Why Microsoft Is Tying B&N's Nook To Windows, Office And Bing

A new job posting from Barnes & Noble indicates that the Nook e-reader will be tied into the Microsoft platform, including Windows, Office and the company’s Bing search engine. It's an indication that e-books mean more than just another item to sell; they're now a broader part of the content ecosystem.

To date, little has been said about Microsoft’s $300 million investment into Barnes & Noble, which took place last June, to form a subsidiary company that would be jointly owned by both B&N and Microsoft. But the new job posting hints at least at what some of those “contractual obligations” might be.

Specifically, the new “director of engineering, Windows 8” posting includes the following: “As the Barnes & Noble leader of the Microsoft Alliance, you will be responsible delivering on our contractual commitments on Windows 8 applications, Cloud, commerce, content integration with the Microsoft ecosystem and for defining and delivering on product strategy of Nook integration with Microsoft ecosystem including Windows, Office, Bing... You'll lead a cross functional team of engineers in design, development, test, and deployment of a range of products on a Windows mobile 8 platform.”

The posting was apparently first discovered by the Digital Reader blog.

B&N’s New Family-Friendly Nooks

On Wednesday, Barnes & Noble launched the new 7-inch Nook HD for $199 (8GB) and $229 (16 GB) as well as the 9-inch Nook HD+ for $269 (16 GB) and $299 (32 GB). Both tablets feature high-resolution screens, capable of challenging the newlyreleased updates to the Amazon Kindle; the Nook HD+ is capable of displaying full 1080p video on its 1920 x 1280 display, versus the 1280x800 HD screen used by the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD.

The new Nooks also include a family mode, which can reconfigure the screen from user to user, and lock out kids from using apps and visiting websites that aren’t age-appropriate. Just as Amazon has recognized that services are what will sell the tablet, Barnes & Noble appears to have taken personalization to heart.

And just as Amazon’s cloud reader extends the company's e-book services beyond the Kindle, it’s obvious that B&N plans to bring its Nook app to Windows 8, among other platforms. Barnes & Noble chief executive William Lynch told ABC News:

“The most visible and first thing they [consumers] are going to see is a best in class reading application on Windows 8. Some of the things we are doing with our reading technology - the rendering of books, catalogs, magazines - we are going to bring that to Windows 8 form factors and the operating systems.”

Windows 8 Tablets: Possible, But Not Now

B&N’s new Nooks are all predicated upon the Android operating system; when asked if B&N would ever develop a full-fledged Windows 8 tablet, Lynch demurred, not surprisingly. And that’s probably the most appropriate response; a number of top-tier OEMs have already shown off their Windows 8 tablets, and Intel is gathering a number of partners in San Francisco on Thursday to essentially do it again. There’s still room for a true e-reader/tablet version of Windows 8, however, as Microsoft’s Surface boasts a 10.6-inch display, far larger than the form factors of the Nook.

The Future: Services Integration

What’s more likely, however, are closer ties between the Windows ecosystem and the Nook’s galaxy of e-books. The Nook app already allows a user to highlight a passage, add notes to it, or look it up on the Web. The latter is essentially a search function that will likely be tied to Bing. How that will occur on an Android devices remains to be seen - a standard webpage, perhaps.

Microsoft’s recent investment into Mimvi indicates that Microsoft is investing into app discovery, which could provide some advantages to B&N, as well. Google allows you to search for a term and pull up related images, maps, shopping, news and more. Microsoft can deliver all of that, too, and appears to be stretching to add “apps” and “e-books” to the list.

Incidentally, Google issued an update to Google Play Books on Tuesday which also added highlighting and notes, plus the ability to translate foreign passages. (Oddly, there isn’t a way to look up a highlighted passage on the Web or even cut and paste the information.)

The last possibility is the most intriguing: self-publishing. In effect, Word’s ability to “save as PDF” allows a writer to “self publish” an e-book, and Amazon goes into a great deal of detail about how e-books should be formatted for publishing on the Amazon platform. But there’s really no easy, integrated way to get from Word to an e-book marketplace in one simple step, including B&N’s PubIt tool, which requires converting Word files to the ePub format. Integrating Office with the Nook reader or marketplace could fill that gap.

What the Barnes & Noble job posting means is that e-books are no longer just a commodity to be bought and sold on a digital marketplace; they are a living, breathing form of content that can be searched, indexed and integrated into a broader content ecosystem. If Microsoft can in fact tie the Nook e-book marketplace to Word, then it can simply provide a quick and easy method of self-publishing. Microsoft truly will own the means of production.