Blu-ray add-ons, and free dev tools for students

Yesterday, I suggested that Microsoft would probably release a Blu-ray add-on for the XBOX 360, basing that on absolutely nothing beyond the fact that HD DVD, as a format, is clearly dead. Anton Philidor, a Talkback regular, questioned whether that would be a wise choice, asking "should the company change strategy again?

Yesterday, I suggested that Microsoft would probably release a Blu-ray add-on for the XBOX 360, basing that on absolutely nothing beyond the fact that HD DVD, as a format, is clearly dead. Anton Philidor, a Talkback regular, questioned whether that would be a wise choice, asking "should the company change strategy again?"

Mr. Philidor spoke of the costs of Blu-ray as well as the questionable benefits most consumers get from an HD disc format, but the more I thought about it, the more I questioned whether Microsoft has any interest in positioning its game console as a player for HD disc media. Nintendo is unlikely to lose any sleep over its lack of HD disc support, as its success is built entirely on the quality of its games and the innovation of its game controller (though to be fair, Nintendo doesn't support HD at all).

Truth be told, it might make Microsoft more strategic sense to concentrate on turning XBOX (and its Live network) into the best network for streamed downloads. That's a better competitive position, in my opinion, and avoids the distraction of a feature that lacks much relevance to gaming. If you want a Blu-ray drive, there are always Blu-ray players made by other companies that look like proper DVD players and fit aesthetically alongside the rest of a typical home entertainment system.

So, I recant my claim, based on absolutely nothing as it was, and think it makes more sense for Microsoft to concentrate on accelerating a digital download future. Let companies with a vested interest in the success of an HD disc format (read: Sony) deal with its expense and flux. Those interests really don't align with Microsoft's at all.

In other news, Microsoft recently launched its Dreamspark initiative, a program that gives professional grade versions of its development tools for free to students in hopes of enticing them into the Microsoft development fold. This plays to Microsoft's strengths, as Microsoft quite simply has some of the best development tools and APIs on the market today (platforms are their core competency, as I discussed last week).

Exposure to Microsoft development technology certainly worked for me. When I arrived at Nortel back in 1996, a group of people (who, as it turned out, used to work as Microsoft support technicians) asked which browser I preferred. The "right" answer, given the context, was Internet Explorer. I said Netscape. Of course, MOST people would probably have said that back then, as IE 1.0 was a tinkertoy compared to Netscape 2.0 (the current generation browser at the time).

Microsoft, of course, changed all that by rapidly improving the web browser (which matters little today, as Firefox IS a good browser, both from a user standpoint and as a developer). But IE development innovations, creating a better in-browser development environment while redefining HTML rendering as a set of reusable components, was only one card in the Poker hand that "turned" me to the dark side.

Microsoft's development tools, technologies and documentation (yes, I loved MSDN back then) was what did the trick. It was the fact that all Microsoft products were like lego blocks I could use to make applications for the Nortel Intranet (my task at the time).

Coming to Nortel, I was a UNIX-oriented developer. Exposure to Microsoft tools changed that, which was surprising in itself given my past development background (almost entirely UNIX-oriented) and the fact that Nortel was almost entirely a UNIX shop.

Though my exposure happened in the course of my day job, exposing students to the tools early on should have a similar effect. Some might argue (correctly, I might add) that Microsoft HAD to do this given the availability of free open source alternatives to Microsoft development technologies. Irrespective of that fact, Microsoft will do quite well in a comparison contest between its technologies and tools and anyone else's. They already extended rather sizable student discounts on ALL their products. Making them free is small potatos from a revenue standpoint.

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