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Microsoft iPad-killer rumors point to a Windows RT-based Barnes & Noble e-reader

This could be how Microsoft worms the Metro interface into corporate networks

Rumors that Microsoft plans to announce a tablet today aimed at luring away iPad customers speculate that the product could be a copycat Nook e-reader, the tiny, inexpensive tablets sold by Barnes & Noble.

Beyond being a way to break into the lucrative e-reader market such a device could be the foot in the door Microsoft needs to crack corporate networks with the new Metro style, touch-centric user interface that distinguishes its new Windows 8 operating system.

Nobody will know for sure until this evening East Coast Time when Microsoft spells out the details at a mysterious press conference, the scheduling of which has been the impetus for all the rumors.

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But based on an the announcement in April of a spinoff with Barnes & Noble, plus using its TecEd North America 2012 conference last week as a place to promote Windows RT tablets as a possible BYOD option in corporate networks makes the e-reader rumor – started by The Verge - worthy of note.

In April, Microsoft announced a $300 million investment in a spinoff with Barnes & Noble with no other stated purpose than to create a Metro application so Windows 8 users could shop at the online store to be created by the spinoff whose working name is NewCo.

But within the Securities and Exchange Commission filling was a caveat that allows Microsoft to create its own e-reader and include such an application on it – direct competition with the Barnes & Noble Nook.

Microsoft might have its eye on the remarkable success of e-readers during last year’s Christmas shopping season when the Amazon Kindle e-reader reportedly sold 1 million devices per week. If Microsoft’s ARM-based Windows RT devices, which run a version of Windows 8, can make it in those numbers into consumer hands, they will serve two purposes.

First, they will make customers familiar with the Metro style touch interface, which is a departure for Windows users and presents a stiff learning curve. But encountering it on an e-reader linked to an online store could be the place to introduce it. After all, millions of customers learned the Kindle Fire interface without a lot of complaint.

If these readers are based on Windows RT, they will come equipped with an abbreviated version of Microsoft Office and an e-mail app that’s compatible with Outlook. These features could make their consumer owners want to use the tablets for work, something they’d never consider with a Kindle Fire or a Nook because they lack basic worker-productivity apps.

Microsoft devoted a 90-minute keynote touting the suitability of Windows 8 tablets for businesses, and in an educational session even singled out the low-powered Windows RT tablets as enterprise-worthy devices that include security and manageability corporate IT leaders want.

BACKGROUND: Windows 8 is looking forward to Christmas

If Microsoft has any takers for this spin, and Windows RT e-readers become as popular as Kindle Fires and Nooks, then Windows 8 and its Metro interface could conceivable become an accepted feature in enterprises more quickly than they might otherwise.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.)

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This Windows 8 tablet might actually be a PC

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Why aren’t Apple and Amazon dumping on Windows RT?

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