Is there a Windows-based Barnes & Noble reader in the works?

Is there a Windows-based Barnes & Noble reader in the works?

Summary: Microsoft and Barnes & Noble aren't talking product roadmaps (yet), but there are some clues indicating a Windows-powered e-reader/tablet from the pair could be coming.


Microsoft and Barnes & Noble's patent settlement and partnership, announced April 30, have spurred questions as to whether there is some kind of Windows-powered e-reader in the wings.

Neither party is saying much at this point. During a call with press and analysts about the formation of NewCo -- a jointly-owned subsidiary -- execs from the two companies danced around questions about the possibility of a Windows-powered e-reader, which could be branded as a Nook or in some other way.

There are clues that some kind of a dedicated, Windows-powered e-reader, built by Microsoft and/or Barnes & Noble, may be in the works. But it might not necessarily be a Windows 8 device.

One of my sources said that Microsoft and B&N had been working on a partnership for a while via which Microsoft would build an e-reader and B&N would build the back-end bookstore. According to that source, the partnership fizzled, perhaps due in part to the Microsoft Courier tablet effort (which also fizzled).

But the idea that there could be some kind of dedicated, Windows-powered e-reader didn't die. In fact, Microsoft execs have continued to tout the idea that an e-reader is part of the gamut of devices that will be powered by Windows. Just a month ago, in fact, Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner, mentioned again during a keynote that e-readers will be one of a handful of form factors where Microsoft's Metro interface/design style will play in the future.

It's interesting and perhaps telling that Turner called out "Metro," and not "Windows," as what will be common across tablets, PCs, phones and other devices. Today, during the B&N/Microsoft investor call, analysts asked whether a Windows 8 e-reader might result from the new partnership.

"We have a myriad of form factors, price points and capabilities, but we certainly see more form factors with Windows 8 coming forward," said Microsoft President Andy Lees, whom Microsoft officials are saying spearheaded the B&N partnership on Microsoft's side.

So is that a yes or a no? I have no idea. Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch provided a bit more guidance, noting that there's a 1 GHz Texas Instruments chip powering Nook tablets today. "Microsoft has already stated its intention to run on ARM processors, including TI," Lynch said.

The version of Windows that is running on ARM is not, technically, Windows 8. It is known as Windows RT (and previously as Windows on ARM, or WOA). That version of Windows is built on the foundation of Windows (Windows core) and "has a very significant amount of shared code with Windows 8." But it's still not, techincally, Windows 8. It's far more locked-down -- which might make it a better choice for a dedicated device, like an e-reader.

There's another option. Microsoft could license one of the embedded flavors of Windows -- like Windows Compact Embedded or Windows Embedded Standard -- to B&N to use as the operating system for a new e-reader. One of the advantages to B&N of this kind of an arrangement would be the company wouldn't have to pay Microsoft a penalty patent royalty payment for each reader sold. (That's what B&N now has to do with each Android-based Nook sold, as of the just-signed patent settlement with Microsoft.) The question is whether the cost to B&N of licensing some version of Windows for each e-reader is the same or less than the cost of using open-sourced Android (zero) plus some unpublicized patent-royalty payment to Microsoft.

Update: My ZDNet colleague Jason Perlow noted there's still yet another potentially possible option: Windows Phone OS 8, codenamed Apollo. Could Microsoft be offering Apollo for license to OEMs who are making devices other than phones? Maybe...

There's one other point from the investor call is worth mentioning. Microsoft's Lees mentioned a few times that Microsoft is positioning Windows as key to the future of reading. He said that Microsoft doesn't see itself as "just" the platform provider; it intends to have a hand in how people are going to write/create stories, how they'll read, how they'll interact with stories, and how they'll learn -- a "blurring of different content types." B&N's role here will be to "help enable the purchase," Lees said.

(It's worth noting that the Microsoft-B&N deal isn't exclusive, so this doesn't mean Microsoft will be working only with B&N on the back-end store side. There's already an Amazon Kindle app for Windows 8.)

We haven't seen or heard much from Microsoft on the content creation/publishing side of e-books, at least so far. Are the Softies thinking about doing something along the lines of Jackson Fish Market, created by a few ex-Microsoft folks, by the way, which has been doing some pioneering work around an app that lets users record stories with audio and video and make them available online?

Whatever the likely Windows-powered reader ends up being, there's a good chance it might do more than allow users to purchase and read e-books. The lines are blurring in this space, with e-readers allowing users to run apps on their reader devices, making them more like specialty tablets.

"The wildcard is that Amazon has entered the tablet space in a big way," with the Kindle Fire, said one of my contacts, who requested anonymity. "Microsoft now classifies them as a competitor, and you can see an impact already. The Microsoft Stores originally carried the Kindle, but once the Fire was launched they removed the Kindle displays. So Microsoft now has a dependency on someone who is a competitor."

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: Is there a Windows-based Barnes & Noble reader in the works?

