.com/whysafari/faqs.php

    Online books are too hard to read – they don’t look like regular print books, and they are hard to scroll through. Does Safari do anything to make this easier?

    Safari offers subscribers the opportunity to view many books in either HTML or Print Fidelity mode. Print Fidelity means that the book is presented in the exact page format found in the hard copy version.

  110. I’m afraid the new interface has the characteristics of software without sufficient testing.
    -> When first released sorting items in folders did not work for any column. This has now been fixed.
    -> The number of titles displayed was limited to ten at a time in favorites folders, this has been changed. Shouldn’t this be an option?
    -> When viewing titles there is no information displayed that it’s already in a favorites folder and which one.
    -> Printing sections of a book was great in the previous version, now it’s a page at a time.
    -> There’s no view all favorites option. I’ve created a smart folder that I think achieves this, but the results are limited to ten titles (unlike favorites folders) at a time with no option to sort by title!
    Reading the books using flash looks great, but can we have an option for HTML view?

  111. Former Subscriber

    From the facebook book page :

    Rose St. Clair
    HTML is coming soon! Safari Books Online is working to rapidly integrate an HTML view into its new 6.0 interface. We are planning to start a beta launch of this view in early December. If you would like to participate in this beta, please send an email to John Chodacki at jchodacki@safaribooksonline.com and we’ll s…et you up. We appreciate your feedback and support and look forward to providing you this option as quickly as possible.

    beta launch of this view in early December

    Just called customer service, subscription cancelled. For the record, and SBO’s credit, balance of subscription will be refunded.

  112. They are bringing back the HTML View in December via a beta. More details over at the Safari Books Online blog: http://safaribooksonline.wordpress.com/2009/11/06/html-is-coming-soon/

    Sad that we have to wait another four or five weeks (if you sign up for the beta) before getting value for the money we are paying.

  113. If you don’t understand how the experience changed for users who were reading in html, imagine reading Wikipedia on flash.
    With a less esoteric session handling in HTML view (being asked to login again with no apparent reason), SBO can really become the Google of online book reading, at least for techies like me.

    @Suresh You’re totally right. We are paying now for a lower quality service that was forced on us.

  114. Good to see the Flash reader getting the kicking it deserves. Since HTML mode is coming, thought I’d chip in with a few other things:

    – Why are you using iFrames? They just break scrolling in my browser. I scroll with the mouse whell, scrolling stops, but I still can’t see what was trying to get to.

    – “My Safari” should be the landing page after I log in. What’s on the “Home” page is your agenda, not mine.

    – The fixed width layout wastes screen estate on the “My Safari” screen. As does the column for folders, which – having only a 10-slot account – I have absolutely no use for.

    – There’s a phenomenal amount of visual cruft at the top of the page. When I open a book, the reading area doesn’t start until about a third of the way down my 19-inch monitor. That’s very annoying. (I don’t want to go to full screen, because then I lose the mini table of contents, which is far more useful for finding things than any of the other options in the useless flash thing.)

    I’m going to sit it out until my next (annual) renewal and see what gets fixed. It’ll take more than the return of the HTML reader to keep my business though – the old site was really good, and this redesign turns it into a train wreck.


    PS With regard to “But data from usage showed that books that were in page fidelity mode were chosen over HTML by most users when given the choice” – I wonder how much of that is because people, like me, didn’t realise there was a HTML mode? Certainly, if I was doing serious reading rather than dipping in for reference, I’d download the PDFs rather than deal with the fidelity view.

  115. “HTML is coming soon! Safari Books Online is working to rapidly integrate an HTML view into its new 6.0 interface. We are planning to start a beta launch of this view in early December.”

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s good enough. Why should I pay another months subscription for a beta of something that was already working fine?

    Also, when you say it will be integrated into the 6.0 interface, does this mean it will be some sort of flash based html rendering?

    And again I ask why is there no proper forum to discuss any of this?

  116. In addition, to our facebook page, twitter feed, and LinkedIn discussion groups, Safari Books Online does have an official blog where we discuss product upgrades, features, news, etc. (http://safaribooksonline.wordpress.com) and our Knowledgebase that includes feedback forms, support alerts, FAQs, articles, etc. (http://support.safaribooksonline.com)

    Also, if you have any specific questions about the product, you can email me directly at jchodacki@safaribooksonline.com or our Customer Service team at customer-service@safaribooksonline.com

    Regarding the new HTML implementation, let me know if you would like to be a part of our beta testing.


    John Chodacki
    Safari Books Online

  117. John and Tim, Thanks so much to you and your team for listening and allowing access to the mobile version of the site from computers (via http://www.safaribooksonline.com/interim). Though it is not as good as the HTML View in SBO v5.0, it is better than the Flash based reader we have in SBO v6.0.

    Now that you are working on bringing back the HTML View in SBO v6.0 — perhaps rewriting the HTML View in the process — can you please make sure it is *NOT* HTML inside Flash (or whatever that human mind can conjure up to make things complicated/inconvenient for the subscribers in the name of DRM or anti-piracy). Please make it at least as good as and as user friendly as how the HTML View was in v5.0. As you have heard enough times, we don’t want to deal with Flash when we spend significant amount of our time on SBO to read technical stuff. Can you please assure us that indeed this** will be the case (not a demand, but a genuine request to assuage the feeling of customers like me)? Thanks.

    ** this = it won’t be flash + HTML, but just HTML

  118. So I should pay to test a feature that was working perfectly upto two weeks ago? The very fact you need a beta is a hint that this isn’t going to be the simple return to the old html view.

    Have you considered linking to the official blog from the Safari home page? In any event it mostly seems to be advertising books and webcasts, rather than discussing Safari.

    I don’t have much experience of Facebook, so I wouldn’t have assumed it was a forum, even if I’d noticed those tiny icons at the bottom of the page.

    It just seems telling that the only place I’ve seen any real discussion of these issues is on the comment section of this blog, which isn’t even on the Safari site.

  119. What this whole fiasco has really highlighted for me is do I want to pay for a propitiatory service where my access to the content I have paid for can be removed on a whim by the vendor that I’m paying. By access to the content I’m paying for I mean not only can I get it but can I get it in a format I want. In this particular instance Safari made the decision to upgrade the site in such a way that both eliminated my ability to access the content I’ve paid for (I’m on 64bit Linux with the 64bit flash plugin which the new flash reader crashes) but also removed my ability to read said content in the way I prefered. And Safari did this with little to no communication with us there paying customer. And where could we complain about this fiasco? We could either call them or use the feedback form on Safari but at least in my case I was not getting any relevant or acceptable response from that angle so like every one else here I hit google and found this blog. And what we have gotten here has been unsatisfactory was well.

    So the question still remains do I want to pay for a propitiatory service and rely on that service for the information I need on a daily basis? Up until this change my answer had been yes why because I trusted O’Reilly not to screw me over. With this upgrade O’Reilly (Yea I know O’Reilly is just a part owner of Safari but it is their name on it) has broken that trust. Even if “O’Reilly – Safari Online books” fixes the content issues a month after the fact can I trust them again. In my case I have decided that I can’t so have canceled my subscription. A subscription that I’m going to miss by the way.

