Will the next NOOK Tablet run Windows 8?

An offshoot of the investment by Microsoft into the new NOOK subsidiary of Barnes & Noble may be having Windows 8 instead of Android powering the next NOOK Tablet. That would boost Windows 8 and Windows Phone, and help Barnes & Noble with sorely needed development assets.

Microsoft will be investing $300 million in the new subsidiary, which will be composed of the NOOK and Barnes & Noble's college business. The surprise announcement came after Microsoft had sued Barnes & Noble for infringing Microsoft patents for its use of Android as the NOOK's underlying operating system.

Part of the deal will have Microsoft developing a Windows 8 NOOK app. But there's reason to expect that Windows 8 will eventually power the NOOK Tablet as well.

In the press release announcing the deal, one Microsoft executive was quoted, Andy Lees. Lees had been head of the Windows Phone division until December of 2011, when he was taken off the job, and given no clear responsibility.

A leaked memo from Steve Ballmer had this to say about what Lees would be working on:

"I have asked Andy Lees to move to a new role working for me on a time-critical opportunity focused on driving maximum impact in 2012 with Windows Phone and Windows 8. We have tremendous potential with Windows Phone and Windows 8 and this move sets us up to really deliver against that potential."

Most people assumed that was just a nice way of easing Lees off the job. But it now appears that "time-critical opportunity" was likely the Barnes & Noble deal.

If that's the case, then don't be surprised if Windows 8 RT (the version of Windows 8 for ARM devices) eventually becomes the NOOK's operating system. Why else would Ballmer mention Windows Phone and Windows 8 in his memo? And given that's Lees expertise, why else put him in charge of the relationship?

Tea-leaf readers may also look to the press release about the deal as well, where Lees is quoted as saying, "Our complementary assets will accelerate e-reading innovation across a broad range of Windows devices." Could he be thinking of a Windows 8-based NOOK Tablet when he said that?

A Windows 8-based NOOK Tablet would certainly be a big boost to both Windows 8 and Windows Phone, because the operating system interfaces are expected to merge. It would help Barnes & Noble, because that would give the company access to Microsoft's massive development team that dwarfs the one that Barnes & Noble has.

All this doesn't mean that the next NOOK Tablet will be based on Windows 8. But don't be surprised if it is.

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