My kids got an XBox 360 for Christmas courtesy of their great-grandfather. Needless to say, they were incredibly excited, and understandably so. The system rocks out loud with graphics so immersive that even a simple racing game like Forza 2 just spanks its moral equivalents on the Wii. Just for the sake of research (no, really), I fired up the system after the kids went to bed. Let's just say that I handle 200 miles per hour much better in an all-wheel-drive 2005 Lamborghini Gallardo than the rear-wheel-drive 2005 Ferrari 612 Scaglietti. What's most impressive is that I genuinely felt like the driving dynamics of the Lamborghini suited me better, and my terrible performance in the Ferrari had nothing to do with my utter lack of video game prowess.
And this has what to do with Ed Tech? A couple of things. First of all, if we can create some really immersive educational applications utilizing some of these console technologies, we'll go a long ways towards engaging students. Give me a flight simulator with 360 graphics capabilities and physics I can tweak on the back end to teach my students about force, aerodynamics, acceleration, etc., and an ordinary physics class could get very interesting. Use the graphics to simulate dissections and now I have a PETA-friendly biology class. Dump me into Vietnam as a journalist and we can have one heck of an American history class. You can see where I'm headed with this. Suffice to say that gaming has never held much interest for me; however, the intuitive interface, extraordinary graphics, and high-powered physics on the 360 completely sucked me in. Oregon Trail this is not.
Secondly, this brings us to the question I asked in the title of this post, which is at least peripherally-related to Ed Tech. Why can't all Microsoft products be like the XBox 360? It's fast, intuitive, flashy, fun, interesting, and generally just a very cool product. Half an hour goofing around with Forza left me with much more of a "Wow" experience than Vista ever did. The interface is divided into "blades" that handle related tasks, setup is easy, eye candy is present and accounted for, and everything "just works." If Microsoft were to seriously rethink their interface (like OLPC did with the Sugar OS on the XO) and give users something creative and useful like they do on the 360, I might be more inclined to consider using their other products, and students might be more engaged in using the computer as a tool, rather than a MySpace portal.
OK, the latter is probably just wishful thinking brought on by too much of the Sticky Toffee Pudding I made for Christmas dessert, but I wish Microsoft would put a fraction of the coolness and usability into their mainstream products that they did into the XBox.