    Now the question is where do I go now? I’m not sure. There is Books 24×7 and there site is superior to the new Safari by a long shot. But just like Safari do I want to trust them to not screw me over when I need the service the most. Having been screwed on this once I don’t think I will. The other option is to start buying E-books but that is not as convenient as the Old Safari HTML view has been. But then again at least I will not have to worry about loosing access to what I have paid for like has happened with this upgrade. Oh well I will figure something out but this upgrade fiasco has really made me re-evaluate the value proposition of Safari Online Books and weather or not I want to rely on a single vendor for the content I need. My thinking today is that I don’t want to rely on Safari any longer.

  120. It came as a big surprise to me when I turned my Xubuntu firefox browser to the Safari site and found (a) the pages taking on the order of tens of seconds to load (b) the illustrations in “Introducing Arduino” by Massimo Banzi losing their text, and (c) the fonts used for “Embedded Linux” being fuzzy to the point of unreadability outside of maximum magnification. It took me nearly 10 minutes to add the last title to my bookshelf and I haven’t been able to read more than a page or two of it yet. Considering carefully whether there’s any point to continuing the subscription as a UK user with 6.0 being all that’s on offer. All the bells and whistles just get in the way – what I’m hoping to see is a low fidelity option that provides what the CD versions of the books provided 10 years ago in terms of speed and accessibility.

  121. As a long time subscriber, I’ll hang in there for a bit longer with this and see if the bookshelf returns to the functionality I pay for. But I guess what really bothers me the most is that O’Reilly was truly one of the tech businesses that ‘got it’ as far as who their primary customers were and what they wanted. And with Version 6, it just feels like an epic fail on both the technology and the business.

    Flash for text is just nuts, I’m sorry. I’ve tried to like this, but the nice new features do no good when the actual text is lousy to look at and painful to load. So the tech part is just a huge step backwards.

    Even more troublesome is the business fail though. First, there was just no way that the new system was tested sufficiently with paying subscribers prior to release. And it is really compounding the problem now to have to join a ‘beta’ testing pool just to see if the functionality that I’ve been glad to pay for all these years is returning or not.

    Safari Bookshelf has been one of the best things on the web for a long time now. I’m not adverse to change, but wow, this has just been painful on a lot of fronts.

  122. Re: Richard Jackson
    Great points. I agree with you.

    It’s as if a wizard has sprinkled pixie dust on my old product and turned it into something new. Thus I unwittingly bought a new product.

    This forces us into a new buyer paradigm where we have to evaluate whether we want to buy something we’ve already been paying for.

    [– O’REILLY’S SIDE –]
    On O’Reilly’s side, I’m sure they didn’t mean to do this, because they’ve now taken loyal customers and placed us where we are suddenly re-evaluating whether we want to pay for this any more.

    Imagine you’re a lumberjack and suddenly your boss comes along and says,
    “Hey, we’ve just upgraded all your chainsaws into these nifty portable devices. They’re much easier to carry in your pocket.”

    With that he takes your chainsaw and replaces it with a pocket knife.

    [– A PREFERENCE? –]
    You may still be able to cut a tree down, eventually, but you’re probably not going to like it.

    Your boss could even call the desire to use a chainsaw versus a pocket knife, a preference.

    [– THE RESULT –]
    If your boss truly believed the new pocket knives were better it would force you into a decision about whether you are going to move to another company which uses the proper tool.

    [– CHOICE –]
    However, we all like the company. We know they can do cool things because they’ve done it in the past, but now for some reason they’re pushing these pocket knives.

    [– DOING ALL WE CAN –]
    If we could make it all change back, we would. Since we have no recourse, we use our energies to grumble and complain, in an attempt to get them to change it back.

    That may be perceived as negative, but it’s all we have, before we finally give up and make the choice to leave the company we liked so much.

    There’s a lot to learn from this.

  123. Flash totally sucks for reading text. It does not use subpixel font rendering.

    I’ve been a subscriber since 2002. I’ve asked customer service to suspend my account until the HTML view is back or either cancel my subscription.

    I can’t understand how anyone can even think about using Flash for serious websites. It breaks almost everything but gains nothing.

  124. Hmmm… well, lots of comments already. I’ve known about Safari Bookshelf for a long time, but have never subscribed. It doesn’t solve my problem. The “cloud library” sounds very nice actually, and done well it probably solves many peoples’ problems, just not mine.

    What I want is my shelf full of O’Reilly titles in my laptop bag on a decent e-book reader. Too often I don’t have any internet connection, or a good enough one to make Safari practical.

    Safari just isn’t road-warrior friendly. (Of course, dead trees aren’t either — my point is Safari is no better than dead trees in that regard.) Maybe I should just read the pdf’s on my laptop. But pdf’s are not an e-book, for all the reasons Tim mentions. PDF’s aren’t compelling.

    Something Kindle-like, with Kindle-like battery life, a larger display, color, and EPUB support would get my attention. Both my wife and daughter have Kindles, they work well for their needs. My wife keeps telling me to get one. But… I can’t imagine dealing with a Nutshell book or a technical book with color illustrations via Kindle as currently constituted — small, monochrome display and no EPUB.

    On another topic: You have a lot of comments from subscribers about how bad Flash is for your application. Sounds like Safari just “New Coke’d” itself. Years ago, when Flash first appeared, I hated it. Over the years, my hatred has grown into a passionate loathing. If Flash is the answer, you are asking the wrong question.

  125. Dear Tim

    It is a very, very sad story. I enjoyed using
    Safari Online with free and open source software.
    Now we are required to install proprietary closed source Adobe flash player to use your site.

    If HTML does not come back, I will definitely not
    renew my premium account.

    For the sake of the role you played in the free and opensource software community for a long time you should give us at least a choice NOT to beeing forced to use prorietary software.

    Thanks for rethinking.


  126. +1 for bring back HTML View. While the new interface is nifty, functionally, it leaves a lot to be desired.

    Most importantly, the Flash interface is rendering certain notations as gibberish. Take a look at “Flash CS4: The Missing Manual, 1st Edition”. All of the instructions regarding menu selection are garbled. This is VERY frustrating at best and at worse makes some chapters useless.

    PLEASE, being back HTML view!


  127. I cannot access Safari Books with open souce software any more? Are you kidding?

    That tells a lot about your perspective on open source software. Some people kept telling us for years you didn’t care. They were right.

  128. I’m a very occasional “free trial” user of your super service. I was just thinking about getting a real account when this “bombshell” came. While the new Flash-site at the first glance seems nifty, at a second glance it is slow and can’t be used with my normal browser, and I havn’t figured out how to copy text except via screenshot. I guess I won’t get an account now. However if you go back to HTML and PDF, I think I might. It seems strange that Safari can’t be used with free software any more, especially given the many books related to this.

  129. Someone may be interested that HTML do alive.


    What you need is using firefox to access

    then rebuild the page by Stylish and Greasemonkey or whatever extension you like.

  130. @ Gulei:
    Doesn’t work for me. I either get a message that I must use Javascript or when this is enabled that I am viewing the site from a computer and will be redirected to the other site. How does one pretend to be a mobile device with Firefox?

  131. “I cannot access Safari Books with open souce software any more? Are you kidding?

    That tells a lot about your perspective on open source software. Some people kept telling us for years you didn’t care. ”
    Yea, BN was one of them:

  132. Alex, Yuhong Bao –

    There’s no news here. I’ve been very clear about my thoughts on open source throughout my career. It has never been a “religious” issue for me. I do care, intensely, but I find the idea that anyone who uses proprietary software is somehow a traitor to be the very worst thing about the free software movement.

