The "new" Microsoft (Ballmer/Ray Ozzie combo) is opening up in a variety of ways! This week, Microsoft made two significant announcements that will foster outside innovation. The first one that really grabbed my attention was this one: Xbox 360 Becomes First Video Game Console Ever to Invite the World to Create Original Games and Share Online With Millions.
Awesome! I can't wait to see what happens as the geeks who have already flocked to XBox contribute their coding skills to creating games for the Xbox platform. It's not yet clear to me how truly "open" this platform is, e.g. whether game developers will be able to extend each others' games. The image at the right is from "Culture" -- one of the seven user-created games developed bt Hidden Path Entertainment using the XNA platform that Microsoft featured at the Game Developers Conference.
Here's the description included in the official press release:
"An Xbox 360 community game created using Microsoft's XNA Game Studio software and XNA Creators Club membership will be able to be submitted for distribution on Xbox LIVE. Each community-created game must then undergo a thorough peer-review process and be evaluated for accuracy in representation and appropriateness. Community game developers will be able to beta test the process this spring and will be able to distribute their games on Xbox LIVE by the end of this year."
I look forward to learning more about how "open" this environment is.. Of course, Microsoft hopes to attract millions of budding game developers. The official release goes on to say:
"Xbox 360 once again broke new ground by introducing a new, open distribution service for games created by the community and soon playable by its 10 million Xbox LIVE members. Community-created games on Xbox LIVE will quickly double the size of the Xbox 360 game library. By the end of 2008, Xbox 360 owners will have access to more than 1,000 games, making it the largest, most creatively diverse library across all next-generation platforms."
At the Games Developer Conference this week,
"Chris Satchell, general manager and chief XNA architect at Microsoft, announced that seven games created using XNA Game Studio 2.0 would be available immediately for Xbox 360 owners to download from Xbox LIVE Marketplace."
In reading through some of the heated discussions among participants at this week's Game Developers' Conference, the "consensus" seems to be that Microsoft is releasing a true "Game Developers' Platform" and creating a marketplace in which game developers can strut their stuff, whereas Spore (coming in October 2008) and LittleBigPlanet (LBP) are "content-creation systems inside of a game."
The second "opening up" of Microsoft this week is of course the announcement that Microsoft will finally publish open APIs both to its OS and to its office applications.
Better yet, would have been Microsoft's commitment to support the Open Document Format, thereby opening up the content that is held hostage by Microsoft apps. But as Boston Globe's Hiawatha Bray, reported today:
"Microsoft created a new document format, Office Open XML, which it is trying to have certified by the International Standards Organization as an open document format. Microsoft has refused to adopt an existing open standard called OpenDocument Format. But under the plan disclosed yesterday, Microsoft will make it easier for outside developers to add OpenDocument Format compatibility to Office."
The European Union isn't yet convinced, as Richard Waters of the Financial Times reported in Microsoft's 'openness' Draws Cool Response:
"The gambit drew a lukewarm response from the European Commission, which expressed scepticism about the sincerity of the company's intentions.
It also pointed out that separate allegations that Microsoft had illegally "tied" the Internet Explorer web browser to its Windows operating system, which form part of a continuing probe, had not even been addressed.
"The Commission would welcome any move towards genuine interoperability," it said of Microsoft's claim that it would make it easier for software groups to connect their products to its own.
"Nonetheless, the Commission notes that today's announcement follows at least four similar statements by Microsoft in the past on the importance of interoperability," it said."
Richard Waters' news analysis in the same day's FT, Is this a new era of openness for Microsoft? , the jury is clearly still out:
"In the biggest part of its new openness initiative, Microsoft said it would freely publish two types of technology that it had generally kept more guarded, at least for its most heavily-used products: its applications programming interfaces, which act as the “hooks” that other developers use to write software that runs on its platforms, and the communications protocols needed for different products to interoperate seamlessly. Yet according to the critics, it will be some time before the real impact of these moves can be assessed."
“Today’s [Thursday] announcement is still all about the rest of the world interoperating with Microsoft on Microsoft’s own terms, not the other way round,” ECIS said. “So long as that is the strategic orientation, the interoperability devil will always be in the technical and commercial details.”
While I understand the skepticism, I think that this IS the beginning of a new era of openness for Microsoft. I believe that Ray Ozzie's influence is paying off!! And, although the Microsoft O/S and Office Applications' API's being published will clearly be a good thing for the technology industry, in terms of fueling customer-led innovation, I'll place my bets on the open XBox gaming platform APIs as being the most significant strategic move that Microsoft has made in a long time!