Generally, a new video-game console wouldn't be of much interest to Windows 2000 Magazine UPDATE readers, but what about a game machine based on Windows 2000 (Win2K)? Last week, Microsoft unveiled its long-rumored plans for such a machine, code-named X-Box, which is expected to debut sometime in late 2001. Everything about the X-Box, from its hardware and software components to its very existence, was the stuff of intrigue and conjecture until the product's official announcement came late last week. First, the technical details: The X-Box will feature a 600MHz or greater Pentium III microprocessor and at least 64MB of RAM. Although a next-generation nVidia 3-D video card will place the X-Box well beyond the capabilities of its competition, the most interesting technical addition is an 8GB hard disk, which is a first for a game console.

Why is Microsoft interested in the already crowded video-game market? I've often said that Microsoft's biggest successes have been in the mass market, with products such as Windows, and I've questioned the company's ability to meet the quality demands of the lower-volume enterprise market. The gaming industry, however, is a natural target for Microsoft. With sales of almost $7 billion last year, the gaming industry will soon leapfrog the movie industry, so it's a clear moneymaker.

Microsoft's entrance into the gaming industry simply means leveraging its market-leading DirectX technology, which already drives the majority of top-rated PC games, with a new device similar enough to a PC to let developers easily move their titles to the system. The X-Box brings this compatibility, while eliminating all the Win2K features not needed for gaming. The result is a stable, high-performance system that handily beats the video-game competition expected during the next 2 years. Game developers, whom Microsoft first contacted almost a year ago, played a crucial role in determining the machine's specifications.

The X-Box is interesting because it demonstrates the significance Microsoft attributes to the gaming market. The company has invested heavily in the Windows platform, and its decision to firmly embrace the Internet has led to countless behind-the-scenes books describing how Microsoft was able to turn on a dime and reinvent itself. Microsoft executives refer to gaming and the X-Box as the next big thing, placing the X-Box on the same level as Windows and the Internet. Perhaps the 3-year gestation of Win2K caused the company to re-embrace its quick-to-market roots. Although the X-Box won't ship for more than a year, Microsoft will have taken little more than 2 years to bring this product to life. That's a nice turnaround time for the company that's been trying to get Windows right since 1985.

In other news, I find myself in the awkward position of defending AOL this week. As you might know, a class-action lawsuit was recently launched against the online giant, alleging that AOL's latest software disrupts other online service connections installed on the same system. This disruption makes it impossible for a user to connect to those services without manually editing the appropriate connections. AOL describes the suit as frivolous, and I have to agree. Think about it: Will typical AOL users have other ISP connections? And if they do have other ISP connections, wouldn't they be sophisticated enough to manually re-edit the DUN connections if needed?

AOL is under fire, of course, because the company is the biggest player in the online market, and thus an easy target. If you have any doubt that this lawsuit skirts the edge of acceptability, consider the size of the suit: $8 billion, or $1000 for each of the 8 million people that has downloaded AOL 5.0. Sure, our time is valuable, but is it really that valuable?

AOL says that Windows, not AOL 5.0, causes the problems; independent investigations into this issue seem to back up these claims. AOL doesn't appear to be acting out of malice, and the company has already posted instructions for users who want to change their settings back. Let's hope that this suit gets thrown out before a slew of me-too suits starts springing up. Software engineering is an imperfect business. If developers have to worry about problems beyond their control, nothing will ever get done.