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Michael S. Hart, known as the "father of e-books", has passed away.  (Source: Michael Hart)

Mr. Hart published numerous books for free via his open books effort, Project Gutenberg.  (Source: LIFE)
Michael S. Hart is gone, but his work lives on

Futurist and technophile pioneer Michael S. Hart was never afraid to dream.  When he founded the Gutenberg Project at age 24 in 1971, the term "open source" had not entered the popular vocabulary, and Linus Torvalds was approaching his second birthday.

But Mr. Hart's modest project grew into a massive work that would have a great impact on Mr. Torvalds and the open source movement.  It also was arguably the first effort to digitize books or create so-called "e-books" (electronic books).

Mr. Hart died this week at age 64, and the Gutenberg Project, still very active with 36,000 works in its collection, published his obituary.  The site 

Hart was best known for his 1971 invention of electronic books, or eBooks. He founded Project Gutenberg, which is recognized as one of the earliest and longest-lasting online literary projects. He often told this story of how he had the idea for eBooks. He had been granted access to significant computing power at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On July 4 1971, after being inspired by a free printed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, he decided to type the text into a computer, and to transmit it to other users on the computer network. From this beginning, the digitization and distribution of literature was to be Hart's life's work, spanning over 40 years.

Hart was an ardent technologist and futurist. A lifetime tinkerer, he acquired hands-on expertise with the technologies of the day: radio, hi-fi stereo, video equipment, and of course computers. He constantly looked into the future, to anticipate technological advances. One of his favorite speculations was that someday, everyone would be able to have their own copy of the Project Gutenberg collection or whatever subset desired. This vision came true, thanks to the advent of large inexpensive computer disk drives, and to the ubiquity of portable mobile devices, such as cell phones....

Michael prided himself on being unreasonable, and only in the later years of life did he mellow sufficiently to occasionally refrain from debate. Yet, his passion for life, and all the things in it, never abated.

Frugal to a fault, Michael glided through life with many possessions and friends, but very few expenses. He used home remedies rather than seeing doctors. He fixed his own house and car. He built many computers, stereos, and other gear, often from discarded components.

Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: “One thing about eBooks that most people haven't thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we're all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job."

To this day, Project Gutenberg offers all its works free of charge.  A guiding principal of the project is to include at least one copy of every work in the collection in plain text, which should be accessible from any users' computer.

Mr. Hart is also remembered as a guiding member of the 
RepRap Project, a project to create 3D printers capable of reproducing themselves, and thus inching a step closer to a "living" manmade synthetic construct.

Project Gutenberg is 
asking for donations in Mr. Hart's honor to sustain his life's work.

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By nocturne_81 on 9/8/2011 7:43:38 PM , Rating: 2
Rest in piece, Michael Hart. You were a good man, a dying breed in these ridiculous times..

Too bad anything good can be used for evil, though.. The eBook market is nothing short of highway robbery -- paying $10 for a digital copy of a book is just like, well.. like paying $10 for a digitally distributed music album. In addition, many publishers are publishing eBooks without paying the authors any royalties, as the concept of the eBook wasn't considered in their original contract (again, just like Sony/BMG refusing to pay artists royalties when the digital music market exploded).

But in keeping with his vision, thankfully being digital -- all these copyrighted works can be distributed openly and freely..

By GulWestfale on 9/8/2011 8:42:52 PM , Rating: 2
what you say is true, but this does give a chance to us independent publishers/authors. most of us sell our books for $2.99 or $3.99; not because we have to be cheap to compete, but simply because we actually get to keep 70% of the sales price. if i had a deal with a major company, i'd only be making a few cents at those prices, but e-books allow me to be independent, thus charging my readers a fair price while receiving a fair share of the royalties. sooner or later, established authors (and perhaps musicians) will see the light, and self-publish their works as well.

By nocturne_81 on 9/9/2011 4:52:13 AM , Rating: 2
In the music industry, a few bands have tried to change things, namely Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead (to a much lesser extent).

The print industry has been getting crushed under it's own weight in recent years, though. I just simply can't imagine spending $30 on a hardcover book or $15-20 on a paperback -- especially knowing what a ridiculously small percentage authors get. I just can't read a book on a screen, though.. The kindle is close, but still not the same, and their upcoming tablet is a massive step backwards in terms of an eReader.

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