A sales rep at Books24x7.com convinced someone at work to do a free trial of their online book service, and somehow I ended up in the test group. Since I already subscribe to Safari and am familiar with this type of service, I figured I’d have something to say. And sure enough… My informal evaluation follows:

Books24x7 is a good idea, something that I would probably use were it not for the fact that it doesn’t include the books that I consider the standard references in the technologies that I work with now or am likely to work with soon. Looking through those areas, I’m generally disheartened by the selection. As a quick glace at my bookshelf will attest, most of the definitive books in the areas in which I work are published by O’Reilly. They are completely absent from Books24x7, as are some other important publishers.

New Riders is thankfully included in both services.

Before you settle on this service, I suggest that you at least take a look at a competing online book service: Safari. Created by O’Reilly, it obviously includes their books, but also offers a wide selection from publishers — including many also offered through Books24x7.

I’ve been subscribing to Safari for a while now and am happy with it. I use it for reference while working, to review a book to decide whether to buy a print edition, and to learn new things — often in a hurry.

Safari’s service is basically the same as Books24x7: complete text and images, bookmarks, annotations, full-text search, etc., and have a similar interface. Two major differences:

  1. In Safari there is a limit to the number of books you can access at any one time. For instance, I subscribe at the 5-book level. When I put a book in my bookshelf, it has to stay there for at least a month. Once I’ve reached the maximum number of books in my collection, that’s it until the month is over or I buy a higher-level subscription (which I can do on a temporary basis). From what I can tell, Books24x7 doesn’t have this limit, which is pretty nice. On the other hand, so far the limit has not been a problem for me: I subscribe at the 5-book level because that’s all I ever need.

    Then again, I spend a hell of a lot of money on books.

  2. The quality of books offered by Safari is much, much better.

Whether Safari is a better fit for ITS, I don’t know. It’s at least worth looking at before making a decision. Would I use Books24x7? No: I already have something that’s a better fit for me.

On the other hand, I will use it to read Microsoft ASP.NET Step by Step. Because I confess to having seen some things that make me curious.