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XBox

January 14, 2001



By Alexander Medvedev

Disclaimer

In this review I am going only to express my view on some aspects.

Prehistory

There was a computer called Yamaha MSX. More exactly, the MSX is a platform (standardized rougher than the PC). The MSX/MSX2 compatible computers were produced by many companies, for example, Sanyo, Sony and even Pioneer. And the platform was intended for inexpensive, home, small business and educational use. There was a Z80, a compulsory graphics accelerator with its own video memory (first time in the platforms of such grade), sound synthesizer and many other quite interesting (for 1983-86) stuff.

Are you surprised I am speaking such things? The secret is that this platform was developed directly by Microsoft and even by BG. BIOS, system call standards, build-in BASIC, disc system MSX-DOS which is very similar to the MSDOS (it's unclear what was developed earlier - maybe the former!). The MSX stands for Microsoft eXtended. It means that the X-Box wasn't the first try of the favorite company in development of inexpensive and mass equipment for entertainment. It proved to be high reliable - it was working for years under severe school conditions. Everything was balanced but there was no good commercial shine due to two reasons: orientation to the 8bit CPU and not very competent marketing.

Today we still find a lot of fans' articles devoted to this platform: it has a rare talent for charming. Interestingly is the fact that the MSX machines looked like hi-fi technique or like those what we call today Set Top boxes. Look just at this:

Everything is black, connectors on the front panel… And of course they can connect to a TV-set. Enough of the history.

Unknown XBox

I wish I were Bill Gates! I would have made the console in order it wouldn't distract the money from the other spheres of influence of my company. No wonder that the XBox won't have a keyboard and a mouse. It should appear in houses of those who don't have computers or of those who have already bought a computer. But it is not aimed at replacing the one or being bought instead of the machine. The income received from one XBox is less from Windows and Office. At the same time, the sale of the large number of XBoxes and games to it will result in great income. The most beneficial will be to differentiate the market so that a computer and the XBox should exist in every home. If you want to play or your children do - better buy the XBox, and your kids wouldn't drive you away from the computer. So, I have an excellent idea how to earn much. You should make the XBox good enough for your money that it'd sell well. Give it possibilities the PC's lacking, and at the same time it should be waning in order not to replace a computer.

The programs for the XBox will be written by everybody. That's why it's dangerous to give them a keyboard. The XBox could make a lot of things that the PC is capable of, and programmers will make use of it very soon. That's why it's necessary to avoid generally accepted interfaces. Since they can start connecting different printers or scanners. Or can even write their own soft. Or install ICQ or other communicational means. So, the USB is to have a non-standard connector. It will lack an input for a mic. Oh, yes... has anybody made an adapter for usual USB devices?.. Of course, I exaggerate.

System

Many times I heard a suggestion for the XBox to have the WinME or its sequel. I think it's useless. It's much easier to throw everything out of the NT core and the driver set than to rewrite the ME. The NT core gets used to wide range of non-standard equipment with ease. Booting will get faster - no need in selfconfiguration, only ports left from the PnP, most of services will get useless. The graphics interface will possibly get simplified to some degree, both in the shell and in general control elements, and even maybe in GDI. Because you may refuse a great number of ancestral code, unnecessary soft and unpopular, dead API parts.

As to the XBox version of the DirectX, there are two ways possible: it will be either DX8 and the XBox hardware to be specially developed for it, or a DX8 modification in order to create small incompatibility. The XBox possibilities and its operation with hardware will be the same we see in the DX8 and NV20. It's proved by the promoted XDK. And although incompatibility tempts much it's still unclear how to make it. Any cosmetics will remain such, and you will be able to port the DX code from the XBox to the PC in no time. The only problem would be a shortage of performance; it's reparable, though. Unfortunately, we can't say the same for the Win code.

What protection facility will be used in the XBox? The most obvious is an orientation to the DVD. But in a couple of years the number of unlicensed DVD will be equal to that of CD. Besides, we don't know whether the XBox DVD drive will refuse reading usual CDs. Reproduction of the CD Audio and, possibly, mp3 would be cool. Maybe, Microsoft themselves are not going to provide an mp3 or CD Audio player, but the third manufacturers will most likely do it.

The same concerns DVD. They state that there will be a certain separately selling device, without which DVD playback would be impossible. It will reduce the XBox cost. The DVD playback will be realized in soft. Its specifications for DVD and MPEG4 (DivX) are sufficient. We are looking forward to seeing a magic disc with players for all these formats from the third programmers.

Development and emulation

The XBox on the PC will be easy to emulate. As a matter of fact, they have been doing it for a long time already in the network of the XDK. And there is no need in PC of the similar or more efficient configuration. Since in fact it's not an emulation, it's just an installation of the special OS version on the PC supplied with all API of the XBox. What in fact is done successfully by XDK. And although the PC performance in some fields (fillrate, bandwidth etc.) is not enough, it will influence only rpm or other "quantitative parameters". It shouldn't prevent running of the programs developed taking into account the XDK requirements.

It will be simple to program for the XBox - everything can be done on the standard PC with the help of the ordinary VC. Want to check - just connect the XBox via the net and run the program on it. But program debugging and start can be done on the PC, without the XBox, and this is a main advantage as compared with other consoles. Distant debugging is not always convenient.

The most interesting question for programmers is what API, standard for the same NT core, could be seen on the XBox. Will be there DCOM, ODBC (DAO, RDO etc.)? What network services will be accessible? Remember that nothing prevents to bring in new features in the following generations of XDK or XBox's OS.

Level 1 complete!

to be continued...

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