So, I'm in a quandary.
Having used one now for a few months, I'm slowly warming to Amazon's Kindle 2. Sure, it still feels a bit cheap compared to the Sony 505, but it's fast, and the ability to download over their wireless network is a bit plus. (Stay tuned for an announcement from us about that...)
But my biggest issue with the Kindle is the markup it supports. Think 1995 browser, minus the <blink> tag. It is very, very limited.
I pride myself on the look of our books, so when I added support for eBooks on the Kindle, I worked hard to get something that looks half-way decent. We're still tuning it, but by and large I think our books look good. But we still have an issue. It is really hard to display code listings on the device. Let me explain why, and show you some examples. Then, at the end, I'll ask for your help.
First, the problem. When the Kindle was first launched, it lacked a fixed-width font. They recently added one. But the choice of sizes is limited, and the code tends to end up too big, even at <font size="-2"> This leads directly to the main problem. The Kindle display is narrow. You can get roughly 45 fixed-width characters across it at the smallest font size. That means code lines will either be truncated, or they'll wrap.
But, we went ahead and did our best. And we didn't much like the result. In particular, I didn't like the way long lines in the code wrapped onto the next line. So I went back to the drawing board and took a new approach.
In the books as currently published, code listings on the Kindle are actually images. That means I get to choose the font, and I get to choose the size. And I can do some cleverer things than I could do with straight HTML formatting. For example, if a listing is wide, I know before hand that it won't fit the horizontal size of the screen, so I scale the font down until it does. And, because the font I'm using is narrow, I can fit more code per line anyway. But there are some major downsides of this approach.
The code doesn't scale up and down when you change the font size on the device.
The font we're currently using in the images doesn't have bold and italic versions, so we're not syntax highlighting it. This is clearly fixable, but it would be something of a pita to do.
The .mobi files we generate are about three times bigger than they'd otherwise be because of the embedded images.
If an image is too big to fit on a page vertically, we currently chop it off.
So, there's no clear winner. Just to show you what I'm talking about, here are some comparison images taken from Daniel's Cocoa book. The ones on the left are pages from the books as we currently distribute them. The ones on the right use text, rather than images, do display code. (You can click on an image to see it at full size.)
|Code As Image||Code as Text|
So, given the pros and cons of each approach, what should we do? Stick with the current scheme? Move to text-based code? Or...?