/ Games

My changing attitude to Microsoft

The once evil software giant, a company I rarely associated with good products has, in recent years found itself fighting to stay relevant in the new mobile world. I'm still not a fan of Windows, but it's a necessity in my computing life for various reasons, and one more personal is my need for PC games. But Windows 7 was good, it was the best version of windows yet, and there hasn't really been much to complain about that isn't just a typical Windows problem.

But back to the point, Microsoft are now seen as the underdog, in the last few years Microsoft have been trying really hard to adapt to the new technology market, and starting with that, they refreshed Windows Phone, with Windows Phone 7 and the Xbox has been in many areas. However, I'm not all that invested in the new Microsoft, and I've wrote a little on the two main things that have contributed in how I've changed my view on Microsoft.

Xbox

This is a tricky one. I'm not really a fan of the xbox. It's complete lack of exclusive games has left me with little compelling reason to turn it on more than a few times a year, that is a real problem. Why would I play games on my 360 when I can get them for cheaper, with better performance, better graphics, better control options and often more flexibility in regards to mod tools and online functionality? My xbox is essentially a Forza machine, I'm not interested in Halo, despite my repeated attempts to find out what is apparently good about the series, and I do sort of enjoy the Gears of War games, but that is mostly it.

However, I find myself wanting to turn my 360 on and just use it. It is something that has sucked me in on Mac OS X and iOS, it's just great software design. The xbox's operating system is beautifully designed, it has great functionality and is just a real joy to use. Microsoft have recently updated it again to match their new design scheme, Metro, something I'll come back to later, but I adore it.

Microsoft's new update has brought 'Xbox TV', which at the moment only offers Sky Player and Lovefilm for us in the UK, but channel 5 on demand, 4oD,  Youtube and various other video applications are due to arrive later this month with the BBC getting in at the start of next year. So this is what gets me excited, i'll finally have a fantastic excuse to use my 360 every day. What do I use my PS3 most for at the moment? iPlayer, 4oD and Media Streaming.

However, those applications are pretty poorly designed in comparison to the way Microsoft integrate applications into the xbox, they develop them in conjunction with the service providers, to ensure a coherent experience, Sony don't. They just seemingly let service providers design how they want, and the applications generally don't perform that well, with two of the 4 video services on the PS3 just being links to their web pages, and we know how poor the PS3 web browser is.

Now, the new iPlayer app on the PS3 is actually pretty good, it supports BBC HD, performs well, but still isn't that intuitive in comparison. This is where Microsoft come in, like I said, they make sure the third party applications are coherent and consistent for the user, and they will make sure it works properly. So that is a +1 for the Xbox, it'll be getting much more use when those services are released, and the lovefilm app on the system is already miles ahead of the PS3's offering.

So that is Microsoft coming in and just yanking away a massive portion of my time on the PlayStation 3, and for a games console, that is pretty remarkable considering the PlayStation 3 still beats it quite easily in the exclusive department. So, they still haven't completely won me around in that regard, Sony still have the blu-ray player, the superior media streaming and the important one, massively superior exclusive games library, but Microsoft have done very well. Their software is fantastic.

Windows Phone 7

On another note, one related to the previous topic, Microsoft have just released their Xbox Live iOS application, it works on all iOS devices, and is optimised perfectly for the iPad and to me, just sums up what is so great about Microsoft at the moment. They've done several key things in releasing this applications which are quite important:
  • Shown the flexibility and agility of Microsoft that they are able to integrate Xbox Live services into an application for a completely separate device created and maintained by a (sort of) competitor. Sony have had their PlayStation application on the store for around a year, maybe less, yet it does little, it'll show you your online friends, you can browser your trophies, but it doesn't do anything more than that. The Xbox Live applications hooks directly into your account, allows you to browse and manage your profile properly and you can message your friends just as easily as you can on the console or xbox.com.
  • Shown off their brilliant Metro UI, one that Windows Phone 7/.5 is selling itself on. A completely fresh new take on interface design, not one just copying others, but genuinely bringing something new, and it isn't just different for the sake of being different, it really is very good.
  • Continuing off the previous point, they're advertising Microsoft to the massive library of iOS users. The Windows Phone 7 companion application does more than the iOS application, such as a certain degree of controllability over your actual console via the phone application. The iOS app is designed in the Metro style, it isn't designed in how iOS apps are typically designed.
To me, it says one thing, "Look at how good we can make software, look at how well we can make services, and this isn't even the best of it". I am seriously considering a Windows Phone device, but I want more take up of it. Microsoft are really trying, they're making developers as welcome as it is possible for a platform holder to do, but until the public take up and start buying it, developers won't treat it as equals to iOS and Android, and i'll struggle to move away from iOS till that happens. Perhaps i'll be one of those people, i'll carry around two devices, perhaps three, a smartphone is more than just a phone, it's an entertainment device, and I suppose I could justify carrying around more than one of them.
I am on a Microsoft high at the moment, I've been really impressed with what they're doing. They're doing things that make me want to buy and use Microsoft products. I've never been in that position before, I'd never think I could be in that position. It is a far away from what I was like 5 years ago, when I was in that silly little "I'm using Gentoo as my main operating system" phase.
I've attached some screenshots of the iOS Xbox Live app on both the iPhone and iPad below.
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