Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates offered the first look at the company's Xbox game console here Saturday, as the giant software maker prepares to do battle against Sony's PlayStation 2 for a slice of the video gaming market.
Microsoft's first gaming console is a sleek black box about eight inches square and three inches high, with a large X embossed on the top and a neon green bay at the centre into which DVD disks can be inserted. The company showed two shoot-'em-up video games running on a developer version of the Xbox in a demonstration designed to show off the machine's superior graphics performance.
"What you're seeing here is the final Xbox except for a couple of chips that are so state of the art they won't be done until we finish the manufacturing, we'll just plug those in," Gates said, speaking to a packed theatre audience at the start of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the US. "Everything else will be as you see it."
Gates confirmed that the Xbox will be powered by an Intel processor and a separate graphics chip being developed by Nvidia. It will have four ports for multi-player gaming, an Ethernet port for playing games over the Web, and a "rumble" capability so that users can feel the action on the screen through the game's controllers, Gates said.
"The graphics capability is over three times greater than what's been available before," Gates claimed. When a DVD disk is inserted into the Xbox it takes only 8 seconds for a game to load and start running, he said. Because the Xbox has an 8GB hard drive, games that have been played previously are stored locally and don't have to be reloaded, he added.
The Xbox is due to ship in the US by the end of this year and in Europe by early 2002. Pricing hasn't been announced, but Microsoft has said its product will be priced competitively with other machines on the market.
Gates also offered the first public demonstration of Whistler, the codename for the next version of Microsoft's desktop operating system for home and small business users due out later this year.
Whistler dispenses with the old Windows 9x code and is based instead on the same software core or "kernel" as Windows 2000. "By moving Windows 2000 to the (consumer) PC, we create a machine you'll be leaving on 24 hours a day, a machine that can continue to act as a server for the picture frames, the music devices, the peripherals around the house," Gates said. "Instead of having a disk in each of those devices, you can have one copy stored on your PC."