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Project Gutenberg: The world of literature on a CD-ROM

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

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Project Gutenberg: The world of literature on a CD-ROM

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1994, The Syracuse Newspapers

A few weeks ago I added 150 new books to my library, off to the side of my computer room. Among the works are "Aesop's Fables," "Moby Dick," "Roget's Thesaurus," an additional version of the Bible and much, much more.

They take up a space 5 inches high and a quarter of an inch thick.

They're on a CD-ROM—the computer version of a compact disc—called "Project Gutenberg." An organization of the same name—honoring the founder of movable type, Johann Gutenberg—has been creating electronic versions of the great works of history and literature for years, and is now making those texts available on CD-ROM through an electronic publishing house.

Texts that are stored electronically take up much less space, can be readily transferred from one computer to another, can be fed through a program that reads the text aloud, can be excerpted very easily and are almost indestructible.

The publisher is Walnut Creek. The Walnut Creek catalog is a must for serious CD-ROM collectors. (You can order a catalog at 510-674-0783; fax 510- 674-0821.)

All the texts on the "Project Gutenberg" CD-ROM are free from word-processing codes, so they can be read in any text reader or standard word processor on any computer. (Walnut Creek makes a point of providing CD-ROMs that aren't limited to industry-standard PCs and Macintoshes.)

If your word processor or text reader allows cut-and-paste operations, you'll find it easy to create excerpts from any of the texts for use in your own notes or letters.

One caution: Some of the texts on this CD-ROM are very long and can choke a typical word processor. The disc comes with programs that let you read the texts no matter how large they are, but they are not word processors.

Among the surprises on this disc are the full documents relating to the North American Free Trade Agreement and scores of historical works from the early period of the U.S. republic. The U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence are here, too, as are such odd pairings as Melville's "Moby Dick" and the full CIA "World Factbook."

Because "Project Gutenberg" makes no effort at multimedia—it contains no sound files or herky-jerky video clips—it can be enjoyed by anyone who has a CD-ROM drive. No special adaptors (such as so-called sound cards) are needed, and your computer doesn't even need to have a lot of extra memory.

And this helps the Project Gutenberg organization's goal of making these documents—"e-texts," as it calls them—available to the widest possible readership. In many areas of the country, more than half the homes have personal computers; outside the home, nearly all libraries and schools have computers of one kind or another.

CD-ROMs such as this one are ideal for homes, libraries and schools. If your local library or school has a computer with a CD-ROM drive but has not yet heard of Project Gutenberg, you know what your good deed for this week will be.

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