On Friday, Microsoft will launch Xbox Live, the online gaming service for the company's Xbox video game console. Curiously, Xbox Live is the last of the big three online gaming services to go live; Sony and Nintendo already have online games available for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube, respectively. But Microsoft's offering is the only true complete service, with a one-year subscription and a slew of online-capable games available and in the works. The company has spent the past year building its online network, which can handle over 1 million concurrent gamers.

"Online gaming is the next quantum leap," says Microsoft Xbox general manager J Allard. "It is going to bring more creators and a new wave of experiences, experiences that compete with \[TV shows like\] Friends, Survivor, The West Wing and \[movies such as\] 8 Mile. We want to lead that."

For $50, Xbox Live subscribers receive a one-year subscription to the service, an Xbox Communicator headset for communicating verbally with players during online games, and the software needed to connect to the service. The Xbox already includes a network adapter, and customers will need a broadband Internet connection to compete online. Sony and Nintendo online offerings also include a low-bandwidth modem connection for dial-up users, but Microsoft rightly discounts this mode of connection as being too slow for quick action games.

For more information about Xbox Live, please visit the Xbox Live Web site.