    Free and open source software is a strategy. People use it to advance their goals. Other people use proprietary software. You keep your eye on the goal, not on the tool. Google (oops – there’s another piece of non-free software, I hope you don’t mind using it) for the piece I wrote entitled “Software wants to be valuable”. Or go to http://tim.oreilly.com.

    Meanwhile, I’ve spent years warning the FOSS community that their singular focus on the the freedom of software code was going to blind them to a new lock-in by applications backed by massive proprietary databases. That warning is well on its way to becoming true, while you guys fight the last war.

    In any event, HTML view is coming back.

  133. Sadly I’ve just cancelled my subscription. There are so many things that are suddenly unusable with the new interface. The scrolling frame for my bookshelf is a pain when using a trackpad and is such a waste of available screen space. The font rendering is rough, the pages are abysmally slow to load: I wait 5 or 6 seconds to get a page on my 50Mbit/s connection. I always found the old html view better to use and more legible than the “print fidelity” anyway.

  134. Good grief, Tim. You of all people should know better than to “fix” what isn’t broken.

    I just logged into my Safari account for the first time in a while to find this 6.0 monstrosity. MacBook Pro with latest Firefox and Flash, I got a book to load _exactly once_ and never since, just a gray blob now.

    My subscription is scheduled to renew in a week, but damned if I’ll let it when I can’t even access the content I’m supposedly paying for.

  135. The new Flash interface crashes any browser using the 64-bit Adobe Flash plugin.

    I can view books for 3-4 minutes before any browser with the plugin fails.

    Tested with Firefox, Iceweasel, and Epiphany.

    Please pass along to tech.

    I’m a long time Safari user, and will hold on until HTML is reintroduced, another 30 days.

    Thanks for the vision Tim, pushing forward. However, sometimes, the visionary pushes too hard, takes the rest of us time to catch up.

    I do agree that with the all of the technologies your books praise, SOAP, Dynamic HTML, etc, using Flash to improve on the Safari interface almost seems like a step backward, easy way out so to speak.

    Google Mail is a perfect example of D/HTML done right, take a tip.

    Flash is not as ingenious as it once was, and much like its proprietary cousin Windows, is buggy, unstable, and unpredictable.

    Also, consider that many of us use this service as a “safety net” when working on tech problems, and depend on the reliability and simple nature of HTML to quick find an answer to our problem.

    It is these user, the ones you are hearing from now, and most likely comprising the bulk of your membership, that any loss of reliability, even at the expense of readability, is simply unacceptable.

  136. Unless this is fixed by January, I will be canceling my account.

    The site doesn’t work in 64 bit flash on linux reliably.

    It also is VERY SLOW to load now. Like INCREDIBLY slow.

  137. Feeling the flash pain here as well. Never really had any complaints about the old site, but the new flash version is so flaky for me that it is actually unusable for its intended purpose.

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  139. Thanks, Tim and SBO, for bringing back HTML View as a public beta. There are a few issues to be sorted out, but I hope that would happen in the next few weeks. Why not offer the existing customers an extra free month for enduring the Flash?

  140. Hello-

    I wanted to let everyone know that the HTML view is now available as a public beta within Safari Books Online.

    To begin using the new view, subscribers can simply sign in and look for the new “HTML VIEW” button in the content reader.

    We have released this public beta as quickly as possible to ensure that the maximum number of users can test it and provide timely feedback. We know that some features are not yet ideal, and we plan on improving them by the end of the beta period.

    Specifically, we plan to remove the framed interface in the coming weeks, add more robust bookmarking features, and add additional notes and tags functionality.

    We encourage all subscribers to begin using the beta HTML view immediately. During this beta period, please provide us with your feedback by completing our beta feedback survey (linked from content reader or home page).


    John Chodacki

  141. Thanks for the update, John.

    The HTML button is there for most titles, but not for all – I didn’t do a large enough sample, but it seems to be there more often than not.

    I assume there are technical issues with doing all of them at once.

    So far so good: My eyes are feeling better already.


    -The Biggest Font-Smoothing Snob in the World

  142. HTML view is baaaaaaaack!!!!!!!!! Yes!!!!!!! My eyes!!! I can see again!!!!


    I’ve just re-logged into my account, but I don’t see an option for html view AT ALL!!!!! I found out that I really missed HTML view when I suddenly got a message saying “Page failed to load” in the middle of reading.
    For Pete’s sake, do we have to wrestle and wrangle just to get some reading done? Reading technical stuff demands a lot of effort already!!!
    SBO was frustrating enough when I had the video viewing subscription, except I couldn’t view the videos without constant problems and interruptions, so I downgraded to a books only sub. BUT NOW EVEN THE BOOKS ARE UNREADABLE. HOW IS ANYBODY EXPECTED TO READ PAST A PAGE THAT’S MISSING?????
    I dread emailing SBO’s help desk, or complaints line—they just keep reassuring me that the problem is at my end.

    • Harry –

      You say you just opened 3 books for which there is no HTML view. That’s quite possible. Many publishers have never had their books available in HTML view. We originally introduced “page fidelity” view to accomodate publishers who had books with highly designed pages that were difficult to convert to HTML and thus weren’t able to be in the service at all.

      Once we introduced that view, we discovered two things:

      1. There were publishers who weren’t willing to shoulder the conversion cost of getting their books into HTML, but who could be persuaded to put their books in at the much lower cost of producing a PDF that could become the basis for a page fidelity view. Without page fidelity, these books wouldn’t have been in Safari at all.

      2. Despite the very vocal complaints of those who miss HTML view, the majority of Safari users began to use the page fidelity view (which is why we made it the default, and eventually made the decision (which we’ve since reversed) to make it go away entirely.)

      In short, any book that was ever available in HTML view is back in HTML view. Books that are not available in HTML were never available that way.

      Let me browse the “top titles” list and show you a few of each.

      Learning Python – http://my.safaribooksonline.com/9780596805395/
      Spring in Action – http://my.safaribooksonline.com/9781933988139/

      You’ll see the HTML view button in the middle of the toolbar right above the page. (You’ll also see the Full Screen button at the far side of the same toolbar.)

      Now take a look at two O’Reilly titles that are available in page fidelity only:

      Head First iPhone Development – http://my.safaribooksonline.com/9780596809294/
      Make: Electronics – http://my.safaribooksonline.com/9781449377267/

      You’ll see no HTML view button, because there isn’t one. Browsing the book, you’ll see just how hard it would be to re-render these books as HTML, because of the complex design of each page.

      Meanwhile, despite the strong feelings of the minority who do prefer HTML view, overall readership and subscriber retention is up since we made the change to the new Release 6.0 interface. It’s not perfect – and that’s why we re-introduced HTML view – but the majority do in fact prefer it.

      FWIW, I still use vi, but I recognize that most users prefer WYSIWYG word processors like Microsoft Word. I still think longingly of the / menus in Lotus 1-2-3, which were far more efficient for the power user than the point and click of Excel, yet I recognize that more people found the GUI to be accessible and powerful.

