ePeriodicals: Microsofts Killer App for Tablet PC?

Redmond's e-publishing system is expected to be key to its Nov. 7 launch extravaganza in New York.

Microsoft Corp. thinks its found a killer app for its Tablet PC: as a home for a new breed of electronic magazines.

The software giant is prepping an end-to-end electronic publishing solution, known as ePeriodicals, which it will introduce at its Tablet PC launch in New York City on Nov. 7, according to sources.

The technology is being developed by Microsofts eMerging Technologies unit, which is part of the companys Productivity and Business Services Group headed by Group Vice President Jeff Raikes. ePeriodicals comes out of the advanced reading team, the unit that has championed Microsofts ClearType online-font technology and the eBook Reader products.

ePeriodicals technology will allow developers to create complex documents, like eMagazines, that can be read on a variety of devices, including the Tablet PC. The technology will manage the full publishing process—from the layout and creation of the documents; to their full editing life cycle; to their delivery via a push-type online subscription mechanism, say sources familiar with the plans.

ePeriodicals is built around a new rendering engine that will make use of the next-generation ClearType technology that is built into the Tablet, as well as of the souped-up eBook Reader that is integrated into the Tablet PC operating system. ePeriodicals also will provide a set of automated layout tools for template creation and automated file creation, sources added.

"As far as publishing goes, Microsoft should be wary to re-invent the wheel: traditionally the only technologies which take off in this field are the ones which integrate perfectly with what content providers do already. If the Microsoft solution allows publishers of existing journals, newsletters, e-books and other professional-level publications to add a new—and hopefully exciting—distribution mechanism to their existing line-up in a painless way, some of them will certainly try," said Andreas Pfeiffer, publishing industry consultant and author of the "Pfeiffer Report on Emerging Trends and Technologies."

"If publishers have to re-learn a new authoring process, on the other hand," Pfeiffer noted, "the vast majority of them will probably wait until they are sure that there is money to be made on the new platform before they start producing content. Selling content on-line may be on the increase, but it is certainly not a sure-fire way of making quick money, and I dont think the Tablet PC will change that in the near future."

Microsoft has contacted a number of New York publishing companies to gauge their interest in ePeriodicals. At a Tablet PC press event last Friday in Manhattan, David Carey, publisher of The New Yorker magazine, said his organization was interested in ePeriodicals.

Microsoft declined to comment on ePeriodicals.

Microsoft is hardly the only vendor that is looking for the key to unlock the digital magazine publishing world. Zinio, NewsStand and qMags all offer software and/or services that allow publishers to create and distribute electronic versions of their existing print magazines. (Note: Ziff Davis has an agreement with Zinio to provide digital versions of eWEEK and PC Magazine.)

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(Editors Note: This story has been updated since its original posting to include reaction from industry expert Andreas Pfeiffer.)