The Inquirer-Home

Xbox gets on-line makeover

Tons more features, will tap Azure
Fri Nov 07 2008, 17:30

MICROSOFT GAVE US a call Tuesday asking whether we were interested in seeing their all new and improved dashboard. We took them up on the offer and this morning found out what all the fuss was about.

Briefly this is what’ll happen: come November 19th, Xbox Live users will be presented with a mandatory upgrade to their consoles – a new Dashboard and something called the Xbox Live Experience.

The dashboard upgrade will turn the current dashboard into a close likeness of the Windows Media Centre menus; you navigate menus up and down and dig into a specific menu by going right and left. If you think that’s a very uncool way of getting around your Xbox 360, you can still revert to the look and feel of the previous dashboard.

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The update will also allow HDD-enabled Xbox 360s to install game files to the hard-drive improving load speeds considerably compared to the DVD player. We asked a spokesvole about the rumours suggesting HDD-less users were left out of the upgrade, but in Volespeak Ms. Cerveira said, "According to the information we have, every Xbox 360 will receive the dashboard upgrade, even the Arcade which is without hard-drive”.

Probing further into the matter, we did get the feeling that this was the case. However, as we mentioned above, there are strong HDD-dependent features that might make gamers go out and buy the add-on HDD the next day.

The second element to the upgrade is what La Vole is calling NEX – New Xbox Experience (yes, the acronym doesn’t match up) – and it’ll try and refocus your attention on your on-line persona via a DIY Avatar system (where you build your own SIM-like persona) and a, sort of, social experience that’ll allow you to connect to other gamers, play community games and create interactive parties. The Avatar can be used as your gamer pic or even replace your photo on Messenger if you so desire.

Non-Usaians won’t benefit from the Netflix deal, as you might’ve guessed by now – licensing across Europe is way too complex and costly for Microsoft to get into that - but according to Vole sources, they are investing in developing “local solutions”.

Now the HDD issue that we raised led us to talk to the spokesvole post-conference and ask a bit about how the on-line Avatar, storage issues and whatnots worked. Simply put, the on-line personas will float about on Xbox Live. You can simply access your account and Avatar anywhere. So we dropped the question: “Do you see Xbox Live joining forces with Windows Azure or an Azure-like resource?”

“Why, yes,” said the spokesVole. “We’ve seen Windows and Xbox converging more and more over time, and I think it is where we’re going right now,” she added.

This makes total sense, and will make Xbox Live the biggest experiment in cloud computing to date.

Oh, and we got to play Gears of War 2. Expect Microsoft to rack up another million or so Xbox Live gamers on account of this game alone. It reeks of blood-drenched fun. µ

 

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