Microsoft's Xbox One: What's Windows got to do with it?

Microsoft's Xbox One: What's Windows got to do with it?

Summary: Microsoft's Xbox One home-entertainment console, available later this year, has ties to Windows 8 and Windows Azure.


Microsoft's Xbox One home-entertainment console has three operating systems at its core, company officials said during the May 21 unveiling of the device.


Why three? Marc Whitten, Microsoft's chief production officer of its Interactive Entertainment Business, explained during the hour-long reveal event in Redmond, that there'd be an Xbox operating system, the kernel of Windows and a third operating system designed to handle switching, multitasking and control inside the Xbox One.

Microsoft officials told back in April something similar. From the Wired story:

"The Xbox One simultaneously runs three separate operating systems. First comes the tiny Host OS, which boots the machine and then launches two other hard-partitioned systems: the Shared partition, an environment that runs any apps (Skype, Live TV, Netflix, etc.) and helps provide processing power for the Kinect sensor and its gesture and voice controls; and the Exclusive partition, which is where games run. Because of the way memory is apportioned in the Shared partition, you can switch between apps with little to no load times, and even snap them into another app or game to use both at the same time."

Before today's Xbox event, Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott had said the next Xbox was built on top of the Windows 8 core. If I were a betting woman, I'd guess the Shared partition described in the Wired piece is based on the Windows NT kernel.

The NT "core" is what's shared across Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows Server 2012 and Windows Phone 8. It includes a shared file system (NTFS), networking stack, security elements, graphics engine (DirectX), device driver framework and hardware abstraction layer (HAL).

Dave Cutler, the father of Windows NT, moved to the Xbox team from the Windows Azure team a couple of years ago. At the same time, Hoi Vo also moved from Azure to Xbox. Vo was the director of OS/hypervisor on Windows Azure. So maybe Ho and/or Cutler had something to do with the "host OS" mentioned in the Wired story? (Just a guess on my part, as Microsoft so far isn't commenting on the Xbox One OS guts beyond what I've mentioned above.)

Update: In an under-the-hood architecture panel following the Xbox One reveal, Boyd Multerer, Director of Development for Xbox, confirmed that the team started with Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor in building the Xbox One operating system. Multerer said the team stripped out all the general-purpose "goop" to create an OS that allowd two virtual machines to run in side-by-side partitions. One of the partitions runs apps; the other runs games. 

"David Cutler built the hypervisor that does the switching back and forth," Multerer confirmed.

The new Xbox One interface looks quite similar to the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 one, with a tiled look and feel. It runs Internet Explorer and Skype, just like any Windows PC/device. Also like Windows 8, the Xbox One includes snapping support. Microsoft officials demonstrated during the Xbox reveal how users will be able to "snap" applications, movies and games allowing them to multitask.

Another Windows 8 similarity: Xbox One is optimized to work in different power states, depending on the game or application that's running. The console remains in a low-power state so that when a user says "Xbox On," it will be able to power up quickly. This sounds a lot like Connected Standby in Windows 8.

Microsoft officials also mentioned Windows Azure during today's Xbox One reveal. Xbox Live does not run on Windows Azure; it runs on its own servers in Microsoft's datacenters. When Xbox Live launched in 2002, Xbox Live required 500 servers. It now requires 15,000. By the time Xbox One launches this holiday season, Micorsoft officials said it will be running across 300,000 servers.

We do know that the Halo game team at Microsoft has used a new cloud-programming model, codenamed "Orleans," which was developed by Microsoft Research. And during today's Xbox One reveal, the Redmondians noted that users will be able to store their movies, music, games and saves "in the cloud," which I am assuming means on Windows Azure.

Update No. 2: In an Xbox One frequently asked questions (FAQ) document, Microsoft officials also noted that the cloud (again, no mention of Azure specifically) will also allow for automatic game updating, game enhancements and saved preferences. VentureBeat's Dean Takahashi has more from the under-the-hood panel on how the cloud also will enable offloading tasks and freeing up more local console resources.

The aforementioned Wired piece states defnitively that "Xbox One gives game developers the ability to access Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform." Microsoft officials didn't say that today during the Xbox reveal event. However, Microsoft didn't say anything about the developer story for Xbox One today, presumably because that is going to be a big part of the messaging at the company's Build 2013 conference at the end of June.

Even without knowing (yet) what Microsoft will say at Build, it's becoming clear the company is edging closer to having a true cross-Windows development strategy at long last -- and that Xbox One is one of the devices that will be part of it.

Topics: Windows 8, Cloud, Microsoft, Windows, Windows Phone, Windows Server


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Microsoft's Xbox One: What's Windows got to do with it?

    I want this device in my living room.
    • Me too

      It looks awesome, I like the next Microsoft Kinect.
      Văn Minh Nguyễn
      • Let's Hope It's Useful, Unlike the Current Version

        I hope that you like having Microsoft listening to your every word. The microphone will always be on. Also, do you like having to use the Kinect? It will also be intrusively there.
        • Can't develop for the paranoids

          Intrusive? Are you expecting it to but into conversations?

          Why would MS be listening? The microphone just needs to analyze sounds to listen for a key term to turn it on. This can be done locally and not stored on or ever even hit servers.

