Regular readers may recall certain rude words in this diary concerning Microsoft's Xbox. The post-Christmas figures seem to bear this out, with it being beaten into third place by the Gamecube. Sales in Japan have been particularly disappointing, and Microsoft has put this down to the box's sheer bulk. A new, slimline model is in the works. Well, that may help. So it's quite a pleasure to report that the Xbox Live online gaming service is doing rather well. Not only have sales of the starter pack exceeded expectations in the US, but the UK beta testers positively glow with excitement when talking about the experience -- or maybe that's just one plasma bolt too many. Given the number of dedicated gamers who arrange LAN parties for mass fraggings, lugging huge amounts of kit across town -- sometimes across country -- it's clear that there's a market for mutual destruction, an area where the Xbox could be in with a chance. If it all works well enough, of course. According to a pal who's on the UK beta, it works more than well enough. The two-way voice communications are nearly flawless, the games have no discernable lag and the opportunities for wasting your best friend in a truly tasteless yet satisfying way are better than anything outside the Glastonbury festival. And is there no downside? "Well yes," says my horribly beweaponed robot monster friend (in reality, a slight, bespectacled lad from Hampstead). "It's the Americans. All the Brits are desperate to find places to play where the bloody Yanks can't find us. It's like being surrounded by a large gang of fourteen-year-olds with Tourette's, I don't mind the odd obscenity, but this is like having your ears filled with warm sewerage." We discuss this, and decide that when the UK product goes on sale we'll probably be able to provide our own set of pottymouth pimplefaces, and that Microsoft could usefully provide walled gardens for the grown-ups. Access could be limited by some sort of serious authentication scheme -- like being able to spell without putting numbers in the words.