Thanks to some patent squabbles, Barnes & Noble and Microsoft have not been the best of friends of late. That's part of what made Monday's announcement that the crew from Redmond had turned around and formed a partnership with Barnes & Noble's digital publishing operations a bit of a surprise. In retrospect, it probably shouldn't have been given the fact that Barnes & Noble badly needed an injection of cash, and that Microsoft badly needed to figure out a way to, finally, get some traction in digital publishing. But what's it all mean for the companies, and, more important, what's it all mean for you?
Windows tablets become worth a read
So far, details of what the Microsoft/Barnes & Noble joint venture intend to accomplish remain sketchy -- it doesn't even have a permanent name yet, being simply called NewCo for the time being. That's given rise to all sorts of speculation. For one, will the venture give birth to a Windows-powered Nook e-reader? That's certainly on the table. The Wall Street Journal notesm, "Executives of the two companies didn't rule out the idea that future Nook devices could run Microsoft operating systems, and their contract also cites the possibility Microsoft could make e-readers."
Some say that such a Windows-powered e-reader could make the battle between Microsoft, Amazon, and even Apple very interesting. Others say not so much. And there's no guarantee that a Windows Nook will happen at all, as one of the happy benefits for Microsoft from the deal is that the patent settlement means it will begin collecting royalties from every Android-powered Nook sold.
What's more certain is that the partnership will give Windows-powered tablets from other makers at least a small step toward greater relevance. As we blogged about, one of the big question marks around Windows 8 is whether tablets running that forthcoming touch-friendly operating system would have enough apps to make them attractive to buyers used to the mega-markets offered by Apple and Google.
Monday's deal changes that, at least a little. It is widely expected that Windows 8 tablets will now debut with a Nook app on board. As we cover in our report on eBook Readers, the Barnes & Noble ebook store is impressive, and the Nook software has good file support, including the ePub format used by free online public-domain book databases and most public libraries -- something that the Amazon Kindle and Kindle apps can't do natively.
Now, as long as they also have Angry Birds, Windows 8 tablets could stand a better chance to catch on.