Foley on Microsoft

Xbox 'Durango': Why IT Pros Should Care

Mary Jo Foley explains why Microsoft's next-gen Xbox console will impact more than gaming.

Confession: I'm not an Xbox user. I don't game; I don't really care much about sports. Like most Microsoft business users -- in my case, a very small business of one -- I'm more attuned to changes Microsoft makes to the "Metro" Start screen than an Xbox avatar.

All that said, this is the year that everyone who's a Microsoft customer -- and that includes enterprise IT pros -- should pay attention to the Xbox.

The rumors are that Microsoft will begin its drawn-out Xbox "Durango," aka Xbox Next or Xbox 720, disclosures in earnest, starting later this month. The big-bang launch isn't likely until the holiday time frame. That means we can all expect protracted Xbox leaks, promotions and teases.

Here are five reasons IT pros should care about what's coming.

  1. Even with its $50 billion-plus cash hoard, Microsoft is still a company that must pick and choose how to divvy up its spending pie. Last year was the year Windows 8 got a big chunk of R&D and marketing dollars; this year the biggest push will be around Xbox Durango. Note that this doesn't mean Microsoft will suddenly cut off the cash flow for new product releases like Windows 8.1 "Blue" or Office 365.
  2. Microsoft may be the No. 1 gaming console vendor, but the seldom-mentioned fact is the overall gaming-console business is in decline. This is a big reason Microsoft has been repositioning the Xbox as a living-room-hub-type device.
  3. Redmond's top brass are big believers in the idea that what users do at home is influencing what they want and buy at work. I've never heard any Microsoft exec publicly claim that users who love Xbox will clamor for Microsoft Excel, but I wouldn't doubt someone at the top has at least considered putting that message into a PowerPoint slide. There's a contingent of Xbox users who see it as too cool to be a "real" Microsoft product. These are the next-gen workforce members Microsoft is desperately trying to court without looking like it's applying the press at all.
  4. From a developer standpoint, the Microsoft holy grail is to allow devs to write once and run on any Windows variant, including the Xbox. Various tipsters have said the Xbox Durango "core" is the same as the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 core. While it's overly simplistic to say that devs could write an app once and have it just run on every Microsoft form factor, the company's programming-tools team is trying to get as close to this scenario as possible via programming interface and tooling changes. If they can pull this off, there will be a lot more apps that will work -- hopefully in a relatively seamless way -- across Microsoft's phone, tablet, PC and console/set-top-box platforms. Xbox Durango is a key part of this "one big Windows" world, even if Microsoft never publicly markets it as Windows-based.
  5. Speaking of seamless, Microsoft isn't focused solely on the scenarios it has shown off for years in keynote demos. We've all seen it: A user starts watching a baseball game at work; continues watching it in the car; and then tunes in to the end, without missing a play, at home, thanks to Xbox. The 'Softies also are planning for scenarios where users participate in work brainstorming sessions using Skype via their Xbox devices and answer work e-mail in between innings on the big screen at home. This is a big reason Microsoft is building Skype into the next Xbox and the Kinect sensor into bezels on all sizes of displays.

We know Microsoft is reinventing itself as a devices and services company. While the Surface devices (both current and rumored additions to the family) are the new cool kids in the lineup, the Xbox and Kinect devices are still top-of-mind across all levels of the company.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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