          If this still makes you paranoid, turn off voice commands.
        • Paranoid Much?

          Ridiculous. If you have an iPhone or Android phone, are Apple or Google (or your Telco) listening to your voice commands? Does Google Now (which needs to listen for you saying "Google") send everything it hears to Google? There are two schools of thought on this:
          (1) You should buy a tin foil hat, in case some company or alien species is listening to your thoughts.
          (2) The NSA is listening to everything anyway by beam-splitting at core internet switches, so you're screwed. The only way you can protect yourself is to abandon all of your electronics and move to an underground bunker in an undisclosed location. Oh, and never use your credit cards either.
          • It's not paranoia

            Microsoft was the first to volunteer and give information to the NSA. The Kinect is a spying tool.


          • As for beam splitting

            they wouldn't need your phone records if that was enough.
        • Too Much FUD

          Do realize how big the file would be if MS was listening to every word, recording it and transmitting it to their office? This would be caught immediate by people who monitor their internet connection. Plus the hard drive on the xbox would be constantly spinning. There is nothing in your living room conversations that is of interest to anybody but you. They xbox is just in connected standby listening for the term xbox on.
    • Agree

      I don't agree with Loverock on much, but on this I do. Watched the unveiling today and was certainly impressed. To my mind this unit is Microsoft's boldest and most likely to succeed play for post-PC relevance. Integrating Skype is really going to sell this for lots of people. It's basically teleconferencing for everyone... in their living rooms, through the 50" TV. And in pushing the unit well beyond the boundaries of a simple game machine, Microsoft is well on the way to becoming your general entertainment/media hub. Sony had better take note and try to build similar functionality if they want their PS4 to stand a chance against this thing.

      I also see this device as something Microsoft could leverage to push Windows RT. Microsoft should abandon the idea of 10" Win RT tablets for now and release a 7" RT Xbox branded tablet that's basically an Xbox controller/peripheral + ARM tablet device. I could see Xbox integration (at a level beyond what the iOS and Android Xbox clients will allow) to help RT succeed where Microsoft's first attempts have failed.
    • that isn't comming into my house

      it will always be...watching... like Sauron. All kidding aside - this will make google's efforts look like child's play. MS applied for patents on looking and listening to what everyone in the room is doing and serving up content based on that. Imagine suddenly getting condom ads and then realizing what that thing must have seen!
      • Privacy settings

        like today, I'm sure there are privacy controls in place.
      • Now that's just plain funny

        Willy, you gave me my first good laugh for the day with that condom comment.
      • ??? What are you talking about???

        "this will make google's efforts look like child's play" reference to what efforts Google has made?

        Now, what your saying sounds just like your joking, but all kidding aside, lets not start some rumor mill now that this is akin to inviting a spy into your living room. As in beyond what Google could find out when you search and surf in your living room. Are you suggesting that the Kinnect functions will be able to tell what your doing? And report that back?

        If so, and you were right this thing would be a real trick. If there are people watching on the other side I think that would be a deal breaker right there, I dont think there is any way that could be legal.

        So, in the event you are serious in the least you should regroup your thoughts and talk a little more realistically.

        So far we havnt seen anything that surpasses Googles efforts in any way. To start with, Google dosnt make a gaming/home entertainment rig, so its hard to know what "Google efforts" you might even be talking about.
        • And.. scene...

          Good call Cayble. Before you typed your last letter, the Google posse rode into town to 1. Associate themselves alongside this Microsoft release. 2. Play "me too" politics by pretending Microsoft has anywhere near the dependence of Google with personal information, despite one sells a product and the other relies on personalized ad monies. 3. Pretend Google TV offers even one third of what Microsoft offers. Any current Google TV subscriber would gladly point, on a doll, to exactly where Google touched them 'funny'.
        • Kinect

          "Are you suggesting that the Kinnect functions will be able to tell what your doing"

          Isn't Kinect supposed to do exactly this? How else would it know what your intentions are? Read your mind using telepathy?

          If the thing knows what you are doing, what prevents it from reporting it back, of course "properly anonymised" as in "no personal identifying information is collected, blah, blah, blah, but things like serial numbers, photos of who sits in front of the things etc are of course included".

          You don't need to have people watching on the other side. This is so last century. You have cloud computers doing it for you. BigData is your tool.

          This stuff is already here. You can chose to pretend it does not happen, or you may be aware that it does. It's all up to you.
          • We should also fear web cameras in computers!

            because those are watching and reporting too.

            The sky is obvioulsy falling.
          • To be honest...

            To be honest, they do make me a bit uncomfortable. I wish all webcams had a physical flap you could lower to ensure you're not being watched.
          • If you want privacy, switch the computer off!

            There are various solutions to the privacy invasion problem.
            1) switch the computer off. If it's not powered, it can't see, hear or report back.
            2) stick some black tape over the camera lens so it can't see.
            3) the most difficult is the microphone. Either stick a wad of some sound absorbing material over the microphone or open up the computer and either disconnect the microphone or put a switch in its lead.
          • Power off?

            Devices can get power over ethernet 2 you know....
          • You are obviously clueless Emacho