      It’s the sad plight of the power user ever to be in the minority. Frustrating, but true that if you want to become a mainstream product, you have to appeal to mainstream tastes. When the page fidelity view preferred by the mainstream also means that we can get more publishers and titles into the service, it’s a double win, even though it is not optimal for the power user.

      Still, I imagine you’d rather have access to many of these page fidelity-only books than not have them in the service at all.

      Meanwhile, we’ll certainly be exploring whether HTML 5 gives us new options for a fresh approach to this problem. However, thinking about the complexity of conversion (and remember, that all the books in Safari are ultimately converted from an original print format), it’s not likely to be easily solvable.

      At least not until there’s enough experience with ebooks that publishers start publishing electronic-native titles – then the “other shoe” of conversion will fall on how to represent those titles in print (which is likely equally impossible – for example, see http://bit.ly/626fDM for an example of a Safari title with embedded video.)

  144. Tim,

    I canceled a long-held subscription to Safari (max rate of ~$450/year) because of this “update”. (Thanks to John C. for a full pro-rated refund back to the launch of the Flash reader) I have to question your internal data analysis on subscriber levels. How many individual subscriptions have you lost, vs. institutional or company-wide subscriptions?

    I just don’t understand why SBO doesn’t offer the old viewer options alongside the new? Just make a “classic.safaribooksonline.com” URL and a “newcoke.safaribooksonline.com” URL and be done. Safari BO was so good that I paid for the higher-level subscriptions for many years and recommended it to clients and peers. I knew I could use it from my own computers, or client computers over which I had no installation or upgrade rights, without regard to how the client computers were configured. I didn’t have to worry much about browser versions, Flash and other plugin versions, or even OS versions, etc. Now I do. And I have to endure inevitable bugs and missing features found in any “new” product. Why is that better for your paying customers?

  145. Jesse –

    I’m sorry that the update didn’t work for you.

    Regarding subscriber renewal data – I was referring solely to end user consumer data, not corporate accounts (which typically renew on a yearly basis.) Now, obviously, there could be other factors at work (e.g. an improving economy), but the fact is, we seem to be seeing improvement in new customer acquisition and subscriber retention. So a lot of people like the new interface, though you wouldn’t think so from the comments here.

    I’ll be very interested to analyze the usage of the HTML view over time.

    Regarding “old viewer options alongside the new”, I’m suspecting it has to do with the overhead of managing multiple versions. That’s why you can’t still buy Windows 95, or Apple’s first generation iPod, or whatever.


    Another thing missing from the new view is the introductory chapters. Previously, with HTML view, the introductory chapter was almost always entirely viewable. It really helped me decide whether or not I wanted to read the entire book.

    Now, there are only about 2 sentences on each page available for viewing and it makes it extremely difficult to get a feel for the writing.

    Obviously, there is an algorithm that decides that a certain number of words have been shown on the page, and it does not account for the inroduction.

    See, it’s _good programming_ that doesn’t think about the user.

    Oh well.

  147. The new flash based interface is painfully slow, I consider it a design error.


    Right now, I have the problem of not being able to view certain pages of “Ubuntu for Non-Geeks, 3ed”, in ANY view. I’ll be specific: One such unviewable page is page_20. The previous page I couldn’t view was in the “front matter” and seemed to be covering “Acknowledgements” so I didn’t care enough to complain. In both cases, I got the message:
    “Loading failed”.

    My training session was going smoothly enough, until I got stumped by this obstacle. Again, this stuff-up (which is no fault of my own) has thrown my training plans in disarray.

    I’m thankful for your reply to my previous post here—it at least shows that my complaint has reached the ear of the top man. But right now, I have the problem of missing pages, and of not knowing how many other pages are going to be missing from this book; i.e. I can’t know whether or not to continue training from it, as there may be further missing pages.

    Right now, I’ve given up on having any choice of “HTML” or [whatever], and I’m willing to have use of this book whatever the format. But missing pages completely stump me.

    Please rectify. Thanks in advance.


  149. For the urgent attention of Mr_Tim_O’Reilly:

    I’m writing this post hours after from my previous post…

    .. Now page 23 of the same book (“Ubuntu for Non-Geeks, 3ed”) failed to load. Just 3 pages after page 20 failed to load, another page fails to load. This confirms my concern that many pages will fail to load, making this book quite worthless on my “5 slot bookshelf”.

    I used to be on the highest priced “Library” subscription, but the videos didn’t play smoothly so I downgraded to the cheapest, books only subscription, but now I find problems even with viewing books.

    Mr_O’Reilly, if you don’t believe me, I will be happy to allow you to “view my desktop” using “Remote Assistance” or a similar service that allows you to see what’s happening on my screen in realtime. You’re offering an excellent service, but it’s totally worthless if I can’t actually use it. Please help. Thanks in advance.

    *PS You are welcome to investigate my claim; I’m sure you’ll be able to access a record of my activities on your end. I mention this because you may be suspicious that some of us may be complaining merely to get back HTML view for all books.


    Right now, I have the problem of not being able to view certain pages of “Ubuntu for Non-Geeks, 3ed”, in ANY view. I’ll be specific: One such unviewable page is page_20. The previous page I couldn’t view was in the “front matter” and seemed to be covering “Acknowledgements” so I didn’t care enough to complain. In both cases, I got the message:
    “Loading failed”.

    My training session was going smoothly enough, until I got stumped by this obstacle. Again, this stuff-up (which is no fault of my own) has thrown my training plans in disarray.

    I’m thankful for your reply to my previous post here—it at least shows that my complaint has reached the ear of the top man. But right now, I have the problem of missing pages, and of not knowing how many other pages are going to be missing from this book; i.e. I can’t know whether or not to continue training from it, as there may be further missing pages.

    Right now, I’ve given up on having any choice of “HTML” or [whatever], and I’m willing to have use of this book whatever the format. But missing pages completely stump me.

    Please rectify. Thanks in advance.



    Right now, I have the problem of not being able to view certain pages of “Ubuntu for Non-Geeks, 3ed”, in ANY view. I’ll be specific: One such unviewable page is page_20. The previous page I couldn’t view was in the “front matter” and seemed to be covering “Acknowledgements” so I didn’t care enough to complain. In both cases, I got the message:
    “Loading failed”.

    My training session was going smoothly enough, until I got stumped by this obstacle. Again, this stuff-up (which is no fault of my own) has thrown my training plans in disarray.

    I’m thankful for your reply to my previous post here—it at least shows that my complaint has reached the ear of the top man. But right now, I have the problem of missing pages, and of not knowing how many other pages are going to be missing from this book; i.e. I can’t know whether or not to continue training from it, as there may be further missing pages.

    Right now, I’ve given up on having any choice of “HTML” or [whatever], and I’m willing to have use of this book whatever the format. But missing pages completely stump me.

    Please rectify. Thanks in advance.


  152. Tim,

    “Regarding “old viewer options alongside the new”, I’m suspecting it has to do with the overhead of managing multiple versions. That’s why you can’t still buy Windows 95, or Apple’s first generation iPod, or whatever.”

    Thanks for your reply.

    I must chalk this sentence up to just wanting to dismiss the argument, rather than engage it genuinely. You are comparing SBO’s internal coding and requirements to *operating systems* or proprietary embedded devices? What client hardware changes have dictated a move to Flash? Windows 95 and the iPod are truly poor comparisons to use, since those code bases have large companies behind them which have to contend with ever-changing and evolving hardware requirements, not to mention planned obsolesce to secure regular revenue streams.

