Why does Microsoft think the Xbone makes sense?

Last week’s Xbox One reveal was met with a lot of confusion by many, and resulted in heated arguments over the course of the week. Gamers were concerned with the apparent focus on cable TV and sports, and many were upset by the inherent digital rights management (DRM) and privacy implications of the console’s many reported features.

Microsoft seemed genuinely bewildered.

There were many conflicting PR responses, sometimes made by the same person within the same day. Microsoft’s general attitude towards some of the concerns seemed to be “Why would you even be bothered by that?”, as if they hadn’t even thought it would be an issue. Clearly many people agreed that there were issues, but why wasn’t Microsoft able to foresee this? Or even better, did they care?

Before answering that question, we need to take a look into the recent history of Microsoft. What major Microsoft products have been released in the past two years? Windows 8 and the Surface. As an avid follower of Microsoft’s all office and business products, I’ve tried out most pre-release versions of Windows 8 and switched to it not too far from release, and I pre-ordered the Surface Pro, and use it every day. But both of those products are deeply flawed. The mentality that led to their creation and their faults can be traced back even further.

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The Zune was Microsoft’s “me too” to the growing popularity of the iPod. I’ve had several Zunes, and while they were pretty good music players, they were definitely a step back from Apple’s products in every sense but audio quality. The software used to sync a Zune to your computer was awful and unintuitive, and it didn’t share any UI design patterns with any other Microsoft products. It was as if they contracted an unrelated company to build a competitor for the iPod so they can also get a share of the growing MP3 player craze. But it wasn’t a competitive product. It seemed to fulfill the same role, but other than that, it was solving problems nobody had and didn’t have the vision and drive that made Apple’s iPod so successful.

Fast forward a few years, Microsoft introduced their competitor to Google’s search engine, Bing. On many internet circles, Bing is the punchline to jokes, basically a laughing stock. It seemed to compete with Google, but it didn’t have the creativity that made Google’s search algorithm work so well. In fact, Google proved that Bing steals search results from them. Microsoft later published a website called “Bing it On”, inviting users to compare search results from both engines and choose which is best, claiming “[people] picked Bing web search results over Google nearly 2 to 1 in blind comparison tests”, whereas the general consensus seems otherwise; and Bing’s experimental results are not available.

However, if you’ve watched TV shows on CW or USA recently, you might have noticed that characters in shows very visibly use Bing all the time, and the phrase “Bing it!” has been used in place of “Google it!”, as if anyone in real life actually uses that. Similarly, Internet Explorer has been on the receiving end of many a joke, and while it has gotten better over the years with features that other browsers have had for a while finally being integrated; it’s still nowhere near as convenient to use. Is the picture starting to appear? It’s a common Microsoft trend to dump tons of money into advertising their product to make it seem competitive.

The Surface is also an awkward product. It’s too heavy and short on battery life to be a tablet, and too small and unstable to use as a laptop. It’s solving a problem that nobody has while trying to compete with Apple’s iPad. Similarly with Windows 8, it’s a tablet-focused OS that alienates desktop users while being unwieldy to use on a tablet due to being based on a desktop OS. Microsoft’s output in the recent years has been a constant stream of “You want this, don’t you?” products that have constantly been met with bewilderment from their loyal consumers. Finally coming to the topic of the Xbox One, this phenomenon seems to be repeating.

Microsoft_Surface_RT

Microsoft have come out and said that “the custom of gamers is already taken as granted. [The reveal] will be pushing the One to other types of buyers, those not already considered dominated.” But considering the Xbox 360 was outsold by the Wii and is currently tied with the PS3, are they really “dominating” gamers? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But it’s clear that this is yet again an instance of Microsoft telling the consumer what they need, despite what the consumer thinks they need.

Is that really the case, though? It’s all hidden in the crucial word that most people seem to have missed from the press conference: “partners.” The Xbox One is supported by many partners, like CBS, ESPN, EA. Did you notice that during the reveal, most footage shown was from CBS properties? And the Kinect being always-on comes into play here. The current trend in academia and industry is focused on “big data,” i.e. handling and interpreting very large amounts of data, usually with the purpose of targeting advertisements.

Considering Microsoft are partnering with many content publishers, it would make sense that they are going to use all that Kinect data along with people’s purchases to deliver more appropriate advertisements. They have registered several patents focused on delivering advertisements with the Kinect. Basically, the Xbox One will be an excellent vehicle for Microsoft to make money from their partners, and that was what most of the reveal conference was about.

A large problem is that they have alienated a significant portion of their fanbase with this reveal. They are looking to break big into the cable TV and sports markets, but they have no brand loyalty there, and they are competing with Apple and Google as before. Yet again we see Microsoft’s misguided and disingenuine policy of trying to appeal to a popular market dominated by others by not really appealing to that market. The problem is that since they are entering a new area, they need to earn the trust of those consumers (presumably by dumping exorbitant amounts of money into advertising). Not only that, by trying to “me too” a new market that their core audience cares about, they will also be in the position to win back their own audience too. They are relying on their ad delivery and partnerships to not fail.

Is that to say the Xbox One will not be a good gaming console? Not necessarily. Despite Sony and Nintendo having arguably more (and diversified) exclusive titles, Microsoft are yet again trying to solve this problem by throwing money at it. They’ve contracted Crytek, Black Tusk Studios, and Respawn Entertainment to come up with AAA titles to rival other exclusive franchises. It remains to be seen whether these games will succeed in that endeavor, but Microsoft have themselves said that being a top end gaming machine is no longer their sole concern. Following the path laid by Windows 8 and the Surface, they are “reinventing” their core products. Most likely, the Xbox One will do fine in terms of gaming because most “big” games are cross-platform.

However, Google’s Google TV has not become a huge success, similarly with Apple TV. If the console launches at $400 to $600, the cable TV audience might find it too expensive as a glorified Roku. So essentially, Microsoft are trying to market the Xbox One to an audience that doesn’t really want it, while alienating the audience that does actually want it. Right now, given their partnerships and brand loyalty from consumers, they are too big to fail. But Sony came into the previous generation as the clear winner with the PS2, and the PS3 took a long time to find its momentum because of Sony’s poor choices and hubris. Regardless, Sony have managed to find secure footing and loyalty with the likes of PlayStation Plus, bringing old loyalists back into the fold and welcoming new buyers with open arms with things like the Instant Game Collection.

How do you feel about Microsoft’s aim with the Xbox One? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Be Cresponian…be an Empath.

We can cultivate empathy throughout our lives, says Roman Krznaric—and use it as a radical force for social transformation.

If you think you’re hearing the word “empathy” everywhere, you’re right. It’s now on the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that few people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential? Empathy is not just a way to extend the boundaries of your moral universe. According to new research, it’s a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.

But what is empathy? It’s the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions. That makes it different from kindness or pity. And don’t confuse it with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they might have different tastes.” Empathy is about discovering those tastes.

