You may remember my scathing blog post denouncing my Xbox 360 and swearing I was leaving Microsoft. I still feel that way about my old Xbox 360. It was a piece of junk. I sold it, sold all the games, and sent my Windows 7 machine with Windows Media Center on it to the scrap pile. The fact is Microsoft used to create junky hardware and software, and being big and experiencing growing pains they got lazy and stopped competing in a lot of the consumer market. My old Xbox 360 died 4 times and they still weren’t willing to give me something better. Windows Vista still crashes all the time. The old Windows Mobile was out of its time. IE is terrible and a joke in many circles. I hate the old Microsoft. For the first time in my life, being the company that got me into programming, I didn’t want to go back. I was sick of the problems and didn’t want anyone to try and fix it for me.
All that changed when my kids convinced me to try the Kinect. Enter the new Microsoft. Everything is new now.
It started when I was throwing around the idea of getting a PS3 with the Move wand and camera. It just didn’t seem to interest my kids. My kids, Mario Kart junkies that could care less about graphics and more about what games they can play and challenge their friends on, are happy with just having a Wii (bless their hearts). Something was getting to them, though, as they would see commercials on TV when Microsoft’s Kinect launched of people controlling a computer screen with their hands and legs. That looked really fun to them! This was something, finally, for their generation!
It was when they started asking me about the Kinect and not the PS3 that I started to realize I was going to have to reconsider the Xbox again. So I started investigating. I also started to see a buzz that I hadn’t seen since the Wii came out. The 250 GB bundles, the most popular bundle, were near impossible to find in stores. Friends were starting to talk about getting them. My parents finally bought an Xbox just for the Kinect (something I was trying to convince them for years to do). There was something special afoot, and I needed to find out what it was.
So I decided to jump the gun and at least give it a try. It turns out Microsoft has a new Xbox console. One that’s less-prone to errors. So I went out, got practically the last Xbox 360 250 GB Kinect Bundle in the city (at Target), and brought it home, just in time for my family to play for Thanksgiving. You should have seen the glee on my kids’ eyes when I walked in the door with this thing they were seeing on TV and now had in their house, in real life. This was the future! In their home. For them to play with. Yeah, the thing I took away from them just a month before (that didn’t work anyway).
I hooked up the new Xbox 360 – to my surprise it was quiet! I could barely hear it across the room! “Finally, a machine I can play movies and not degrade the experience because of the sound of Xbox fans,” I thought to myself.
Then we hooked up the Kinect.
“Simply Amazing” are the best words I can use to describe it. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Just ask my wife – I told her I never wanted to buy another game that requires a controller again. We started by playing “Kinect Adventures”, which comes with the unit. Immediately it recognized without any tuning that my daughter was a girl, and that me and my sons were boys. It would immediately recognize when there was a second player and let them play against the current player. We were very quickly, without prompting, playing as a family, together, laughing and enjoying ourselves.
The Kinect comes with a camera. During the games, the camera takes pictures of you, just like those little photos amusement park rides take of you at your most embarrassing moments. The cool part is you can share these to Facebook and Twitter though. The games also replay the pictures at the end so you get to re-live the fun you just had during the game you just played. Simply amazing.
But the coolest part is not the games – it’s the overall experience the Kinect gives you on the Xbox. By just waving my hand when I turn on my Xbox 360, it immediately recognizes me, identifies me through facial recognition, and logs me in. No longer do I need to search for the controller to log into games – Kinect does this for you on compatible titles. In addition, because the new Xbox 360 comes with ESPN 360, I get to watch all my favorite football games (especially cool since BYU Football, one of my favorites, will have an exclusive partnership with ESPN next year), pick the winning team and get Xbox points if they win, but challenge my friends as well and see how many of them voted for which teams. Even cooler though, with the wave of a hand and some Jedi mind tricks (Jedi mind tricks unnecessary) I can pause, rewind, and fast forward my games, or choose a new game. No remote necessary.
The new Xbox comes with all the old stuff – Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm integration, and integrates really well with Windows Media Center on any Windows 7 machine. Of course, this got me to kill my cable and turn on my Windows 7 Media Center box again. Add to that services like Hulu integration into services like PlayOn, I’ve got everything I need for the full entertainment experience. Microsoft has me in their clutches.
Because of Microsoft (with some help from my Apple and Google TV devices, which I’ll talk about another time), I disconnected my Blu-Ray player, and took back my Comcast Cable boxes. Microsoft is back in the game!
Microsoft has changed my mind with the new Xbox so completely, that they are now one company, as Holden Page said earlier today, that I’m investing in for the year 2011. In fact I predict their stock price will hit $100 per share in 2011. I’m confident in that. With the advent of the Windows Phone 7 (which I have many “normal world” friends looking already to convert), integration with the Xbox and games for the Xbox, with them showing they “get” the living room experience, Microsoft is finally about to hit a Nirvana stage where they have full control of the living room experience.
I’m a Linux geek. I’m not supposed to like Microsoft. But I like this Microsoft. It’s a new Microsoft with a new attitude towards competition, and a new wave of modern technology, standards compatibility, and willingness to listen. It brings me back to the Microsoft I loved when I started programming – one that was on the cusp of new technology, a leader, not a follower, and one that developers could feel comfortable innovating under.
I hope Microsoft can convince others that they’ve disappointed in the past as I’ve accidentally been able to discover that they’re a new company now – it’s a new brand. Microsoft has some wounds they need to heal with their loyal customers first. Assuming they’re able to do so, if I were Google I wouldn’t be looking at Apple as my primary competition – I’d be looking at Microsoft. In my opinion, Microsoft is the biggest threat to Google in 2011. They owe that to the living room experience of which they have already begun to take ownership, and to being the only other major vendor to be focusing on software, not hardware for phones and succeeding at being innovative in doing so. Google – don’t get distracted. This is your real competition. If you’re a blogger – don’t get distracted. Microsoft is the real deal this year. Let Apples be Apples (har har).
Microsoft, I don’t know how you did it, but your technology alone has completely turned me around and made me a fan again. I can’t wait to see what 2011 holds.