Build your own virtual books -- free!

Not so long ago, people just like you and me read books and wrote out the occasional prose on lily-white paper bound crisply in journals.

Are you feeling a little nostalgic? Last week KeeBoo unveiled software that lets you create your own virtual books, for free.

While other online companies may use the book metaphor, KeeBoo's build-your-own approach is unique, says CEO Michel Safars. "We're trying to solve the problem of people who want to communicate easily," Safars says, suggesting an alternative to constructing personal Web pages.

You need to have a PC with at least a Pentium 200MHz processor, 32MB RAM, and 30MB of hard drive space available, plus Internet Explorer 4.01. The software takes roughly five minutes to download. Before you can get started, you need to provide details such as your name, e-mail address, birthday and gender. KeeBoo uses this registration information for demographic purposes but declares that it will be kept private.

After registering, I jumped on KeeBoo's four minute instructional tour, which provides a play-by-play overview of how to create, organise and personalise a book, all set to groovy background music.

The book interface is familiar and easy to grasp. The software can read 200 file formats, letting you combine standard documents, multimedia clips, and your favourite Web pages with the simple click of a mouse. KeeBoo automatically inserts and updates a table of contents, and divides the book into chapters. Books are shelved in the library, which is kept on your hard drive and holds up to 150 books.

To add a more personal touch, editing tools complete with virtual highlighter pen and electronic Post-it notes are at your disposal. As I fiddled with the book motif, dropping in text and highlighting it, I had the eerie feeling that I was working on a term paper. But KeeBoo offers up book ideas ranging from baby photo albums to somewhat sophisticated financial reports.

KeeBoo plans to generate revenue by selling corporate versions; it will announce partners for this effort.

Why create such a fine masterpiece of a book and keep it to yourself? You can e-mail it to friends and family around the world, since all they need to view the book is a standard Web browser such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. The book can be virtually any size, depending on hard drive capacity.

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