The big buzz about empathy stems from a revolutionary shift in the science of how we understand human nature. The old view that we are essentially self-interested creatures is being nudged firmly to one side by evidence that we are also homo empathicus, wired for empathy, social cooperation, and mutual aid.

Over the last decade, neuroscientists have identified a 10-section “empathy circuit” in our brains which, if damaged, can curtail our ability to understand what other people are feeling. Evolutionary biologists like Frans de Waal have shown that we are social animals who have naturally evolved to care for each other, just like our primate cousins. And psychologists have revealed that we are primed for empathy by strong attachment relationships in the first two years of life.

But empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation. Research in sociology, psychology, history—and my own studies of empathic personalities over the past 10 years—reveals how we can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us. Here are the Six Habits of Highly Empathic People!

Habit 1: Cultivate curiosity about strangers

Highly empathic people (HEPs) have an insatiable curiosity about strangers. They will talk to the person sitting next to them on the bus, having retained that natural inquisitiveness we all had as children, but which society is so good at beating out of us. They find other people more interesting than themselves but are not out to interrogate them, respecting the advice of the oral historian Studs Terkel: “Don’t be an examiner, be the interested inquirer.”

Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own. Curiosity is good for us too: Happiness guru Martin Seligman identifies it as a key character strength that can enhance life satisfaction. And it is a useful cure for the chronic loneliness afflicting around one in three Americans.

Cultivating curiosity requires more than having a brief chat about the weather. Crucially, it tries to understand the world inside the head of the other person. We are confronted by strangers every day, like the heavily tattooed woman who delivers your mail or the new employee who always eats his lunch alone. Set yourself the challenge of having a conversation with one stranger every week. All it requires is courage.

Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities

We all have assumptions about others and use collective labels—e.g., “Muslim fundamentalist,” “welfare mom”—that prevent us from appeciating their individuality. HEPs challenge their own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them. An episode from the history of US race relations illustrates how this can happen.

Claiborne Paul Ellis was born into a poor white family in Durham, North Carolina, in 1927. Finding it hard to make ends meet working in a garage and believing African Americans were the cause of all his troubles, he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Ku Klux Klan, eventually rising to the top position of Exalted Cyclops of his local KKK branch.

In 1971 he was invited—as a prominent local citizen—to a 10-day community meeting to tackle racial tensions in schools, and was chosen to head a steering committee with Ann Atwater, a black activist he despised. But working with her exploded his prejudices about African Americans. He saw that she shared the same problems of poverty as his own. “I was beginning to look at a black person, shake hands with him, and see him as a human being,” he recalled of his experience on the committee. “It was almost like bein’ born again.” On the final night of the meeting, he stood in front of a thousand people and tore up his Klan membership card.

Ellis later became a labor organiser for a union whose membership was 70 percent African American. He and Ann remained friends for the rest of their lives. There may be no better example of the power of empathy to overcome hatred and change our minds.

Habit 3: Try another person’s life

So you think ice climbing and hang-gliding are extreme sports? Then you need to try experiential empathy, the most challenging—and potentially rewarding—of them all. HEPs expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives, putting into practice the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.”

George Orwell is an inspiring model. After several years as a colonial police officer in British Burma in the 1920s, Orwell returned to Britain determined to discover what life was like for those living on the social margins. “I wanted to submerge myself, to get right down among the oppressed,” he wrote. So he dressed up as a tramp with shabby shoes and coat, and lived on the streets of East London with beggars and vagabonds. The result, recorded in his book Down and Out in Paris and London, was a radical change in his beliefs, priorities, and relationships. He not only realized that homeless people are not “drunken scoundrels”—Orwell developed new friendships, shifted his views on inequality, and gathered some superb literary material. It was the greatest travel experience of his life. He realised that empathy doesn’t just make you good—it’s good for you, too.

We can each conduct our own experiments. If you are religiously observant, try a “God Swap,” attending the services of faiths different from your own, including a meeting of Humanists. Or if you’re an atheist, try attending different churches! Spend your next vacation living and volunteering in a village in a developing country. Take the path favored by philosopher John Dewey, who said, “All genuine education comes about through experience.”

Habit 4: Listen hard—and open up

There are two traits required for being an empathic conversationalist.

One is to master the art of radical listening. “What is essential,” says Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), “is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.” HEPs listen hard to others and do all they can to grasp their emotional state and needs, whether it is a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer or a spouse who is upset at them for working late yet again.

But listening is never enough. The second trait is to make ourselves vulnerable. Removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is vital for creating a strong empathic bond. Empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding—an exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences.

Organizations such as the Israeli-Palestinian Parents Circle put it all into practice by bringing together bereaved families from both sides of the conflict to meet, listen, and talk. Sharing stories about how their loved ones died enables families to realize that they share the same pain and the same blood, despite being on opposite sides of a political fence, and has helped to create one of the world’s most powerful grassroots peace-building movements.

Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change

We typically assume empathy happens at the level of individuals, but HEPs understand that empathy can also be a mass phenomenon that brings about fundamental social change.

Just think of the movements against slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries on both sides of the Atlantic. As journalist Adam Hochschild reminds us, “The abolitionists placed their hope not in sacred texts but human empathy,” doing all they could to get people to understand the very real suffering on the plantations and slave ships. Equally, the international trade union movement grew out of empathy between industrial workers united by their shared exploitation. The overwhelming public response to the Asian tsunami of 2004 emerged from a sense of empathic concern for the victims, whose plight was dramatically beamed into our homes on shaky video footage.

Empathy will most likely flower on a collective scale if its seeds are planted in our children. That’s why HEPs support efforts such as Canada’s pioneering Roots of Empathy, the world’s most effective empathy teaching program, which has benefited over half a million school kids. Its unique curriculum centers on an infant, whose development children observe over time in order to learn emotional intelligence—and its results include significant declines in playground bullying and higher levels of academic achievement.

Beyond education, the big challenge is figuring out how social networking technology can harness the power of empathy to create mass political action. Twitter may have gotten people onto the streets for Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, but can it convince us to care deeply about the suffering of distant strangers, whether they are drought-stricken farmers in Africa or future generations who will bear the brunt of our carbon-junkie lifestyles? This will only happen if social networks learn to spread not just information, but empathic connection.

Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination

A final trait of HEPs is that they do far more than empathize with the usual suspects. We tend to believe empathy should be reserved for those living on the social margins or who are suffering. This is necessary, but it is hardly enough.

We also need to empathize with people whose beliefs we don’t share or who may be “enemies” in some way. If you are a campaigner on global warming, for instance, it may be worth trying to step into the shoes of oil company executives—understanding their thinking and motivations—if you want to devise effective strategies to shift them towards developing renewable energy. A little of this “instrumental empathy” (sometimes known as “impact anthropology”) can go a long way.

Empathizing with adversaries is also a route to social tolerance. That was Gandhi’s thinking during the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus leading up to Indian independence in 1947, when he declared, “I am a Muslim! And a Hindu, and a Christian and a Jew.”

