On Tuesday, Microsoft celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Xbox video game console with the release of a new version of the game title that started it all, Halo. A lot has changed since that initial Xbox: Microsoft's latest console, the Xbox 360, now dominates the video game industry and is morphing into a living-room hub for media content. But there were plenty of highs and lows along the way.
The story of the Xbox actually starts with the Sega Dreamcast. Released in 1998, the Dreamcast featured an optional OS based on Windows CE and DirectX and co-developed with Microsoft. The software giant had hoped to convince Sega to make Windows CE the Dreamcast's sole OS, but failed. So a skunk-works project was started that resulted in Microsoft's first console, the original Xbox.
Fun fact: The Xbox was at first called the DirectX Box, after Microsoft's gaming libraries for developers. But the name was shortened to the simpler Xbox, and a new brand was born.
Released in 2001, the original Xbox harkens to Microsoft's PC roots. It featured PC-like innards, such as a 733MHz Intel Pentium III processor, NVIDIA graphics, and a PC hard drive. And though the original Xbox was quite successful, and launched with the seminal Halo game franchise, it came in a distant third place for that generation of video game consoles—well behind the Sony PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube.
For its next Xbox, the Xbox 360, Microsoft dropped the PC innards and went with an unusual triple-core PowerPC design that ultimately led to reliability problems that the company didn't solve for several years. Released in 2005, the Xbox 360 always sold well, and though it was dominated by the Nintendo Wii from 2006 through mid-2010, it should finish a solid second for this generation of consoles, ahead of Sony's PlayStation 3. The Xbox 360 has dramatically expanded Microsoft's roster of exclusive and Xbox-first game franchises, including new Halo games, of course, but also Gears of War (Epic) and Call of Duty (Activision).
A favorite with so-called hardcore gamers and fans of first-person shooters, the Xbox 360 has sold upwards of 60 million units, and with a console refresh and the addition of the innovative Kinect motion and voice sensor in 2010, the Xbox 360 got a new lease on life. Microsoft now plans to replace the Xbox 360 with a new console, code-named TEN, in late 2013—an astonishingly long 8 years after the Xbox 360's initial launch.
Before that, Microsoft will update the Xbox 360 software interface to one that features the same Metro-style UI as Windows 8, Windows Server 8, and Windows Phone, providing unprecedented consistency across all of Microsoft's major product lines. This visual consistency will be enhanced by deeper integration between the next Xbox and these other products, my sources tell me.
I spent the Xbox's 10th anniversary (as I have so many other nights over the past 10 years) playing team deathmatch with my son and a group of friends up the street. We started off several years ago playing Halo 2 and moved along to various Halo titles before settling in with the Call of Duty series. So last night, our 82nd in-person meet-up, was our first playing the recently released Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
So here's to you, Xbox. Thanks for a decade of fun. I look forward to the next 10 years as well.