    You may be watching the evolution of usage of the HTML view going forward, but be aware that you aren’t really analyzing the HTML view as it was before the upgrade, but a completely new product that may not offer the same feature set as the trusty previous codebase did. So, any future analysis of “HTML View” usage isn’t really useful to use to compare against the old “HTML View.”

    Thanks for your time. I do hope to hear from old site users that they find the new HTML view to be feature-for-feature a similar or better experience than the old view. Otherwise, there’s little reason for me to pay to work past the inevitable new bugs, or recommend the service to others.

    I have greatly benefited from O’Reilly’s books, and hope the SBO will return to full functionality soon. I hope to see HTML View become a first-class citizen again on SBO. Best of luck in the New Year.

  153. Oh, no, here we go again! I thought we were done and dusted with the HTML View! I thought we concluded that the HTML View was what attracted geeks/programmers like us to Safari and we are going to have it back as a first class citizen in the SBO world! I thought the Team SBO had heard us out and were sincere in their attempts to bring the HTML View back – perhaps, they still are. However, I am not sure, why we keep hearing about how great the Flash interface is and how not-that-important-HTML is for business. Sadly it reminds me of the strategy of “let us keep the quality/user experience mediocre as anyways most of our users don’t know or can’t tell the difference”. I sincerely hope the Team SBO appreciates that sometimes power users are the ones who use the product the most (though they might be paying only as much as someone who reads one or two marketing books at most a month etc.) and they will also be the most passionate advocates of the product.

    Tim, despite what the numbers tell you, I assure you that if you are a still-programming programmer , nothing quite beats the HTML View (perhaps except the epub :). So, please restore it to at least its former (v5.0) glory. Thanks a ton for listening and having started working towards the goal.

  154. Harry –

    I’ve forwarded on your complaint to the folks at Safari (and just to be clear, I’m not the “top man.” O’Reilly was the founder of Safari but it is now a separate company. O’Reilly is a shareholder and has board seats, but does not directly manage the company.)

    But in the meantime, I checked to see if I could reproduce your problem. I’m having no difficulty in viewing Page 20 of Ubuntu for Non Geeks. I had wondered if it was a conversion problem, but I’m seeing it just fine.

    What browser are you using? And on what OS?

    Not sure that would make a difference, but you might try in a different browser.

  155. I am sorry to learn that SBO is no longer an O’Reilly subsidiary. It does go a long way to explaining the change in tone of its customer service — that is, from one of extreme delight and interaction to frequent indifference to how the customer is trying to help you improve your business.

    I am glad to have more HTML texts available because reading texts like those offered by SBO on something like my iPhone turns out to be something I do quite a lot. A year ago there was the announcement of a specific SBO iPhone app and I hoped from something as good as Stanza. The current interface on m.safaribooksonline.com is a hack at best. At worst, it often doesn’t work.

    I get that cooperating with Pearson was a good move from the point of view of the publishing dimension of your business. I’m just not sure it was good from the technology dimension. A recent e-mail correspondence from a customer rep scolded me for not understanding that SBO books were “streamed” and not downloaded like in Stanza. That’s some distinction there.

  156. John –

    I think you misunderstand. There has been no recent change in the status of Safari. It’s been a joint venture with Pearson Technology Group since 2000, a few months after it was launched. O’Reilly is still a 50% owner, but we haven’t had complete control since the product was launched.

    It was developed as an O’Reilly product, but we realized that it would be more compelling if we could get other publishers into the service. We started with Pearson, our biggest competitor, and brought them in as a partner. We’ve since added many other publishers to the service, but Safari remains jointly owned by O’Reilly and Pearson.

    We have a lot of influence over the direction of the service, as co-owners and directors, but it has always been a separate company with separate management.

  157. You’re quite right: I did misunderstand the history of SBO. Still, I do worry when a technology business wants to distinguish between “streamed” and “downloaded.”

    To be fair to Mr. Shaeffer, he was making the distinction based on my reference to how well reading books on an iPhone works when using Stanza: he was comparing, I believe, the “streaming” of books in HTML versus the “downloading” of books as PDFs. While I get the idea that SBO needs to stick with small chunks, either in HTML or in that awful awful awful Flash UI, in order to maintain the value of whole books bought either in paper or as PDFs, that doesn’t mean I don’t bristle a bit when being assured that “streaming” is different from “downloading.” All streaming means here is “chunks so small that aggregating them would be aggravating to most.” Again, I don’t disagree with the delivery model, but euphemisms are what they are.

    To be clear: the new mobile web browser interface is much better, and the new HTML option for those of us who read on laptops are very welcome additions to SBO. They certainly have me reading SBO much more regularly.

    It makes me wish more publishers were as savvy as O’Reilly. (And I would be wrong not to shine a light on a terrific example here: the Prag Prog folks with their paper / PDF /ePub combos.)

    Thanks again for all the great work at O’Reilly. I have an awful lot of books on my shelf that have that tell-tale black band at the bottom of their spine, and I’m not even a programmer or even a full-time technologist. (Merely a humanities professor, and ethnographer, with an inner geek.)

  158. Thanks, John.

    FWIW, O’Reilly also offers books as print/ebook combos. In fact, our ebook offering (which can be combined with print, though few do so) is a bundle of pdf, epub, mobi, and prk files, so you can read them easily on your preferred device. See http://ebooks.oreilly.com

  159. Tim and John, any updates about the roadmap for the HTML View? I mean it is almost a month since the Beta began and I am sure most of us would have provided lots of feedback (I have provided mine — the top two pet peeves are the framed interface that SBO has promised to get rid of in their blog post and the broken n/p keyboard shortcuts). When can we expect the next few iterations and finally the restoration of the HTML View to match what was in v5.0? When I say “restoration” I don’t mean the UI look or feel or about removing any features like tags, notes. All I am asking for is a HTML View that works. Incidentally the n/p navigation problem affects the mobile version as well. I hope and wish 2010 would be a great year for SBO and all of us. Thanks for listening!

  160. My saga continues, but I’ve noticed that my comments on here are not appearing after I try so hard to control my frustration to write calm and logical reports. I shall try simply posting copies of all the email to-ing and fro-ing I’m having to do with SBO Help Desk people and others. I will try that after this message.

  161. For the urgent attention of Mr_Tim_O’Reilly:

    I’m writing this post hours after from my previous post…

    .. Now page 23 of the same book (“Ubuntu for Non-Geeks, 3ed”) failed
    load. Just 3 pages after page 20 failed to load, another page fails
    load. This confirms my concern that many pages will fail to load,
    making this book quite worthless on my “5 slot bookshelf”.

    I used to be on the highest priced “Library” subscription, but the
    videos didn’t play smoothly so I downgraded to the cheapest, books
    subscription, but now I find problems even with viewing books.

    Mr_O’Reilly, if you don’t believe me, I will be happy to allow you to
    “view my desktop” using “Remote Assistance” or a similar service that
    allows you to see what’s happening on my screen in realtime. You’re
    offering an excellent service, but it’s totally worthless if I can’t
    actually use it. Please help. Thanks in advance.

    *PS You are welcome to investigate my claim; I’m sure you’ll be able
    to access a record of my activities on your end. I mention this because
    you may be suspicious that some of us may be complaining merely to get
    back HTML view for all books.

