The Xbox Experience: A Great Improvement That Still Lacks

Microsoft is clearly getting hipper with their offerings. The company that has been notoriously committed to offline products, like their Windows operating System and productivity suite, Microsoft Office, to the detriment of their online offerings seems to definitely be moving into the internet space more. They are, in fact, trying to own the online space now which is a significant internal company departure from the past.

As recently as yesterday, speculation was that the ill-branded Live! Search could be rebranded in a much more internet friendly way. Kumo.com anyone? Their IM client… well, no one uses it.

xbox-360-logoOf course, they have jumped headfirst into the incubation industry by launching BizSpark, which seeks to provide promising young companies with technical resources, such as their server offerings, and human and business resources to help these investment companies, mostly web based startups, become viable.

Naturally, one of the odd players in the Microsoft ecosystem has been the Xbox 360 platform. It is a killer gaming platform (I am an avid Xbox Gamer) and their online gameplay over Xbox Live is second to none. It has always lacked any kind of cohesion for an online service though. Especially in 2008, where Facebook and Twitter rule the day and it is rare to find someone who is not on some kind of social networking platform.

So a few months ago, when word leaked out about a complete overhaul to the Xbox Live experience, there were many of us who were excited about a modernization with significant incorporation of social networking elements. With the launch the other day, some of that has been delivered.

The Xbox Experience, as it’s called, is a significantly streamlined dashboard making it extremely easy to access common items, such as the Xbox Marketplace. Incorporation of online video giant, also dabbling in the social networking space, Netflix makes the Experience worlds better. It is possible to watch Netflix “Instant Play” queue items directly via your Xbox Dashboard. Sweet, if the video quality was better. Putting this aside, the mashup is a great step in making the Xbox an entertainment hub.

However, significant issues remain. A “big bling” element to the new Xbox Experience, is the new avatars. Going through a wizard the first time I logged in, reminded me a bit of creating your Tiger Woods 2008 character. Though this is fine in creating a personalized environment, I find no purpose for an avatar except to snap a proverbial photo and making that photo your “avatar photo”. I would much rather designate an actual graphic or picture as my avatar, in much of the same way most social networks allow you to.

The storyline falls apart more when you login to manage your Xbox Live account from the web and discover they have not incorporated any further way of getting at your data. Microsoft would do well to develop robust APIs that would allow players to get an XML or JSON feed of achievements, gamerscores, last/currently played games as well as other social network elements.

Why not provide a much more efficient “friends” method that would allow players to have wish lists, friend challenges, friend groups, as well as a unique element I call “tip sharing”. Tip sharing would be a forum element where a friend could share intel about a game (say Fallout 3) and I could “download” that tip into my Xbox Live user account. When I reach the Farrugut West Metro station in Fallout 3 and my friend has discovered something, the game could feed me that intel from a friend.

Another social element would be the concept of a “lifeline” where, if I’m stuck during a game, I could get immediate assistance (in-game or otherwise) from my friends through screen sharing, instant message (kill Live! Messenger and use OpenAIM, please) or other “helper” element.

Let’s make it really social and make it possible for gamers to find other gamers in their area and schedule times together (if you have to, use a modified, online, lite version of Sharepoint or Exchange Server to make this happen).

Of course, a natural tie together, via OpenSocial, with other social networks, possible use of OAuth for data access and login, status messaging and comment, and other “social elements” would really flesh the Xbox Experience as useful in 2008.

What are your thoughts on the Xbox Experience?

Adobe Selected as Video Platform for MLB.com for the Next Two Years

Adobe and Major League Baseball announced today that they have signed an agreement for Major League Baseball to power all their video content, including the live MLB TV content that is wildly popular.

The announcement indicated that video content will also be available offline with use of the new, yet popular, AIR platform.

Competitors to the Adobe Flash platform include Microsoft Silverlight and a variety of Ajax/Javascript frameworks, though one SproutCore seems to be Apple’s choice for rich media applications. It is unclear if it will develop into something more full-featured with the ability to handle video.

del C:\WIN – A Goodbye to Windows 3.1

The end of an era has arrived for a legend in computing. Windows 3.1, the first widely accepted foray into graphical user interface operating systems from Microsoft, has reached its End of Life.

The BBC covered the story noting, “[It] helped Microsoft establish itself and set the trend for how it makes its revenues, and what drives the company until the present day.”

While Microsoft stopped releasing the OS as a desktop operating system years ago, licenses were still being issued as it was apparently wildly popular as an embedded Operating System. The BBC points out, to my surprise, that it is even being used on Virgin Atlantic and Qantas airlines to power the in-seat entertainment systems for their long-haul flights. Note that this does not appear to be the case with Virgin America that appears to be using a Linux variant, as we covered over a year ago.

To me, it seems that Windows 3.1, while it was certainly lightweight by todays standards, is a bit overkill for an embedded operating system. Certainly, mobile phones tend to benefit from Java ME (Blackberry smartphones, for instance, are run on Java), Symbian which is wildly popular among Nokia phones or event the .NET Compact Framework usable in Windows apps on mobile devices.

Of course, mobile phones are not the only mobile devices. Every electronic device that does anything has some sort of embedded operating system that might be a embedded linux variant, or the like.

The trick for embedded operating systems is that they must live in a very small memory space and typically are feature limited to essential functionality usable in a miniature device. Windows 3.1 ability to live in the reserved 640k memory space of a DOS environment made it sexy for this kind of application (keep in mind that Windows Vista requires a minimum of 1GB of memory, so do the math on technology differences).


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@ECHO OFF
LH /L:2 C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\MSCDEX /D:MSCD000 /M:15 /E /S /L:D /V
LH /L:0;2 /S C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\SMARTDRV 2048 16 /V
C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\MODE CON RATE=32 DELAY=2
C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\MODE CON CP PREP=((865) C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\EGA.CPI)
C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\MODE CON CP SEL=865
LH /L:2 C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\KEYB DK,865,C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\KEYBOARD.SYS
LH /L:2 C:\MOUSE\MOUSE
LH /L:2 C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\DOSKEY /INSERT
PROMPT $p$g
PATH C:\WINDOWS;C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND;C:\CTSND
SET DIRCMD=/P /A
SET TEMP=C:\WINDOWS\TEMP
SET TMP=C:\WINDOWS\TEMP
SET SOUND=C:\CTSND
SET BLASTER=A220 I5 D1 H5 P330 T6
SET MIDI=SYNTH:1 MAP:G
C:\CTSND\DIAGNOSE /S
C:\CTSND\SB16SET /P

It’s been a good 18 years, not that I miss Windows 3.1 all that much. I got my start on Apple IIc and moved quickly to an 8088 before beginning real learning on an i286 running Windows 3.1. This was back in 1990, so there’s a bit of nostalgia here. Congrats, Microsoft, for making a game changer.