Organizations, too, should be ambitious with their empathic thinking. Bill Drayton, the renowned “father of social entrepreneurship,” believes that in an era of rapid technological change, mastering empathy is the key business survival skill because it underpins successful teamwork and leadership. His influential Ashoka Foundation has launched the Start Empathy initiative, which is taking its ideas to business leaders, politicians and educators worldwide.

The 20th century was the Age of Introspection, when self-help and therapy culture encouraged us to believe that the best way to understand who we are and how to live was to look inside ourselves. But it left us gazing at our own navels. The 21st century should become the Age of Empathy, when we discover ourselves not simply through self-reflection, but by becoming interested in the lives of others. We need empathy to create a new kind of revolution. Not an old-fashioned revolution built on new laws, institutions, or policies, but a radical revolution in human relationships.

 

I don’t have to “Just Try it” or “wait till E3″ or “Wait for the Games”

I don’t “have to try it out” to know that I don’t want a camera on recording video and audio at all times in my house.  I don’t “have to try it out” to know that I don’t want a machine that won’t allow me to let my friends borrow games. I don’t “have to try it out”  to know that having a machine that requires said camera to be connected for the console to function is a stupid idea. I don’t “have to try it out” to understand that a system that requires an internet connection to function is a bad idea.  I don’t “have to try it out” to know that I don’t watch TV anymore, and abhor sports so those features are pointless to me.

My Current Media PC can absolutley DECIMATE this Xbox One. 1.6Ghz 8-Core AMD Jaguar Processor? My 2500k crushes that One’s 3.6Ghz big brother, the FX 8150. Radeon 7790-level graphics on the Xbone? My GTX660 SuperClocked can outperform THAT cards big brother the 7870(which is the card class that the PS4 is using BTW) which is two performance stacks higher in performance than the 7790 in the Xboned. Oh, and 8GB of RAM is cute…and the fact that 3GB of it is eaten by the OS….and the 5GB left is split between the GPU and CPU….Well, The GTX660 has 2GB of dedicated DDR5 and the system itself has a nice helping of 16GB of DDR3 1866….And a 500GB hard drive? Is that a Joke? And they expect to ship games on Blu-Ray? Any other Steam fans pick up Max Payne 3? Remember how that Game’s install was 30GB? Most Next-Gen games are probably going to be bigger. My media PC has a 2TB Hard Drive dedicated to Steam and a 1TB Hard Drive for Origin, Blizzard Games, etc…AND I could upgrade it further!!! You know what else? I could watch Blu-Rays on it and don’t have to worry about the MPAA spying on me and requesting more money because I have 5 people watching instead of 4 (MS patented that use for the Kinect…encarta it!)

 

Look man, MS already put it out there. Their intentions and what they think of us, their customers. They think we are all mindless sheeple who would go along with any crazy idea they have because of GAMEZ!!!

I guess, other than the Kinect constantly recording your home and sending video and audio to Microsoft for advertisers, my biggest issue is that they block used games. The popular argument is for piracy. I call BS on that. How many times have you heard of games like Call of Duty, Bioshock, Metal Gear, The Sims, make millions? How many times have you heard stories of small indie developers become over night millionaires? It’s more common than you think. An average indie Android game developer makes $52,000 a month…and that’s on a platform that’s so easy to pirate on it’s RIDICULOUS!! It can’t be piracy then. It’s just pure GREED. They don’t want you trading games with your friend. They don’t want you letting friends borrow games. It’s all about control.

Sorry guys, if gaming gets to Draconian, I’ll stick with Nintendo for a while and just end up reading comics, writing my novel, reading books, theirs a lot more to life, and after dumping watching Television years ago, my only interaction with the TV was to play some games on my media pc. I still watch some quality scripted television and alternative news media, but I tend to do that stuff at my PC…or on my Nexus 7…or my HTC (good) One…or my iPad…

 

Microsoft is trying this due to hubris. A Microsoft head actually went on the record and told us “If you want backwards compatibility, then you’re mentally backwards.” He seriously SAID THAT! How can I even consider buying a console from a company that basically just called me retarded? They feel they dominated this generation(which they didn’t Nintendo did…I was as shocked as you…look it up… the total combined world-wide sales of 360 and PS3 is CLOSE to the Wii). I’m hoping that with a big enough backlash they will step down from all these draconian measure, or at the very least, fire a warning shot across Sony’s bow, to make sure they don’t pull similar shenanigans at E3.

 

But, yeah…I don’t “have to try it out” Unless MS completely goes back on almost everything they said, this machine will NEVER find a place in my home, and from what I’ve been reading EVERYWHERE, or anybody elses for that matter.

Oh and here’s my speculative prices for the Xbox One.

$299.99 with 2 Year Subscription to Xbox Live @ $14.95 per Month

$699.99 without subscription, but will require the $14.95 subscription to use the full functions of the machine. You can still use the Xbox Live Gold account(the one that’s $50-$60 a year), but it will be renamed Xbox Basic which will allow Online Gaming and streaming from select sources. Xbox Free(aka Silver) will basically allow you to turn on and use the system for Games and Blu-Ray movies.

I feel bad for anyone who falls for the 2 year subscription version, because if this new Xbox is anything like the old 360, you’ll probably have to spend $700 anyway once you’re $300 one RRoDs…

Apple’s Tax Hypocrisy Tech says there’s a shortage in homegrown talent—but tax avoidance only makes it worse

It’s remarkable how quickly the storm of outrage over Apple’s epic tax avoidance has passed over Washington. All it took was for Apple CEO Tim Cook (2011 compensation: $378 million) to share some yuks with senators about their love for his company’s products (“I love Apple. I love Apple,” enthused Claire McCaskill) and to cast Apple’s extreme measures to avoid taxes (paying not a cent on $30 billion in global profits parked in an Irish subsidiary that has as much physical reality as a leprechaun) as a mere matter of subjective perspective: “The way that I look at this is there’s no shifting going on that I see at all,” Cook told John McCain. “I see this differently than you do, I believe.”

There’s one aspect of the Apple tax avoidance that I’m particularly surprised has been allowed to slip unscrutinized. As you’re probably aware, the Silicon Valley giants have been in Washington a lot of late for something other than explaining the postmodern relativism of tax liability: to lobby for immigration reform. They’re interested, in particular, in greatly expanding the number of H-1B visas, which Apple, Google, Facebook and the rest of the tech behemoths rely on to hire foreign software engineers. They need to bring these workers over from India, China and elsewhere, the companies say, because there simply aren’t enough qualified native ones being trained here at home. One of the biggest champions of this demand was none other than Steve Jobs, Cook’s predecessor, who made the pitch directly to President Obama in 2011. Sometimes, the companies phrase it euphemistically: The lack of H-1B visas, Google’s public policy shop explains, is “preventing tech companies from recruiting some of the world’s brightest minds.” Mark Zuckerberg was slightly more candid in his big Washington Post op-ed, throwing his weight behind immigration reform: “To lead the world in this new economy, we need the most talented and hardest-working people” (you hear that, Middle America?) And sometimes it comes out just plain awkward: “There are simply more smart Indians and Chinese than there are Americans,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt said over the weekend on CNN. (Yes, he is of course literally correct, sample size and all—there are more dumb people over there too!—but still…)