    I would guess Windows on ARM (WOA, Windows RT, whatever). Toss in Internet Explorer and a few other goodies and it might be interesting.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • no way!

    windoze is unsuited for tablets!
    The Linux Geek
    • Never heard of it, windoze

      However Windows 8 makes a beautiful tablet, even as a preview release.
    • ....

      you are unsuited for zdnet, we all get bored of your mindless zombie like spamming. You could at least try to put together a compelling argument rather than "blah blah windows sucks blah blah"
    • Completely wrong. W8 is much better suited for tablets than android.

      And W8 embedded is much better suited for dedicated/specialty devices like ereaders than android. So W8 has BN covered. Look for BN to completely drop android based devices shortly after the W8 ones become available.
      Johnny Vegas
    • What is this "windoze" you keep on about?

      Who makes it? What does it look like?
  • Windows powered Nook ...

    Should it be called a NookIE ?? :)
    • LOL

    • dude

      quick...trademark that!
      • Won't happen. Too close to "Nookia".

  • Windows 8 eReader with UX geared towards reading...

    I will be surprised if it is simple licensing of OS by MS. I think they have been researching e Reader for a long time. I will be even more surprised if it is Windows CE.

    My guess will be a variant of W8 especially made for eReader. Their whole strategy is to have same Windows core everywhere with user experience changing for each form factor.
    Hence Windows Phone 8, Windows 8 and soon xBox when its moved to W8 core in 2013. Windows everywhere with changing UX.

    If they follow the same pattern then a reader with Metro interface but geared towards reading. Also MSFT is a platform company. I bet they will try to create a whole platform for publishing and interactive reading.

    There was a really good podcast with Bill Buxton (from MSFT research) here:
    however the audio and video seems to have disappeared.

    Clearly MSFT was thinking a lot about reading and its future.

    Hopefully they can execute upon their vision.

    Update : People at TVO sent me a link to podcast mentioned above. here it is:
  • Interesting Turn of Events

    A new Nook with Windows 8 (Metro only) at its core to compete with the Android powered Kindle. Seems possible...

    Interesting times ahead.
  • Read Anything

    In my opinion, what would be really great is an app that could be extended to read any format. One app that would let me buy books from Amazon, B&N, and anyone else who wanted to release content for that reader. Sellers could either use no DRM, any existing DRM they can get a license for, or roll their own with a simple add-in to make it work with this imaginary app.

    If I have to get a separate app from each seller, I'll just stick to Kindle as I do now. With a Kindle Keyboard, Fire, and the app installed on various desktops and laptops, the e-paper Kindle is still my favorite way to read, so I'd need a compelling reason (like a really good Win8 app) to do get me to consider sellers other than Amazon.
  • Thin line between a color eReader and a tablet

    There's a thin line between a color eReader and a tablet today, thanks to the success of the Kindle Fire. Unless it's a dedicated e-Ink eReader (which I doubt), I just don't see how this would be any different from any other WinRT (or WOA) metro tablets that's coming out. Unless B&N decides to keep the Nook App to themselves and their devices instead of spreading it to the WP (WinRT) platform.

    Creating some dedicated eReader today would be like a company creating a dedicated MP3 player at the time of smart phones everywhere. It just doesn't make sense unless you are maybe Apple.
    • " It just doesn't make sense unless you are maybe Apple. "

      Yep, as you rightly say, Apple could release a piece of cotton with used chewing gum hanging off it, call it an iChewed and sell it for $300. Apple fans would camp out all night to buy this 'must have' accessory, complete their Apple 'eco system' and avoid being the piggy without an iChewed ?? 2012
      • There's a kernel of truth in your sarcasm

        Apple proved that style and wow factor can translate into huge profits. Other vendors who ignore this factor do so at their peril.
        terry flores
      • Huh?

        Maybe you've been asleep during the whole iPod era and as a result can't grasp today why deespite an overall decline, that iPods continue to sell (gym, teens/tweens, those who can't afford a smart phone data). The [b]iPod[/b] Touch continue to sell well and is the best selling iPod.

        These same Apple users you speak off have been enjoying their iPad for over 2 years now, a category Microsoft is depeately trying to get into.
  • Can you say Microsoft Store? I knew you could, boys and girls

    In addition to the potential benefits of this deal to both parties already noted by various analysts, an overlooked possibility is the use of Barnes and Noble real estate for expanded Microsoft brick and mortar exposure. Barnes and Noble has made good use of its Nook kiosks in their stores to promote their devices. As the square footage needed for paper books inevitably shrinks, the freed-up space could be put to good use by Microsoft. Apple has already demonstrated the usefulness of of B&M stores in supporting and expanding the brand. This would be a low-cost win for both Microsoft and B&N.
    • Interesting!

      You see Microsoft eventually turning those B&N stores into giant MSFT stores!
      • Not exactly

        I think the stores will remain essentially "content" stores: books, music, video. I just think that they will slowly change from being primarily books to being primarily "other stuff". If MS is smart, I think they will do with their products (and supporting hardware like PC's and tablets) what B&N did with the Nook: make some room in the store for knowledgeable staff to help potential customers and build some brand loyalty. The Apple stores are a good example of how well this can work. And, if the partnership with B&N works out well, MS would be able to expand its B&M footprint at a very low cost.