Ever since Bill Gates unveiled Microsoft's ClearType technology last fall at Comdex in Las Vegas, users have been clamoring to use it in an actual product. Well, the wait is almost over: The company announced Monday that this technology will be released as Microsoft Reader, software that is designed to make it easier to read text on computers. Microsoft Reader will provide sharper, print-like pages, especially on LCD screens, such as those used by laptops and flat-panel displays. It should be available early in 2000.

"I think this is going to jump-start electronic books and periodicals," said Dick Brass, the vice president of Technology Development at Microsoft. "I think it's going to overcome the two biggest barriers that eBooks have: 1) that until now paper has been a superior medium, and 2) that until now there's been no ubiquitous standard software to create a large market for electronic reading that encourages publishers to make a large number of titles available."

Microsoft expects its Microsoft Reader software to finally usher in the era of electronic books that has been promised in Science Fiction for decades.

"The vision of a paperless office was a big thing in the '70s and '80s, but it never happened-it was a bust," Brass said. "And one of the reasons it was a bust is that people don't like to read on the screen, because it's not as comfortable as reading on paper."

Microsoft Reader is only the beginning of a new push at Microsoft dedicated to leading the transition from paper-based reading to computer-based reading. The company is working on ClearType-enhanced typefaces, promoting the open eBook standard, and working on other ClearType-based products.

"We're on the verge of a fundamental change," Brass says. "It's not Star Trek anymore. It's really going to happen."

For more information, please visit the Microsoft Reader Web site