We’ve become so used to hearing our educational system disparaged from all corners that we have insufficiently zeroed in on this part of the Silicon Valley argument. There are many reasons why our schools fall far short of the ideal—students arriving unprepared, bureaucracies constrained by hidebound rules, etc. And one reason is, yes, inadequate resources, more in some parts of the country than others. Which brings us to Apple. From the deeply-reported New York Times story that laid bare its tax avoidance last year:

A mile and a half from Apple’s Cupertino headquarters is De Anza College, a community college that Steve Wozniak, one of Apple’s founders, attended from 1969 to 1974. Because of California’s state budget crisis, De Anza has cut more than a thousand courses and 8 percent of its faculty since 2008. Now, De Anza faces a budget gap so large that it is confronting a ”death spiral,” the school’s president, Brian Murphy, wrote to the faculty in January. Apple, of course, is not responsible for the state’s financial shortfall, which has numerous causes. But the company’s tax policies are seen by officials like Mr. Murphy as symptomatic of why the crisis exists.

 

”I just don’t understand it,” he said in an interview. ”I’ll bet every person at Apple has a connection to De Anza. Their kids swim in our pool. Their cousins take classes here. They drive past it every day, for Pete’s sake. ”But then they do everything they can to pay as few taxes as possible.”

As that piece reported, Apple not only does its utmost to avoid paying federal taxes in the U.S., but also to minimize its taxes at the state and local level. One favorite trick: Nevada. The Times: “With a handful of employees in a small office here in Reno, Apple has done something central to its corporate strategy: it has avoided millions of dollars in taxes in California and 20 other states. Apple’s headquarters are in Cupertino, Calif. By putting an office in Reno, just 200 miles away, to collect and invest the company’s profits, Apple sidesteps state income taxes on some of those gains. California’s corporate tax rate is 8.84 percent. Nevada’s? Zero.”

If Apple really cares about a shortage of homegrown engineering talent, then it should pay taxes to fund the institutions that could address that problem. Yes, I know. What they’ve done in seeking out every loophole from Eire to eternity is technically legal. It’s the fault of the governments that allow these loopholes to exist. Everyone does it. But here’s why these rationalizations don’t cut it any more, if they ever did. In taking such an influential role in shaping our new immigration policy, the Silicon Valley giants are offering themselves as having a stake in our country’s common prosperity: To thrive, they are saying, we Americans must fix this immigration morass, by, among other things, making it easier for us to hire labor from abroad. There will be winners and losers, but it will be good for us all in the long run.

The industry’s new aspiration to a kind of town-father, old-fashioned Chamber of Commerce investment in the greater good comes through in George Packer’s terrific new New Yorker dispatch from Silicon Valley. Packer cites the scene of Obama’s 2011 visit to the Valley in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs: Cisco CEO John Chambers “kept pushing [Obama] for a tax holiday on overseas profits that are reinvested in the United States…While Chambers was lobbying Obama, over cod and lentil salad, Zuckerberg turned to Valerie Jarrett, the President’s adviser, and whispered, ‘We should be talking about what’s important to the country. Why is he just talking about what’s good for him?” Packer also quotes Joe Green, a Zuckerberg roommate at Harvard who was not part of the original Facebook team but has since reunited with him to run the new Silicon Valley group, FWD.us, that is pushing immigration reform. “How do we move America into the knowledge economy? And how do we create a voice for the knowledge community that is about the future and not selfish?”

FWD.us has already run into some murky controversies as it tries to navigate the realities of partisan Washington. But the larger question raised by the industry’s new aspiration to playing a constructive role is pretty simple: Isn’t one way to show that you want to be part of the nation’s common good—a “not selfish voice”—to, you know, pay taxes? Or rather, not go completely out of your way to avoid paying them? Yes, companies have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to grow profits. But in their quest to reform immigration laws to their liking, the Valley giants are arguing that there is some sort of commonwealth that will, in the end, benefit our entire bottom line—corporate and national. Why does the same logic not apply at all when it comes to their tax liability? Why can the case not be made to shareholders that it would be good for Apple in the long run if that community college just down the road from the company’s main campus (a campus that is about to be transformed into a $5 billion fortress) were not falling apart? Who knows, it might even produce a homegrown employee one of these days, like that Wozniak guy.

Microsoft admits they lost the console war with Xbox One

Xbox One is just announced, while Microsoft admits they have lost the war against Sony PlayStation 4 in the most subtle way during their “reveal event” May 21, 2013.

The Xbox One reveal event took place at Microsoft’s Redmond Campus, in case you missed the online livestream, you can watch it on demand here at the Xbox website.

During their reveal event, Microsoft put the majority of their focus on making the Xbox One the hub of living room entertainment, rather than gaming itself, and spent a considerable time talking about the user experience. The whole idea behind Xbox One would be “Simple. Instant. Complete.” And before we dive into possible reasons behind this entertainment-centric strategy, let’s have a recap on the specifications of the Xbox One system in detail.

CPU, GPU and memory subsystem

First we look at the Xbox One SoC. The Xbox one SoC boasts a whopping 5 billion transistors on a monolithic die, the die contains several major important components; the first one being an 8-core Jaguar block with caches, the next being a GCN GPU block with 768 scalar shaders (that’s 12 Compute Units), several move units for direct memory access (DMA) to the GPU, several accelerator blocks including one for audio processing, dual-channel DDR3 memory controller for the whole SoC and a big chunk of 32 MB embedded SRAM (eSRAM) for the graphics block.  The eSRAM also connects to the memory controller to get required data from the main memory and store in the relatively smaller eSRAM block, so the GPU can treat it as a very-fast last level cache.

The reason for a large transistor count is reflected through one big block, yes, the big block of eSRAM. For a 32 MB eSRAM array, there is 268,435,456 bit cells, for a 6T (6 transistors per bit cell) configuration, it would translate to 1.61 billion transistors, while for a 8T configuration, that’s around 2.15 billion transistors.

The Jaguar CPU cores use the AMD64 (64-bit) architecture, the CPU cores also have the ability to do hardware virtualization with nested page tables, which Microsoft said is crucial for enabling the Xbox One operating system stack. The exact GPU specification was not actually revealed during the event, but rather, hints were given by the game developers.  There were some clearer hints from the Microsoft Engineers at the technical discussion session after the livestream event. So the GPU can do 768 operations in a single cycle, that means 768 scalar ALUs based off the GCN architecture. We will not point to whether it’s Southern Islands or Sea Islands shaders.  Microsoft claims 4 times the calculations per second and 8 times the graphics performance over the Xbox 360 GPU.

Going over to the memory subsystem, the Xbox One features 8 GB of RAM, and the large chunk of eSRAM mentioned a few paragraphs above. Microsoft is claiming over 200 GB/s bandwidth for the memory subsystem, it does seem to be inline (and even surpass) Sony PlayStation 4 on the memory subsystem front with eSRAM, but devil is in the details.

