By Mike Lewis
After Microsoft released Windows 8 late last year, Amazon was quick to bring out a special version of their Kindle for PC app. This new release is specifically designed to work with the Windows 8 touch-based interface, and for the most part it does its job well. But I've found several annoying weaknesses with it - as have many other users.
The first thing that I noticed is that there is no internal search feature: you can't search for a word or phrase within a book. It's true that there is a search button in the Charms bar - as is the case with most dedicated Windows 8 apps. But this only searches the titles of books in your library or the Kindle store. If you want to search inside a book, you’re out of luck.
Speed is another issue. Many users have complained that page turns are sluggish. Changing orientation or font size can also take an unduly long time. My own experience is that most page turns are instantaneous, but a long delay occurs every fifth page or so, which is very irritating.
Perhaps the worst feature is that your books no longer exist as separate physical files in your computer. In older versions of the program, each book is contained in its own distinct file. These can be readily found in the My Kindle Content folder, the location of which is under the user's control. This means that you have the option of opening the books in other programs (such as the Calibre e-book manager) and of moving them to other devices (subject to DRM restrictions). More importantly, it means that you can use the Kindle for PC app to read books that you didn't purchase from Amazon. You simply double-click on the file within Windows to have it open within the program.
None of this is possible with the new version. The reason is that the app now stores all your books in an internal database which is inaccessible to the user - in much the same way that iTunes stores your music tracks. While this might make the program more secure, it also gives rise to the inconveniences mentioned above.
If you're running the RT version of Windows 8, I'm afraid I can't suggest a solution to any of these problems - other than to press Amazon to fix them. But it's a better story if you have the full version - the one that runs on Intel-compatible processors. This is the version that supports the traditional Windows desktop and can run legacy applications from Windows 7 and below.
In that case, there's nothing stopping you from reverting to the "standard" version of Kindle for PC - the version designed for Windows XP, Vista and 7. You lose nothing by using this older program. It works just as well under Windows 8 as on the earlier systems, and it has none of the performance issues or other problems that I've described in this article.
What's more, the two versions will happily co-exist. So you can run them both on the same machine until you decide which one to opt for. And if, like me, you have two Kindle accounts, you can register each version to a separate account, which is an added convenience.
Download and install
To install the original version, simply visit the Kindle store (not the Microsoft store). Follow the "Free Reading Apps" link, then the link labeled "Windows 7, Vista and XP". Click the Download button and follow the instructions on the screen. Once you have installed the program, go to Options / Registration, and register it to your Kindle account.
Talking of registration, keep in mind that you can only register the program to the Kindle store in the country from which you downloaded it. If your Kindle account is with Amazon UK, for example, don't try to download the program from Amazon.com. This might sound obvious, but it does sometimes catch people out. What's more, there's nothing in the program itself that tells you which country it belongs to, so do take care if this is an issue for you.
In general, Amazon has done a good job with its free reading applications. But it’s a pity that the Windows 8 version falls short of the earlier releases. If you're able to run traditional desktop programs on your Windows 8 system, I recommend you at least try the original version of Kindle for PC. I've found that it provides a much better reading experience, and I think you will too.
Acknowledgement: My thanks to members of the MobileRead forum for their help with some of the points raised in this article (any remaining errors are my own).