  162. Flag this message
    RE: FW: [O’Reilly Radar] New Comment Added to ‘Safari Books Online 6.0 [ ref:00D0hgdL.50002d7OF:ref ]
    Thursday, 31 December, 2009 8:57 AM
    “Safari Customer Service”
    Add sender to Contacts
    Dear Harry,

    I was forwarded a copy of a posting you made to Tim’s blog and asked to follow up.

    I’m not sure I completely understand the issue, and have a couple questions if you wouldn’t mind clarifying things for me a bit.

    1. Is this a page loading issue (page(s) never load)?
    2. If so, is it specific to the book you mention below or does it happen with all books you try to read?
    3. What browser and version are you using?
    4. What OS and version are you using?
    5. Have you tried accessing the title with another browser?
    6. Have you tried reading the title in HTML view? Page loading problems do not occur in the HTML view to the best of my knowledge.

    I could not replicate a page loading problem running XP and IE 8. Pages 20 and 23 loaded just fine for me. That said, of course I believe you are having issues. There’s no need for me to access your desktop remotely. I’m going to guess you are running Linux. I have heard reports that Linux users have page loading issues on some books, which cannot be replicated in a different OS/Browser environment.

    Once we narrow down your issue, I’ll pass your case along to someone in our Tech Support department to work with you on resolving it.

    In the meantime, if you’d like me to take that title off of your bookshelf to free up a slot, please let me know. I’d be happy to do so.

    Keep in mind, our offices are closed for the next four days (December 31st – January 3rd) for the New Year’s Holiday, so I won’t be responding to you until I return on the 4th.

    Thank you Harry, and best wishes for a Happy New Year.


    Customer Service
    Safari Books Online

  163. URGENT! URGENT! URGENT! RE: FW: [O’Reilly Radar] New Comment Added to ‘Safari Books Online 6.0 [ ref:00D0hgdL.50002d7OF:ref ]
    Saturday, 2 January, 2010 12:35 PM
    “Desi Harry”
    “Safari Customer Service”

    Greetings Diane!
    I trust this message catches you well rested and ready for all the challenges of the New Year.
    Before I answer your questions, please note I’ve answered these self-same questions in the past, though on those past occasions, (prior to SBO v.6.0) they had been regarding not being able to view VIDEOS. The Help Desk had kept assuring me that the problem was at my end, but how could that have been when videos from other sources, like YouTube and GoogleVideos, were streaming through normally? You’ll notice, from my subscription records, that I downgraded from the highest priced “Library” subscription, to my current books only subscription. This had been as a result of a failure of SBO’s Help Desk to fix the problem. My software, hardware and Internet connection details have not changed since the time of the said downgrade EXCEPT that I’m now using TWO OSes, the old WindowsXPHome and now the latest and updated LinuxUbuntu, Intel Desktop version. Anyway, the past unresolved problem had been regarding videos; the current one is regarding not being able BOOKS in smooth, uninterrupted sessions. It feels like I’ve been there before, coming away disappointed, especially after a huge investment in time to try to fix the problem. I’m again devoting a LOT of time trying to fix this current problem, and I’m understandably pessimistic that it will be sorted, except this time, there’s nothing to downgrade to.
    Now to answer your questions; you’ll find my answers to-the-point and detailed without losing concision.

    1. Is this a page loading issue (page(s) never load)?
    1.A: It’s not that the “never” load, but they OFTEN fail to load. Too often. No amount of refreshing the page will make a failed-to-load page after it’s failed. This happened within the last 48 hours with pages 20 & 23 of “Ubuntu for Non-Geeks, 3ed”

    2. If so, is it specific to the book you mention below or does it happen with all books you try to read?
    2.A: I can’t answer that question with certainty as I haven’t been reading other books in the same format on SBO recently

    3. What browser and version are you using?
    3.A: I’ve been using the latest/updated version of Firefox, and also the latest/updated version of the Chrome Browser.

    4. What OS and version are you using?
    4.A: I’ve been using the latest/updated version of LinuxUbuntu AND WindowsXPHome. The same page loading problem crops up on both OSs.

    5. Have you tried accessing the title with another browser?
    5.A: Yes, I switch between the latest/updated versions Firefox and the latest/updated version of Chrome.

    6. Have you tried reading the title in HTML view? Page loading problems do not occur in the HTML view to the best of my knowledge.

    FOR ALL THE TIME AND TROUBLE I’VE DEVOTED—WHICH WILL, OR SHOULD, GO TOWARDS IMPROVING SBO—I REQUEST THAT I BE FAIRLY COMPENSATED. PLEASE ARRANGE FOR ME TO HAVE FOUR MONTHS’ FREE ACCESS TO SBO’s “LIBRARY” SUBSCRIPTION. If I get good service for those 4 compensatory months at no charge, I will continue as a paying member. If such compensation is refused, for ANY reason, I will not bother to provide such articulate and detailed feedback again.

    Oh no, it’s started going funny on me yet again, and in a completely novel way. SBO seems never to run out of ideas of how to frustrate me. Anyway, here’s what’s happened (at 12:15pm, Sat Jan 2, 2010): I was reading and doing the exercise on Adding a Drawer to the Panel (Page 24) when suddenly the page disappeared, and seemed to be reloading. Except it didn’t re-load. All I see where the page of text is supposed to be displayed is an area of solid gray. The URL, in case it helps at all, is:


    I don’t think I’m ever going to get through this book; at thiis rate, I’ll possibly finish it in ten years.


    Harry Desi

    Unhappy Customer at large (though “unhappy” would be understating it; more like an “incandescent with rage customer” at being jerked around yet again, after being jerked around before when I tried to watch videos, and now being jerked around again after I settled for just reading books as their download mass was so tiny that download & viewing problems seemed impossible. How do the technicians behind SBO screw it up so much—the wouldn’t have done worse had they tried deliberately to screw things up! )

  164. [for att: Diane of the Help Desk] Newsflash: As I mentioned at the end of my last, I was experiencing yet ANOTHER problem (in the unending story of problems with SBO). I should have mentioned that I was using the latest/updated version of Firefox on the latest/updated LinuxUbuntu platform BUT I DOUBT THAT THE OS & BROWSER ARE THE PROBLEM. I tried fixing it by logging out then logging in again. Same problem. So I tried using the Chrome browser. Problem solved, but I cannot know if it was Chrome-on-Ubuntu that provided the solution, as I might have had the same result had I tried again with Firefox-on-Ubuntu. I’d also remind you that I was having the same problems on my WinXPHome Netbook. *PS Don’t forget my request for 4 months of free access for all my efforts; I think I deserve it.

  165. Suresh R Iyer-

    We have received a lot of great feedback and are working to incorporate it. We plan to release the new HTML view from beta by the end of January.

    Thanks for your feedback.


  166. John Chodacki: Wow, that is a fantastic news to start the new year. Good luck with the code fixes. Looking forward to see a more polished and functional HTML View in a few weeks time.

  167. It would be nice, even with the HTML view beta, if we could launch the HTML view without have to open up the flash view at all. On my 64 bit Linux workstation the browser crashes immediately after launching the flash viewer, essentially making the site unusable.