Local storage, connectivity options

The Xbox One will continue to have a large local storage, as the console will include a 500 GB, 2.5″ notebook form factor harddrive (SAMSUNG Spinpoint M8 ST500LM012, manufactured by Seagate), the specifications would be 5400 RPM and 8 MB Cache, the harddisk is connected using a SATA 3.0 Gbit/s interface. Attempting to catch up in the physical game media race, the Xbox One will equip a slot-in Blu-ray Disc drive, leveling the playing field with Wii U and PlayStation 4, and Xbox One can also play Blu-ray Moview, catching up with the PlayStation 3.

As for the connectivity options, USB 3.0 ports will be on the Xbox One to charge the new controllers and allow access to USB flash memory. The Xbox One will continue to have support for 802.11a/b/g/n and WiFi Direct, an RJ-45 port is also present for wired Internet connections. On the display connectivity front, as the Xbox One shifts focus towards Live TV entertainment, there will be an HDMI 1.4a input alongside the HDMI 1.4a output. Microsoft said the HDMI 1.4a ports are able to transmit 4K video streams as well as 7.1 surround sound. Users can opt for S/PDIF connection to bypass 7.1 surround sound to the home audio amplifier.

The die size of the SoC is between “huge” and “gigantic”, a whopping 5 billion transistor figure.  Microsoft opts for multiple power states for the SoC to deal with a monster die sucking power.  The SoC also features separate power planes for the CPU block, the GPU block, the northbridge and memory I/O, to further reduce the power consumption by allowing independent and dynamic frequency and voltage adjustment. A large heatsink fan is also used to cool down the big chip.  Microsoft states the fan will go completely quiet even when going at full speed, to meet the requirements of a living room device.

Improved Kinect sensor and Xbox controller

The Kinect got the upgrade, as expected, and supporting capture at 1080p resolution, with a wider field-of-view to allow a maximum 6 people to be detected at the same time, compared to 2 for the previous generation. The sensor can also detect more joints, more muscle movements detection (such as shoulder angles), motion force (like the punching action) and the ability to detect more accurate features such as heart beats and emotions for each person in front of the Kinect sensor.

However, the new Kinect sensor will become an integral part of the Xbox One experience as far as the voice command and gesture controls go. Therefore the Kinect is now bundled in the box for every Xbox One systems sold, and required to be connected to the console at any time. And as the new Kinect sensor supports 1080p capturing with a lot more detail, the Kinect sensor will utilize a new connector and cable featuring a different shape and higher data bandwidth, which means the old Kinect sensor will not be compatible with the Xbox One.

For the new controller, the ergonomics have been improved, with increased precision and new programmable trigger feedback. The battery pack is also streamlined, giving a nicer look and feel to the controller, the aesthetics also were updated to reflect the change of the Xbox button being moved to the top of the controller.

Operating system, Xbox Live and always-connected?

Microsoft would be proud. Why? Because they can integrate more of their off-the-shelf products and IP on the Xbox One. The operating system (actually three operating systems) are operated on top of the Hyper-V hypervisor, the first smaller operating system just boots into the main system, and the other operating system would be for the snapping apps such as Skype, NFL player stats, Internet Explorer, and so on. The main operating system is based off a variant of Windows 8, and has an exclusive partition of main memory, Microsoft also touts parallelism at operating system level for the main operating system in their technical session.

There is another operating system for the apps that shares another partition of main memory with the main operating system. Microsoft says by utilizing this operating system stack, they can achieve an instant experience, just like switching a TV channel, and attracts more app developers to develop apps for the Xbox One platform.

Xbox Live got some cloud integration love from Microsoft with their Azure cloud platform integration, and Microsoft is deploying more datacenters packed with servers. The plan is to increase the number of servers to 300,000 from 15,000 at the moment. With the additional servers that share the computation workloads, game developers can create and host larger online multiplayer events with more players, users will also be able to backups saves and files like recorded TV (after editing with the accompanied basic video cutting tool on Xbox One) to the cloud. The membership levels for Xbox Live, however, stayed the same, so the gamertags and the whole Xbox Live profile for the Xbox 360 console will be able to seamlessly transition to the new Xbox One.

One of the most criticized rumors about the Xbox One prior to the reveal event, would be the requirement of an always-connected Internet connection, be it a wired or a wireless connection. Microsoft was being very vague and ambiguous on this during the livestream and the technical discussion session. According to Kotaku, the Xbox One requires the users connect to the Internet once every 24 hours.  We think Microsoft will require a connection but does not want to actually tell buyers before they purchase thereby turning off a generation of gamers, or their parents.

Game lineup

Throughout the event, only 3 segments were used to give game previews. A total of 21 games were announced in the event, 16 of them are exclusive to Xbox One, while only 1/3rd of the mentioned games had their name’s revealed. Forza Motorsports 5 has been announced as the launch title, while 15 titles from Microsoft Studios were announced, in which 8 of them are based off new franchises, one of them being Remedy Game’s Quantum Break.

The most anticipated game would be Call of Duty: Ghosts, featuring higher texture resolutions for characters and large dynamic maps for multi-player mode. Activision will launch the Xbox One version with exclusive gameplay content. The other being a partnership deal signed with EA Sports, with Xbox One exclusive contents for FIFA 14 Ultimate Team.

What happened?

The subtle theme of “We lost the war” was interwoven throughout the whole event. Microsoft had more than three months to properly respond to everything mentioned in the PlayStation 4 unveiling event, which was February 21, 2013, and yet, their responses on all aspects of a gaming console (or even as an entertainment hub) have been lackluster at best.

The event didn’t focus on the gaming experience, but instead focused on an attempt to reinvent the wheel on yet another living room device replacement. However, the big, bulky, boring black box (BBBBB or 5B for short) that embraces simplicity doesn’t necessarily fit all households, when small apartments are put into consideration. Compounding the problem, the Xbox One itself cannot replace one’s digital/cable/satellite TV set-top box/integrated digital TVs, so one will have to do HDMI bypass, and one would be seeing five cables at the back of the Xbox One console when one also charges the controller through an USB 3.0 cable. And further adding to the pain is that most of the TV related experience (including the NFL partnership) introduced in the event is for selected regions only (mostly US and Canada), those features would be useless for other regions of the world.

Voice command on Xbox One is neat, but is probably limited to English only. Gesture control with gestures like Grab and pan, Swipe up and Snapping is not surprising given Kinect features, while snapping (multi-tasking) is from Windows 8, with Internet Explorer, NFL stats and Skype video call are being demonstrated, the snapped contents are also viewable on Smartglass devices. So far, they are the correct way to simplify and evolve the navigation experience through the menus with Kinect sensor features, but there isn’t enough surprise there. Worse yet, the gesture control on TV is not a first in the industry, Samsung did it for their SmartTV line for quite some time already, and they have even more features like face recognition and a “like” (thumbs up) gesture.

