Barnes & Noble not part of today's mysterious Microsoft announcement

Dampens rumors that the two would jointly launch a new tablet or e-reader

Barnes & Noble today confirmed that it is not participating in Microsoft's hastily-called news conference Monday afternoon, likely making moot rumors that the two would co-introduce a new tablet or e-reader.

"We are not participating," a spokeswoman with the bookseller said early today in a reply to questions.

Over the weekend, speculation mounted that Microsoft and Barnes & Noble would co-launch a new tablet or e-reader to compete with Amazon's Kindle Fire.

Other rumors last week -- after Microsoft sent a vague invitation to the 4 p.m. PT press conference in Los Angeles -- centered on the Redmond, Wash. company debuting its own tablet, perhaps powered by Windows RT, to compete head-to-head with Apple's iPad.

A jointly-produced tablet or e-reader priced to compete with the Kindle Fire made sense, according to both analysts and Computerworld's analysis, in part because of the partnership that Microsoft and Barnes & Noble announced the last day of April.

As part of the deal, Microsoft invested $300 million in the bookseller's new digital content subsidiary, dubbed only as "NewCo," for a 17.6% stake. Microsoft also promised to pay Barnes & Noble at least another $305 million over the next five years.

The April filing by Barnes & Noble with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission noted that Microsoft might create something called "Microsoft Reader," and if it did, pledged that the device or software -- it wasn't clear which Reader would be -- could access the new digital content store NewCo would build.

Barnes & Noble's denial that it was participating in today's event seemed to put the kibosh on the idea.

The commercial agreement that the two companies signed in April also included language that precluded either firm flying solo on anything related to NewCo.

"No party (or any of their Affiliates) may issue any press release or make any similar public announcement or public statement, regarding this Agreement without the prior written approval and consent of the other parties," stated the deal. "Any and all press releases or similar public announcements or public statements relating to this Agreement will be approved in advance of the release, in writing, by B&N, NewCo and Microsoft."

There remains the smallest bit of wiggle room, however. When asked whether Barnes & Noble was involved with the announcement in any fashion, the company's spokeswoman declined to comment.

If today's mysterious announcement is not related to a tablet or e-reader developed with Barnes & Noble, there remains the possibility that it will focus on a Microsoft-branded tablet, perhaps running Windows RT.

Windows RT is the offshoot of Windows 8 -- both are on track for a fourth-quarter release -- that runs on devices powered by ARM-licensed processors.

Although Microsoft has touted Windows RT as its operating system for tablets, relatively few OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), aka computer makers, have announced they will market such devices. Instead, Microsoft's OEM partners have expressed more interest in creating tablets running Windows 8, the more traditional edition that can handle both legacy Win32 applications and the new Metro apps that are the only software for Windows RT.

Asus, for instance, which showed off an ARM-powered tablet with Windows RT at the Computex trade show in Taipei earlier this month, is one of the few Microsoft OEMs that has publicly committed to the new OS.

The Microsoft press conference is to start at 4 p.m. PT (7 p.m. ET) today. Computerworld will be covering the event with on-site and analytical stories at its conclusion.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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