  168. Tim,

    As another long time customer (7 years? Minus the 2 at my last employer where I convinced them to pay for a corp account for us engineers …) I wanted to highlight something that keeps not being addressed / replied to:

    Your technical book reading application is completely unstable and unusable on 64 bit Linux.

    I might like the flash reader … if it didn’t pin the CPU, lock up the browser, or crash the browser (or all three, in that order).

    The HTML view solves the problem on the books that have it … but that’s not all of them, which is what I’m paying for.

  169. Hi Tim,

    The new website step backward. You guys missed have stuffed up big times.

    Following are the issues
    1. Real estate on the screen is wasted.

    2. Reading area has been reduced dramatically and allocated to crap on the sides.

    3. Hi-Fi view in previous website was liked because if you want you can see the whole page on the screen with browsers scrolling

    4. There are bloody 3 – 4 scrollbars appearing on the screen some times it is so confusing.

    I don’t know what you guys were smoking when you developed your new website. It is very sophomoric where you have scrificed the most important things in favor of some frills like folders etc and you take so much pride in that.

    This website is not for paying customers it is for you and your development team.

  170. Ram –

    There’s a full screen button right on the top of the toolbar. Does that not work for you?

    Even in the regular view with all the navigation, it doesn’t seem to me that there is less screen real estate for reading. (I’m not looking at the old design for comparison, but my memory is of roughly similar proportions.)

    You can make the sidebar disappear with a click on the little arrow at the top right side of the sidebar.

    I do agree that they seem to have been pretty wasteful in the header, and I hope they can get some better use of space there in future releases.

  171. Hi Tim

    O’Reilly is treating its paying customers with utter disrespect by presenting them with this monstrosity.

    What we are getting from you and John chodoki is spin doctoring?

    You guys are part of the problem and are not helping at all.

    As a founder of O’reilly buck stops with you and you should give us the option to use old website.

    This is legally binding on your organization to give the user same service which they were getting when they signed the contract and porchased this service.

    Moreover John Chodoki should be sacked becuase he is total waste of bandwidth. He comes accross as arrogant manager who gives a damn about the complaining customers.

    You just cant imagine how frustrating your new website is.

    I demand action from you.


  172. Hi Tim

    Reading a book is an intellectual activity. Without your knowledge the old website did provide an interface which assisted in reading transparently.

    The new website has no regard for the reading activity of your paying customers. It only supports the stupidity of some of O’Reilly’s management. If we were looking at some soft porn pictures then this interface might have been ok , I don’t know because I have never done that.

    The user interface is jumpy, click hungry, zooming is what zooming should not be.

    If I had time, energy and money I would have taken you guys to court for the criminal neglect of the needs of your paying customers and torturing them with a product which is outcome of some ill conceived ideas.

    You guys can ignore our plea of giving us old interface at your own peril. I am requesting the old interface because it worked there was no need to replace it. You could have built new features around that.

    New Website is waste of our hard earned dollars which we gave your organization in the form of subscription.


  173. Hi Tim

    In your reply you said
    “There’s a full screen button right on the top of the toolbar. Does that not work for you?”

    It does not work. Does it work for you?

    “You can make the sidebar disappear with a click on the little arrow at the top right side of the sidebar.”

    Yes but to no benefit at all. In old website when I did that I use to get more content to see in HTML view and I think bigger fonts in Print fidelity view.

    “Even in the regular view with all the navigation, it doesn’t seem to me that there is less screen real estate for reading. (I’m not looking at the old design for comparison, but my memory is of roughly similar proportions.)”

    No this is not correct. In old website there was more real estate. That was due to the nature of its design.

    I reckon I have address all your points.

  174. Hi Tim

    There is censorship on this blog.

    Because one of my comment has not been allowed to appear here.

    This censorship will hinder healthy conversation.

  175. More problems with your new websites are

    1. Nervous and Jumpy user interface.

    2. Click hungry interface

    3. Zooming is what zooming should not be.

    4. Scrollbars galore

    5. Does not support or facilitate reading activity

    6. Does not take into account cognitive process of reading.

    By the way your old website did not have any of the above problem.

    I am paying customer since 2002.

    Since you guys have introduced this new website I have not been able to read any thing and I am still paying customer.

    Why I have not cancelled my membership is because I beleive once O’Reilly realize their stupidity they will bring back old website.

    Otherwise we may have to start a movement on the net to get our old Safari website back.

  176. Hi Tim

    Are we going to get our old website back ?

    If not then I will have to decide about canceling my membership.


  177. The default print fidelity view’s dreaded Flash viewer crashes on my Ubuntu 9.10 with 64-bit plugin, the only version of the Flash plugin that actually half-works on my system.

    I mean, Flash?, *seriously*?

    What’s all that Flash doing there?, wasn’t the previous version good enough?. Where’s the simpler-is-better get-out-of-my-way interface?.

    O’Reilly’s customers are geeks. I don’t know about Flash-loving geeks. They probably exist but their love is secret for fear of ridicule.

    I mean, Tim, I have you on great esteem for your contributions to the IT community in general, especally us geeks, but how come you didn’t see it coming? Is it pressure from publishers and anti-piracy paranoia that pushed the team to do this?

    Try to stick to standards, this is the web, let’s keep it clean. You guys can work something out with JavaScript, images. The old interface was beautiful, functional, light, unobtrusive, and an absolute pleasure to work in. I love it and I mourn it since it left. I hope I can see the best of it return. more than just HTML view. A better Print Fidelity would be wonderful. Is banishing Flash too much to ask? You surely have some clever programmers that can pull wonders, I mean, they did the first version.

    Leave Flash for those dark corners where standard web can’t go, but out of mission-critical. Heck, a plugin to read a book?

    I hope Tim that you’re just tired or something. Focus a bit, make me happy again. I remember when visiting SBO made me really a little happier everytime. It was a wonderful experience.

    I always wanted to see what would you do with the 6.0 version. I was excited about it. I wanted to see it happen. I was looking forward to it. I wasn’t afraid of change at all. When it finally came through it was a sad day. Few times I felt so disappointed with a product. It was like if the product suddenly lost it’s soul. It felt like expecting an iPhone and getting an ugly Chinese imitation by mail.

    I lived in Venezuela when I subscribed first, around a couple of years ago, do you know hard is it to get a credit card there is? Do you know how lengthy the process to get that credit card to work for international transactions is? I jumped all the hoops to get SBO, it was that important, I was that passionate about it. When they revoked my ability to use my credit card to pay for the service, I left the country for good. Safari is THAT essential to my productivity.

    I dare you to surprise me again, as you did with the service when I first subscribed. And take the necessary measures so that something like this never gets pulled off again.

  178. Hi John/Tim, January is coming to an end and I am not sure there has been any changes in the HTML View beta UI. why not release an upgraded beta version if the work is not yet over? I mean at least you could have removed the stupid frame by now! Anyways, keep us posted about the progress of Beta.

  179. No Safari Books on Apple iPad because the iPad will not have flash.

    While I can happily live without an iPad I really want HTML bookshelf back, hopefully the iPad release date will put some new pressure on the Safari Bookshelf dev team.

  180. Thanks for reinstating the HTML View, albeit silently. Issues I face after using it for 5 min:

    1. Not happy with the top border still being present. Can we have a way to hide it when in full screen mode? Perhaps we can press a key to display it and use any of the buttons in it (or pressing h or b will automatically do what it is supposed to do even with the frame not being visible).