Going further on home entertainment, Microsoft did not talk about the timeframe of 4K content (both gaming and entertainment) arriving for users and how Microsoft is going to be prepared for that, 4K content is supposed to go mainstream during the life-cycle of Xbox One, unless Microsoft just plans a 3-year life-cycle for Xbox One and would  be readying an Xbox Two in 2016, but that won’t solve the same old problem which the R&D cost of a game console cannot be covered throughout the whole life-cycle. And then, no word on stereoscopic 3D capabilities of the Xbox One either, we suspect it’s due to the fact that the 3D features on Xbox One just stayed the same, that it became pointless for Microsoft to even talk about it.

And as we move on the hardware, the dire situation just got worsen, the new controller and the Kinect are just slight upgrades to catch up with the current technology, instead of a completely new concept.

The same goes to the core of the console. When we are looking at the Xbox One SoC architecture and compare it with the Xbox 360 XCGPU SoC architecture, it’s just a mild tweak more than anything else. The idea is to replace the old PowerPC cores with a more developer-friendly x86 (for cross-platform game development with the PC) and a newer GPU architecture with higher hardware efficiency. The eSRAM can now directly access the main memory, so there is a plus there.

It’s, however, unlike the PlayStation 4 APU architecture, that has a heavy focus on GPU accelerated simulations and computations, the Xbox One will not shine on GPU compute heavy workloads, another major feature that game developers actually wanted and focus on, simply because the memory bandwidth available to the whole SoC or GPU compute is just inadequate given the large scale of scalar ALUs present in the GPU. Microsoft does have DirectCompute and C++ AMP for GPU accelerated compute and claims the GPU having coherent memory addressing space, but these are not reflected during the event, nor in any other technical sessions. The death blow would be, none of in-game visuals from the previewed games have extensive use of GPU accelerated features such as physics, unlike the games shown in the PlayStation 4 unveiling event. Adding to the irony is NVIDIA’s announcement of CPU-only PhysX physics and APEX cloth simulation SDKs available for Xbox One console.

The monolithic die SoC is simply huge with the inclusion of a large chunk of eSRAM for game developers to manage and squeezing the last bit of performance, through extensive care in the eSRAM utilization to avoid performance degradation. However, judging from the past on the Xbox 360, it will probably just end up as an almost “free” anti-aliasing solution for most of the games, as game developers voiced opposition specifically to this technology to Sony, ultimately driving Sony to completely scratch the idea of using eDRAM for the graphics and instead used a large GDDR5 memory pool with over 176 GB/s bandwidth.

XboxOne Microsoft admits they lost the console war with Xbox One

As a sidenote, when speaking about the bandwidth numbers, the memory bandwidth on Xbox One does seem to be at the same ballpark as Sony’s PlayStaton 4, right? While Microsoft touts over 200 GB/s memory subsystem bandwidth, so it should be better than the 176 GB/s number on PlayStation 4, right? All wrong. The devil is deep in the details, remember the large chunk of eSRAM for the graphics? So the Xbox One system uses 16 pieces of Micron “D9PNZ” DDR3 memory modules on-board, a little Google search give us the exact model number being MT41J256M16HA-093, which is 4 Gbit density modules running at an I/O frequency at 1066 MHz, that’s DDR3-2133 data rate for those who don’t know, and these modules will provide 34.132 GB/s bandwidth under a dual-channel configuration. And thus, the eSRAM contributes over 166 GB/s bandwidth. However, the two numbers were added up for obvious marketing purpose, and in reality the two numbers should be seen in parallel with each other because, as we mentioned earlier, the GPU will treat the eSRAM as a very-fast last level cache, so the bandwidth here doesn’t serve the CPU cores at all.

And as we go back to the features, there is one highly anticipated feature, sparked from an patent application from Microsoft, the IllumiRoom project. The basic idea is to utilize the Kinect sensor to scan the appearances and the geometry do spatial augmented reality, and then projecting visualizations on the surface behind the TV screen, for more immersive and new gameplay experience. However, it remained a research project for the time being while some anticipated that the working prototype would hit the stage as a glimpse of future gaming.

With the future of gaming going towards a higher degree of immersion with advanced rendering techniques and display technologies, one would also consider the future of gaming to combine with more social elements. But Microsoft only addressed that with improved achievement portal with dynamic statistics compared to the whole group of gamers, Skype snapping app support, and the trending section like Twitter’s Discover section.

Microsoft has not respond to the trend in gaming over the cloud either, although the Xbox Live gets some love from the cloud and Windows Azure integration that can do more, such as finding gamer’s past matches and better multi-player matches experience given the increase in the number of servers for Xbox Live, but since backwards compatibility is out of the equation for both consoles given the switch to x86 from PowerPC architecture, there is still hope for streaming the best games from the past generations on the PlayStation platform. That is, however, not going to happen for the Xbox One platform in the short-term unless game developers are willing to rework the game on x86 platform and make it available for purchase on the marketplace.

Microsoft leads Sony on second screen strategy with SmartGlass and more features, and it got a little better with snapping apps support. And that’s the third plus side for Xbox One so far. However, the second screen is meant to provide an extra way of interacting with non-game elements of the gaming experience.

Why Microsoft just gave up to battle with Sony?

Living entertainment hub and focus on the experience, is the main theme of the Xbox One reveal event, and they did that job fine in conveying their message.

It is however, showing Microsoft’s shifting the core value of the Xbox brand into something else, something that doesn’t fit into its original intention, much less an elegant solution to deal with the issue at hand, it’s against the idea of simple when it comes to the HDMI bypass part with the set-top box. It’s not complete when it comes to the strategies behind all Xbox One features. [Author's note: Neither did Sony, though, but they have a more comprehensive strategy on the middleware, and significantly more future-proof hardware.]

This further shows Microsoft just subtly admits that they lost the console war this round with Xbox One by downplaying the most important core value of a gaming machine, which is gaming itself, and avoiding direct comparison with the competitors. The Xbox One is a wrong machine built for the wrong purposes with the wrong technologies, in case anyone wants a snappy home entertainment machine with instant and simple controls, you should really get an Xbox One. The device is due out in Holiday of 2013. Microsoft is expected to unveil more on the gaming side of Xbox One in E3 show in June, but don’t hold your breath.

Why Steam is different from what Microsoft is doing.

For PC’s: Prior to steam, you would buy a PC title and it would come with an activation code. The code was a basic and simple way to prevent pirating. This was needed on PC and not consoles, because PC discs are made to be read by computers which, reasonably, can copy that data. Consoles have never had the ability to copy a game disc.

So PC gamers had piles of game discs, and codes. But obviously the codes didn’t work an infinite number of times. That would defeat the entire purpose of the code! So if, say, you bought a new computer and needed to reinstall the game onto your new system, you would need to first contact the game company, read them your product code, and then they would either allow an additional activation, or would give you a new code to use.

All in all, it was complicated as fuck. What’s more, because computer games can be run without the disc in the machine, sometimes gamers would simply lose the disc! Then, when they get a new computer, they would be SOL and need to rebuy any missing games.

