Earlier in the day, Microsoft announced it was investing $300 million to acquire a 17.6% stake in a new Barnes & Noble subsidiary that will include the bookseller's digital Nook and College business. Microsoft also guaranteed Barnes & Noble additional payments of $305 million over the next five years.
As part of the deal, Barnes & Noble will develop a Metro app for the Nook to run on Windows 8 and Windows RT.
What Microsoft didn't say was whether the app would be bundled with Windows 8 or Windows RT, or would be offered -- along with scores of other third-party apps -- as an optional download from the Windows Store.
"One of the first benefits for customers will be a Nook application for Windows 8," the companies said in a statement.
In a conference call with reporters and Wall Street analysts earlier Monday, neither of the two executives representing the firms -- William Lynch, CEO of Barnes & Noble, and Andy Lees, president at Microsoft -- went further than that statement when talking about the Nook app and Windows.
If Microsoft did bundle the Nook app, the move would be significant: Adding the Nook to the roster of Microsoft-made Metro apps, such as Mail, Photos and Calendar, would give the jointly-owned company an advantage over rivals like Amazon on any new Windows 8 or Windows RT tablet, desktop, notebook or ultrabook.
That advantage could pay dividends to Microsoft, since NewCo -- the temporary name for the subsidiary -- will split revenue generated by the Windows 8 Nook app between Barnes & Noble and Microsoft.
In a follow-up telephone call with Computerworld Monday, a Microsoft spokesman declined to comment on how the Nook app with be distributed. Instead, he used the same phrase that Lynch and Lees applied in the conference call to parry several questions. "We are not announcing any other details of our roadmap," the spokesman said.
That leaves everyone guessing which of two paths Microsoft will take.
If it decides not to integrate the Nook app with Windows 8 and Windows RT, Microsoft would be following in rival Apple's footsteps. Apple does not include its iBooks bookselling app with iOS for the iPhone or iPad. Users can, of course, install the free app from Apple's App Store. There is no version of iBooks for OS X, Apple's desktop operating system.
The alternative would be to mimic Internet Explorer's place within Windows by including the Nook app with the new operating systems, making the e-bookstore app the platforms' default outlet for digital books, magazines and newspapers.
Microsoft continues to package IE with Windows, something that has gotten it into hot water with antitrust regulators. In the 1990s, Microsoft faced off against the U.S. government in a landmark case, which initially revolved around IE's integration. More than a decade later, European Union officials forced Microsoft to give EU citizens a way to choose a different browser.
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