    2. Add keyboard shortcut for toggling the LHS ToC frame [if you use GReader I am referring to something that works like the “u” key in GReader]

    3. In both HTML and non-HTML views, the n/p keys are not always working (e.g. they circulate between say a set of n pages (where n is usually

    4. Provide a way to control the fontface (Arial or Verdana etc) and fontsize for print page as well.

    5. Please retain the “interim” page to access mobile version of the site from the computer browser (mobile version is not being accessible, at least for me, now from the PC). It is also a great way to read.. I prefer it at times to the main site since the main site font type is fixed to Verdana (or whatever it is)

  181. Forgot to add..

    6. This won’t be an issue if 1 is fixed. Please port the feature from the mobile version where when we navigate between pages the header (with logo) is not made visible. Where as in the full version (now) pressing n/p navigates to the next or previous page, and displays the page from the very top (including the border).

  182. THANKS!!!!

    Very glad to see it back.

    Even better now they are asking for proactive input (hover over HTML view tool for a link).

    Hopefully everyone with an interest will complete the survey to make sure this stays high up in the dev teams priorities.

  183. Thanks, am able to access mobile site from a PC again.. yesterday wasn’t able to do it (was just hanging awaiting response from the server yday).

  184. Jean Pierre Rupp

    I have problems with page flipping. When I try to go to the next page at the end of a section or chapter, I end up at the beginning of the current section or chapter. The only effective way to deal with this is going to the TOC and selecting the next chapter so I can continue reading. I use Linux, and I don’t have Flash enabled since it just *sucks* big time at it should die. It belongs to the pantheon of browser plugins next to Real Player. A *non-flash*, non-infinite scrolling, *non-frames*, *light* version of the print fidelity view with page flipping options similar to those for the HTML view should be available. Flash and frames should be banished from SBO, they are clumsy, slow, unstable and incomfortable, especially on a Linux system.


  185. I haven’t subscribed yet. Before so doing I searched for Safari Books problems, and came across all this Flash stuff. So, has the HTML view been reinstated for good? I won’t subscribe otherwise. I’ve struggled with PDF books before – never again.

  186. James, yes, HTML view is back for good.

  187. Thanks. Didn’t expect a personal response. Impressed. Will subscribe.

  188. It’s a shame this thread evolved mainly into a discussion of HTML vs. Flash. I thought Tim made some very interesting points about the future of electronic books in general and possible directions for Safari in particular.

    Personally, I think that creating a community of insightful people is the most interesting possible future of SBO. Other sites might be able to pirate the books, but they won’t be able to duplicate the conversations and intelligence of the Safari community.

  189. Thanks for restoring HTML view. It lets Safari Books work from iPad, and Safari Books + iPad == awesome.

    Actually, though, HTML view isn’t quite all the way back. I’ve encountered two books (both published by O’Reilly, so it isn’t the “publisher can’t supply HTML” issue) where it isn’t available. “Mastering Regular Expressions” and “Regular Expressions Cookbook”. I’m assuming this is a bug, and have submitted a bug report.

    If it weren’t for iPad, I’d be OK with the Flash view. My desktops are Mac Pros with 4 and 8 cores, respectively, so Flash is tolerable. 🙂

    I was not OK with the initial release of the Flash view, because it made sequential reading painful if the full page would not fit on the screen. The designers basically failed to take into account that there are two page sizes involved in reading: the size of the book page, and the size of the visible page, which can be smaller than the size of the book page. E.g., a book page might contain 100 lines, but the visible page only shows 70 lines.

    The Flash view offered a continuous view (cool!) but did not have an easy way to advance the location of the visible page by the size of the visible page. It only supported page advancing by the size of the book page. The net result was that if you just wanted to go through the book sequentially, it required more fiddling and care than it should have.

    After some feedback, they made it so hitting space advanced your view by one line less than the size of your view, so you could then read in the Flash view by simply reading the visible page, and when you reached the bottom, hit space and move your eyes back to the top, with one line of context to help orient you.

    Arguably at that point the Flash view become more convenient than the HTML view, as you could read through the whole book in a natural fashion using a single command (space), and except for the very last page of the book, every time you hit space, your next text starts at the top of the screen.

    So…any plans for an iPad app? I’d pay $10 or $20 for a Safari Books iPad app (on top of my regular subscription fee) if it would let me cache a decent number of books on the iPad for offline reading (no wifi access at work for security reasons).

  190. tzs,

    Thank you for your comments. I have assigned your Feedback case to myself and will be communicating with you regarding it.

    Jason Hamon
    Technical Support
    Safari Customer Service

  191. I have to say, I tried a trial of Safari Books Online about 2 years ago, and was genuinely impressed with the service. Unfortunately, at the time I could not warrant the expense. Recently, my employer offered the opportunity to pay for a corporate subscription, and I jumped at the opportunity.

    This new Flash-based interface that has replaced what I experienced two years ago is utterly useless. I opted out of purchasing a book that I required because the book was available on Safari.. The specific book that I require hangs the Flash Player on every single browser I have tried it on, on both Windows and Mac. Initially, I contacted support chat in regards to the problem and after asking the representative to actually try the book on his end, he gave me the “Works fine for me” line and said he was unable to help me.. The only thing he could offer was to elevate the call. The response I got back confirmed my suspicions — there is a problem with the book. As the engineer that emailed me back stated: “I’m sorry that “Business Data Communications and Networking” is freezing up. I have confirmed that something in our version of the book is causing the Flash plugin to crash consistently. Unfortunately there is no work-around at this time.

    I’ve filed a trouble ticket (SIX-3671) with our development team to resolve the bug. Our developers respond to issues as quickly as possible depending on their current case load. While some issues are solved quickly, others can take weeks to resolve, depending on the severity of the issue and how broadly our customer base is affected.”

    That’s just great — so I was left scrambling to find a physical copy of the book, and had to order it with expedited shipping because Safari has no idea when this will be resolved.

    You guys can keep your new interface and tout how great Flash is (not). As for our corporate subscription, I won’t be having my employer’s library renew mine. Kind of useless if you ask me.

  192. Rick-

    I am sorry to hear about your recent problems with the interface.

    Safari Books Online does, in fact, offer a non-Flash interface for book reading. I talked to our support team and we now have a workaround for you.

    If you access the page you mentioned to our team (http://techbus.safaribooksonline.com/9780470055755/277) from a non-Flash enabled browser, you should be able to view all pages without Flash.

    If that doesn’t work, please feel free to contact me and I will handle this personally.

    John Chodacki

  193. I like to read the books in the Print Fidelity mode. It is big success of safari.

  194. “I find it strange that a company can decide to remove an option, without warning, from paying customers just because only a minority used it.” – I agree completely. This is how you lose customers or least get a lot of unhappy customers!

  195. Thanks for the information, I enjoyed it.

  196. It is not bad at all. This new approach of distributing books is a new wave of entrepreneur ship that has hit this old and often bureaucratic segment of distribution thinking. I know that this was right from beginning and I’m even more convinced know.

  197. Agreed with John above, the approach is all wrong.

  198. Agree with Peter above.
    The Approach is totally wrong

  199. I agree with Susan, Peter and John lol

  200. Aloha man! I really value what you’re posting here. Keep going that way.

  201.  That’s really excellent post for knowledge..!!!