Add in account locking to this situation, and the consumer is nothing but pleased: He doesn’t need to keep track of discs and codes anymore! He can install on any number of computers! All is well in the world!

But now let’s look at consoles: They share none of these problems. Instead, they had cartridges (later, discs) which could easily be swapped from system to system with no drm (because discs weren’t made in a way that was easy to duplicate anyway). And console users always had a decent library established for their game discs since they were always necessary to play the game.

Add account locking to this and…. well it’s really just throwing a monkey wrench into the consumer’s plans. Everything gets more complicated. Even if it doesn’t create a barrier to what you wanted to do (like play a game at a friend’s house without bringing over your xbox), then it’s still only an additional hassle with absolutely no benefit to you.

  • PC Gaming has never been about bringing your game to your friend’s house and playing it on his PC.
  • PC Gaming is rarely multiplayer/multiaccount on the same machine.
  • Steam sells most of the games available on consoles for cheaper.
  • Steam has massive sales and bundled sales where you can get games anywhere from 50-90% off retail price.
  • Steam doesn’t prevent you from installing mods on your games.
  • Steam doesn’t require an internet connection once the games have been installed.
  • More than one person can be logged into the same steam account at the same time. [EDIT: to be completely accurate, more than one person can use the same account at the same time, but only one can be logged in AND playing the games - but the point stands, one account can be used by multiple people to play the same games.]
  • PC Gaming has never been about game resale.
  • Console gamers have always relied on used game resales/trades/rentals.
  • Console gamers have not had the requirement to be logged in to play single player before – for some gamers I know in rural areas, this is one of the reasons they own a console over a powerful gaming PC.
  • Finally, I don’t HAVE to use Steam to play games on my PC. I can choose to get them from ANYWHERE. You don’t have a choice on the XBox One.

The PC is not a closed platform, and many games are available through different services. That means that while Steam has an effective Monopoly due to widespread use, it’s not the only choice on the market, it is a free thinking peoples choice. On Xbox’s platform, you’ll do things Microsoft’s way or not at all.

Valve is also really good to its customers. Constant sales, ease of downloading titles, an offline mode, and no subscription fee. Microsoft’s platform definitely lacks some of these perks, and it’s unlikely they will ever be as generous or as forward thinking as Valve, so a closed platform with all of the drawbacks of Steam with few or none of the perks of it does not sound appealing to me.

Furthermore, when I purchase a console I’m looking for a different experience than I get from a PC. For me, a PC is a much more personal piece of equipment; I don’t care if I can’t easily transport my games from place to place or lend them out because I’d never expect that from the platform. When it comes to consoles I value physical media, and I value being able to rent games or to take them to a friend’s house without having to transport my PC, create a user account on their system or download the whole bloody game at my destination. At that point I’m getting all of the drawbacks of PC gaming on a system that is substantially less powerful than a gaming PC I could build for just a little bit more money.

To sum it up, it lacks most of what made console gaming attractive in the first place and it’s inferior in every way to building a PC for my living room. That’s why I hate what they’re doing with this and it’s why I won’t be buying it.

Everything I THINK I know about the Next Xbox…..

We’re finding out about the new Xbox today. But that doesn’t mean we have no idea what’s coming. Here’s a rundown of everything I know, or think I know, about the next Xbox.

The Specs

I’m  pretty sure I know what the guts of the new Xbox look like. It’ll have a 64-bit, 8-core, 1.6GHz processor made by AMD with x86 architecture and 8GB of DDR3 RAM. (x86 means, broadly, that it’s a lot like the chips in your home computer, which is a change for Xbox, which had until now run on PowerPC.) The GPU is an 800mhz DirectX 11.x, and will be accompanied by custom hardware to accelerate certain Xbox-specific tasks. It’s also got an ethernet port, an optical disc drive (reported Blu-ray), a default 500GB SATA 2 HDD, USB 3.0 ports, and HDMI out and in ports.

For reference, the current Xbox 360 has a 500MHz GPU, a 3-core 3.6GHz processor, and 512MB of RAM. The upcoming PlayStation 4 also has an 8-core 64-bit processor and 8GB of RAM.

Price

This one’s tricky. There is zero official information out there. But we do have some clues. Microsoft supernerd Paul Thurott spitballed a “$500, $300 with subscription” number that hints at the real issue with the new Xbox: subsidized pricing.

Microsoft already offers a subsidized Xbox 360 + Kinect package for $100 up front, if you sign up for two years of Xbox Live Gold at $15 per month. That comes out to $360 for just the two years, which is more than you’d pay if you’re bargain hunting for cheap subscription renewals.

A two-year subscription for a next gen Xbox probably wouldn’t stick in the craw as much as being locked into two years with the current system (though there’s no reason to think the current subscriptions won’t work on a new Xbox). But the relative surety of the subsidized pricing implies two things. One, this is probably coming in higher than the $400/$300 levels of the 360. And two, Microsoft understands that a gaming console, no matter how many features you pack in, is a tough thing to swallow as that big of an up-front cost.

Availability

This seems like a no-brainer, but a Microsoft exec strongly indicated recently that the next Xbox would be in stores in time for your holiday shopping spree. Which is good! Not many people are looking to buy a gaming console as a President’s Day gift.

Name

There’s a popular rumor floating that the next Xbox is going to be called Xbox Infinity, but it’s not based on much more than a clever mock-up made by a Redditor. While Xbox has trademarked Xbox 8 (which is an infinity sign turned upright), there’s no real indication that that will be the name, any more than Xbox 720 or just plain old Xbox.

The Controller

Largely the same! Most of what we know about the new Xbox controller comes from our friends at Kotaku, who tell us the controller is mostly the same, if a little smaller.

According to Kotaku’s sources:

The controller, according to Kotaku sources, actually seems quite similar to the current Xbox 360 one. Same two analog sticks in the same upper-left/lower-right position, same positioning of the d-pad and face buttons and forward and back buttons. Triggers. Bumpers. Top-center power button. It all seems to be the same, though we can’t tell if any of these buttons have been improved-if, say, the d-pad responds more crisply, if the triggers pull more deeply, and so on.

More broadly, this means that you won’t see new points of interface on the new controller, like the Wii U’s 5-inch LCD or the PlayStation 4′s touchpad.

Kinect 2: Mandatory

OK, so the part about the controller being mostly unchanged is only partially true. Why? The Kinect will be standard with every next gen Xbox sold, making it even more of a de facto controller extension than the current iteration.

The Kinect 2 will be upgraded significantly, to not just detect broad arm movements and laborious, seizure-like movements generously described as “dancing”, but finer hand gestures sent from multiple users. It’s also said to implement more natural language controls (think Siri), as well as features like wake-on-speech.

Which sounds great. But in reality, it’s probably more realistic to expect the new Kinect to perform the tasks the original was meant to at a now-acceptable level, and for these new features to be at about the same level as the curent Kinect (that is, passable, at times). So look for refined gesture recognition and improved speech control accuracy, chiefly.

