Do you own a kindle?  For better or for worse, the most downloaded eBooks are kindle books.  And let’s face it, Amazon has made it pretty attractive for both readers and writers to use the kindle format…tons of free books, a nicely laid out e-store, promotional deals for authors, and an easy-to-upload-your-book interface for the writers among us.  And you don’t even have to own a kindle to read kindle books.  There are kindle apps for Windows, Mac, the iPhone, Android, and even the Blackberry.  But no Linux app.  What gives?  I realize Linux is not the predominant OS, but why leave omit the Linux guys?

I will grant you, there are other ways Linux users can read Kindle books.  Chances are the industrious Linux user is carrying a smart phone, and as they say “there’s an app for that.”  And dedicated kindle readers are not all that expensive; the base model currently retails for $69, and I’ve seen used models on EBay for $30.  But all that is beside the point.  Many people want to read kindle books on their Linux laptop or desktop.

I own a Fujitsu T5010 convertible laptop… which means when I flip it into tablet mode, I have a 13” kindle reader (take that Kindle DX).  Problem is, I run Manjaro Linux on the laptop.  (OK, that’s not entirely true, as I have the laptop setup to dual boot both Windows 7 and Manjaro.  But I don’t want to have to reboot my computer just to read an eBook.)  So what’s the average Linux user to do?

Actually, there are a couple of work-arounds.  I will list them from easiest to most complex.  Each has its own good and bad points, so the user will have to decide what works best for him.

Option One:  Kindle Cloud Reader

This is by far the easiest way to read kindle eBooks on your Linux device.  The Kindle Cloud Reader is an online web service provided by Amazon that allows you to read kindle eBooks via your web browser.  Originally, this service was only offered for users of Chrome and Chromium, but the browser selection has been expanded to include Safari, Firefox and SeaMonkey.  (There may be more browsers that work with Kindle Cloud Reader, but I’ve listed the ones I tested myself.  The web app is written in HTML5, so if your browser knows how to play nice with that code, you should be alright.)

Using this app is easy.  In Chrome and Chromium, there is a web app found in the Google Chrome Web Store.  For other browsers, simply go to https://read.amazon.com/ (I’d bookmark the page), log in with your kindle account, and start reading.  Just like with the dedicated kindle reader, you can highlight text and make notes (although the interface isn’t as refined), as well as bookmark passages.  Offline reading is possible for any books you download to the reader.

Disadvantages are few.  As I said earlier, the interface isn’t as refined as the dedicated kindle reader.  The biggest disadvantage is the same as with all kindle books; the books you’ve downloaded (free or paid) are not yours to do with as you please.  More on that later in the post.

Option Two:  Kindle for PCKindle-Logo-PC

Wait a minute, we’re running Linux!  That’s right, but through a little program called WINE, we can run Kindle for PC.  So what is WINE?  As stated on the WINE HQ website:

“WINE is a compatibility layer capable of running Windows applications on several POSIX-compliant operating systems, such as Linux, Mac OSX, & BSD. Instead of simulating internal Windows logic like a virtual machine or emulator, Wine translates Windows API calls into POSIX calls on-the-fly, eliminating the performance and memory penalties of other methods and allowing you to cleanly integrate Windows applications into your desktop.”

In simple terms, this means that WINE allows us to run Windows programs on the various Linux desktops.  But like many things, there is a catch.  The WINE compatibility layer isn’t perfect, and not every Windows program will function correctly.  Unfortunately, this means the current version of Kindle for PC.  However, older versions will.  Grab you favorite internet browser and head over to filehippo.com.  Search for “Kindle for PC.”  When you arrive at the Kindle for PC page, on the right hand side you will see a list of older versions of this application.  I have found that the versions older than build 38420 seem to run just fine in WINE.  With a little tweaking, it may be possible to run a newer version of Kindle for PC; this is especially true as WINE is improved and updated.

The advantages to this method are clear.  We have a fully functional Kindle application running on our Linux computer system.  On or offline, kindle books are available for reading.  The downside, however, is that you’re going to have to play around for a while to find just the right combination of WINE settings and correct version of Kindle for PC.  So, if you’re looking for a “plug and play” option, this is not it.  And once again, Amazon, not you, is in control of the content.

Option Three:  Conversion

The final option is the most involved, but it is my favorite option.  It involves taking your downloaded kindle eBooks, converting them to EPUB format, then using a made for Linux e-reading application.  To perform the conversion, you will need Calibre, which is an eBook manager.  In addition to managing and syncing eBooks, it also can convert eBooks from one format to another.

There are three e-reading applications for Linux (at least these are the only ones I know of.  If you know of others, please let us know in the comments section).  They are:

I personally use Lucidor.  It is a pretty bare-bones reader, but I don’t ask for a lot.  I need to read, highlight, and bookmark, and Lucidor does that just fine.  I’ve never used FB Reader so I can’t comment on that one, but I have used the Android version of Cool Reader.  It has a neat, book-like interface, and the scrolling animation looks like pages sliding past the screen.

For some eBooks, all that need be done is load the eBook into Calibre, click on the convert format icon, and then move to file to the e-reader.  Unfortunately, this is where DRM rears its ugly head.  For those who don’t know DRM stands for digital rights management, and it is a technology used control digital media after it has been sold.  In the case of Kindle eBooks, DRM prevents the eBook from being converted to another format.  To say that DRM is controversial is to put it mildly, and I could write for days on the subject.  Maybe that will be a future blog post.

Not all Kindle eBooks have DRM; for those published through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), the author has the option to use DRM or not.  (A note to all readers:  All of my works published now and in the future through KDP are DRM free, and as long as I have control over it, they will remain that way.  After a person buys one of my books, I want them to have the right to do with it as they please.)

So if you have kindle books with DRM, are you stuck?  No!  There are a few pieces of software out on the net that can be used to strip the DRM out of your eBook.  There is also a plugin for Calibre that will perform the same action.  If you want to go this route, I suggest you visit Apprentice Alf’s Blog.  This site not only has the latest version of the plugin, but also has a great tutorial that will guide you through the conversion process.

So with all of the work involved, why would you convert eBook your kindle books rather than just use the cloud reader or Kindle for PC?  For starters, when you “buy” a kindle book, you don’t own it.  Amazon’s official Kindle Store Terms of Use are very clear about this, stating “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider”.  What you have done is purchase the right to read that book with your kindle device until Amazon decides to take that right away.  Which may never happen.  Or you may be one of the people who have their Kindle account suspended for reasons Amazon declines to comment on.  Here is an interesting article from NBC that discusses just that:

http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/you-dont-own-your-kindle-books-amazon-reminds-customer-1C6626211

I’m generally not the conspiracy theory kind of person.  At the same time, I don’t like the idea of Amazon having control over my kindle content.  It’s bad enough that they’re spying on you when you’re reading your kindle books. (You didn’t think those reading suggestions were random, did you?)

For me, there are two reasons for converting my eBooks.  The first is that although I own a kindle reader, sometimes I want to read with my laptop, which runs Linux.  The second is that the converted eBooks serve as a sort of back up.  If my account was somehow “lost” by Amazon, I still have access to my entire eBook library (which is rather extensive).

I hope this post has given some insight as to how the Linux users out there can read kindle books on their computer.  Have comments or questions?  Feel free to leave them in the comments section below.  As always, I would love it if you share this post with your friends.  Want to stay in the loop with new blog posts?  Subscribe to our newsletter. 

Thanks for reading!