Xbox 360 owners who logon to the system's Xbox Live system this morning will receive the most significant functional change yet to the console's user interface, or dashboard. Dubbed the New Xbox Experience, this new front-end features a completely new way of interacting with content on the console and online and, unfortunately, some very childish and Wii-like Avatar characters.

"The future of home entertainment is Xbox 360," says Microsoft senior vice president Don Mattrick. "It's on-demand, it's high-definition, it's always social, \[and\] it's all in one place. We are at a watershed moment, backed by the largest entertainment brands, with an incredible lineup of entertainment unmatched in any industry."

While the New Xbox Experience provides a pleasant enough front-end for gaming--the Xbox 360 is still a game console, after all--much of the new functionality seems to be focused on non-gaming entertainment. The UI offers Netflix instant streaming for subscribers of that service, virtual parties with up to seven friends, customizable and cartoonish avatars that represent your online persona, and access to over 12,000 movies and TV shows via Xbox Live Marketplace.

The new avatars borrow heavily from the Mii characters in Nintendo's popular Wii console, which lacks the hardware muscle of the 360 but has outsold the competition at an alarming rate. For example, Microsoft is touting that it will sell 25 million Xbox 360s by the end of 2008, a number that outperforms total sales of the first generation Xbox. But Nintendo sold 35 million Wiis by the end of September, and it's been on the market for a year less than the 360.

The new avatars are used to represent players to others online, but Microsoft has also created special avatar games, like "A Kingdom for Keflings" and "UNO," in which the cartoon-like characters actually appear. The avatars also appear in parties and online chats.