Other less certain rumored features include eye-tracking, which can be amazing in the right environment, and features like pausing videos or games when you turn your head (which might be the most pointless feature being adopted by multiple companies right now).

“Always On”?

This has been a major sticking point. Rumors have persisted that the new Xbox will require a persistent internet connection, presumably at broadband level, in order to play games. And the people have not been amused.

The move, which we’ve seen with individual games like Diablo 3 and SimCity, would presumably be to enforce stricter security and anti-piracy features. It would also prevent a smaller-every-day but still significant group of people from playing and enjoying Xbox games. But we’ve also heard that it could only pertain to entertainment features, which would make slightly more sense, since that would require constantly pulling down information about content.

Microsoft has kowtowed to public sentiment on other future-facing issues after backlash from the slow or unreliably networked, like its original musings about ditching the optical drive this generation in favor of downloaded games. So it could go either way.

Update: An internal Microsoft memo obtained by Ars Technica indicates that you’ll be able to play Xbox games offline after all. Phew! Hopefully.

Xbox TV

One of the underplayed details is that the new console will reportedly have an HDMI in port. What does that mean? The Xbox is in all likelihood going to be used to control literally everything your TV does.

How would that work? The HDMI-out from your cable box would route through your Xbox, which would then apply its own interface on top of it. Theoretically, that would let Microsoft integrate all sorts of features into that. It’s likely where the reports of the Kinect controlling your cable box came from.

Don’t sleep on this as a major feature of the new Xbox. It could include capabilities ranging from deep content recognition to DVR to (hypothetically) picture-in-picture TV shows in games. This is especially interesting given the reported capability to “hot switch” between two games, effectively running both at once. The WSJ recently reported that Microsoft had definitely at least explored these options—though how many show up tomorrow is anyone’s guess outside of Redmond.

And don’t forget, Microsoft is also reported to have a cheaper, set-top-box-only version of these features coming later this year, too.

Original Content?

Back in September, Microsoft hired a CBS executive to head up production of “original video content” for the Xbox. We still don’t really know what that means. (The UK Xbox is already getting into the business of distributing movies, for instance.) It could be that, like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu, Xbox Live Gold and the Microsoft Video Store is going to get its own original series. Which would be sort of insane. But don’t rule it out.

Windows Integration

This is based on speculation, but hear us out anyway. The new Xbox will probably integrate tightly into Windows 8, and the broader Windows Universe that Microsoft is building. It will do this as a gaming system, but also as a set top box.

The first thing to note is that this is actually possible this generation. The new Xbox has moved to an AMD x86 chip, meaning it’s using the same type of chip that Windows PCs have. Rumors have the new Xbox running Windows 8, but even if it’s not quite running the same operating system, the change of platforms should make developing games, especially for indie developers, a lot easier.

Consider: Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) is hugely successful. It’s a wonderful place to find and enjoy indie content. And that’s exactly the sort of thing that Microsoft would love to get into its Windows Store, which is doing fine, more or less, but still hasn’t reached the level Microsoft would like.

Further, tighter integration of apps like Xbox Music, Internet Explorer, and other Windows 8 features, would make sense for the central location of Windows 8 in your home. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’d just fire up the Xbox and see the Windows 8 start screen. The Dashboard has been revamped a few times, but it’s already in tune with the Windows 8 aesthetic (and, really, was the incubator for it), so figure that’ll go along mostly untouched.

Goodbye, Used Games?

The biggest bummer to come out of the rumor mill is that the new Xbox might ditch the ability to play, and therefore buy and sell and trade, used games. It’s unclear whether that will happen, but we do know that games will have to be installed to be played, though that will take place in the background over the course of play, instead of up front before you can even get into the game.

Xbox Tablet?

Microsoft is also rumored to have a 7-inch Xbox tablet coming this year, running on an ARM processor (possible Intel SoC in the future). Originally reported by the Verge, the tablet is supposed to be running a “custom Windows kernel” instead of Windows RT, which would make sense if it’s to retain ties to older XBLA titles.

Unlocking phones is good!

The discussion around people’s banished right to unlock their own cellphones has been framed as an unexpected and unanticipated effect of the copyright monopoly. To the contrary, it shows the heart of the monopoly’s philosophy: killing ownership as a concept.

There is a weak copyright monopoly reform bill happening in the United States Congress at the moment.

This bill is not about the copyright monopoly at all, and at the same time, about everything that the monopoly actually is. It is the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013.

The bill, which was presented to the U.S. Congress three days ago, makes it legal to unlock devices such as phones that you own, and do what you like with them. Let’s take that again, because it is jaw-dropping: the bill reforms the copyright monopoly to make it legalto tinker with objects that you own. It has nothing to do with BitTorrent, MKVs, streaming, or what we normally associate with the activity of sharing culture outside of the copyright monopoly distributions.

The bill is about your ability to take your phone to a different wireless operator. Your ownphone, that you bought and paid for. Your legal ability to bring your own property wherever you like, without breaching criminal law and risking jail. How on Odin’s green Earth did this come to have to do with the copyright monopoly?

Few contemporary discussions put the spotlight like this one on how the copyright monopoly is not about rewarding artists, but is a political war on property – on our ability to own the things we paid for. (I won’t say “bought”, as that implies we actually own them.) The copyright monopoly is dividing the population into a corporate class who gets to control what objects may be used for what purpose, and a subservient consumer class that don’t get to buy or own anything – they just get to think they own things that can only be used in a predefined way, for a steep, monopolized, fixed price, or risk having the police sent after them.

This is not a free market. This is the opposite of a free market. The copyright monopoly stands in opposition to a free market, and in opposite to property as a concept.

Some people insist on deceptively calling the copyright monopoly “property”, which is categorical nonsense every bit of the way. Two people can’t both own an object in full; this is part of the very definition of property. Obviously, the idea that you could own the jacket you’re wearing while I could own its color is both asinine and nonsensical, just like the idea that you can own a CD but I can own the laser-etched pattern of grooves carved into it.

Yet, the copyright monopoly maximalists insist on calling their monopoly “property” in continued and deliberate deception. When you press them on how this goes counter to every known definition of property, they usually fall back to a stupid statement along the lines of “property is whatever we define it to be”, which avoids basic statements of fact on the nature of property, and goes to reveal the true intent – redefining property to something that creates two new classes in society: the corporate masters who own property, and the citizen serfs who get to use things they pay for in ways that are strictly defined and constrained.

To illustrate the absurdity of this, imagine a carpenter that had the legal right to send you to jail if you used his chairs in ways he disapproved of, after your having bought those chairs.

This is what the copyright monopoly was always about. The phone-unlocking issue is not an oddity or an outlier; it lies at the very heart of the monopoly’s philosophy. The copyright monopoly was always about control over other people’s property, and always about preventing creativity and innovation that could threaten the incumbents.

The copyright monopoly hurts creativity, hurts our economy, hurts our entrepreneurs – and most importantly, it is an affront to the most foundational concepts in society, such as the right to tinker with your own property. It needs to be questioned, dismantled, and abolished.