Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) next-generation Xbox (search) gaming console will be more of a digital entertainment hub than its predecessor, making it even more of a PC hybrid than ever, Bill Gates (search) told a meeting of business journalists on Monday.
The console, code-named Xenon, is due to be previewed in an MTV half-hour special later this month.
Gates, Microsoft's chairman and co-founder, was vague on specific features of Xenon but said the company's consoles would be evolving to include improved communications tools for making multiplayer online gaming more convivial.
He told the annual meeting of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (search) that Xenon's software menu would be similar to that of the company's Media Center edition of Windows, which is designed for computers meant to be located in the living room.
"If you're used to that menu, when you use this Xenon you'll see a menu a lot like that that lets you get photos, TV, music and all those different things."
Video game players want to be able to chat with their buddies, know when others are present online, and will want to access their music and photos on their consoles in an interface already familiar to them, Gates said.
At a convention of hardware engineers last week, Gates said the company's investments in Windows Media Center software have paid off, with more than a million copies sold since the launch of the operating system's second version in October and a total of 2 million since the initial system shipped three years ago.
Gates also called the Web log phenomenon fantastic and joked that it's become more difficult than ever to provide a single company message to the public given the number of Microsoft employees who are now blogging publicly.
"I keep thinking about when am I going to start doing a blog," he said in answer to a question. "My rate (of posting) has proven to be irregular so far. When I turn out at least two a month they'll put me online," he joked.
The Microsoft chairman also drew guffaws when he took a dig at Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL) in response to questions about the rave reviews the competitor's newest operating system, Mac OS X "Tiger," received upon release last week.
The overwhelming consensus was that Tiger was far and away the best consumer operating system available now, with Microsoft not expected to match it in features in Windows until the end of 2006 at the earliest in its "Longhorn" system.
Gates said he was pleased that the media were getting excited about computer operating systems. And then he took his jab at Apple, whose share of the consumer market is nearly 4 percent.
"You can always tell if you're working on a Mac or a PC. Just take your applications and stick them in there and see if they run," he said, moments after calling Apple "the super-small market share guy."