Xbox creator Seamus Blackley says he 'hoodwinked' Bill Gates to develop the original Xbox

Polycount

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Staff member
In context: Microsoft has a strong foothold in the gaming market these days, and that's been the case for almost two decades. However, what you might not know is that the Xbox -- and, indeed, Microsoft's entire gaming presence -- might not exist at all if it weren't for the sneaky actions of one brave man at company HQ: Seamus Blackley.

There's a chance you may have heard of Blackley before, but if not, he was the director of the "X-Box Advanced Technology Team" during the original device's launch. In many ways, he is the true father of the console, since he came up with and pitched the idea of the console in the first place.

However, when developing the concept behind the original Xbox, Blackley and his team felt the need to employ a bit of deception. At the time, Microsoft was a very Windows-centric company, and one that, in Blackley's own words, didn't "understand games, let alone consoles." As such, trying to pitch the idea of a gaming console that ran its own custom, non-Windows OS would've been an uphill battle.

So, Blackley gave Microsoft's top brass precisely what they wanted: a pitch for a gaming console that would run a modified version of Windows. However, he never really intended to create such a device. Right from the start, he understood that no gamer "gives a fuck about Windows features" -- even today, those words ring true in many ways.

"We absolutely, intentionally hoodwinked [Bill Gates]," Blackley said to Gamesradar, referring to his cloak-and-dagger practices. "I absolutely, explicitly in writing to him many times said that we were [creating a Windows console] at the time."

Tricking the CEO of a major software company is no small feat, but things seemed to have worked out in the end. Eventually, it became clear to Microsoft's higher-ups that the console Blackley & co. were working on was not, in fact, a Windows-based console, but something else entirely.

However, it didn't matter by that time -- the console was far enough along, and the gaming landscape had changed enough that decision-makers were ready to try something new. And thus, the original Xbox was born, and the rest is history.

Image credit: Sam Bianchini, The Times

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QuantumPhysics

Posts: 3,750   +3,640
The XBOX should have ALWAYS been a "Games for Windows" console.

I guess Microsoft didn't want to appear to be becoming a monopoly again (which is really stupid and unconstitutional).

I'd have made Xbox a low-end "PC"/ console which could run Windows games and apps.

Some countries have higher tariffs on "gaming" but not "computers".
 
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Endymio

Posts: 1,101   +914
Maybe true, maybe not. I always take these one-sided autohagiographical accounts with a grain of salt.
 
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McMurdeR

Posts: 205   +172
Maybe true, maybe not. I always take these one-sided autohagiographical accounts with a grain of salt.
Wouldn't be suprised. The atrocious Games for Windows Live is a clear insight into the tone-deaf-to-PC-gamers mindset there at the time.
 
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psycros

Posts: 3,230   +3,475
It still amazes me that so many otherwise intelligent people think you're EITHER a gamer or something else. Seamus Blackley is just another sad example.

I guess Microsoft didn't want to appear to be becoming a monopoly again (which is really stupid and unconstitutional).
Yes, monopolies are both stupid and unconstitutional.
 
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Kwerpi

Posts: 14   +13
So he pitched a machine that runs games on a modified version of Windows? But all the Xbox consoles DO run modified versions of Windows. Yeah it’s mostly just the kernel and DirectX APIs that are actually shared between the Xbox OS and the desktop PC version of Windows, but it’s not like any of the Xbox OSes were based Linux or something.
 
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s3thra

Posts: 23   +17
TechSpot Elite
So he pitched a machine that runs games on a modified version of Windows? But all the Xbox consoles DO run modified versions of Windows. Yeah it’s mostly just the kernel and DirectX APIs that are actually shared between the Xbox OS and the desktop PC version of Windows, but it’s not like any of the Xbox OSes were based Linux or something.
I am confused by this also.
 

bviktor

Posts: 273   +476
So he pitched a machine that runs games on a modified version of Windows? But all the Xbox consoles DO run modified versions of Windows. Yeah it’s mostly just the kernel and DirectX APIs that are actually shared between the Xbox OS and the desktop PC version of Windows, but it’s not like any of the Xbox OSes were based Linux or something.
Saying the original Xbox ran Windows is like saying Android runs on Linux.

The kernel might be somewhat similar, but the userspace is 100% different, and you, as a user, use the userspace (who whould've thought, right?), so the kernel, whose only task is to talk to the hardware, is of no relevance. And the original Xbox userspace had absolutely nothing to do with the Windows userspace.
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,101   +914
Saying the original Xbox ran Windows is like saying Android runs on Linux....
Many people do indeed say that.

...the kernel might be somewhat similar, but the userspace is 100% different, and you, as a user, use the userspace
But Microsoft controls the kernel. Having that in the XBox was a huge advantage for them. Remember, the Xbox was nearly named the "DirectX Box" ... and without the XBox, its unclear that DirectX would have dominated OpenGL and other competitors to such an extent.
 

bviktor

Posts: 273   +476
Many people do indeed say that.
And indeed it makes just as much sense (as in, none).

But Microsoft controls the kernel. Having that in the XBox was a huge advantage for them. Remember, the Xbox was nearly named the "DirectX Box" ... and without the XBox, its unclear that DirectX would have dominated OpenGL and other competitors to such an extent.
Which is relevant in terms of Windows (not) running on the original Xbox... how?
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,101   +914
Which is relevant in terms of Windows (not) running on the original Xbox... how?
Quite obviously because guaranteeing the ubiquity of the kernel and underlying APIs was Microsoft's goal all along. What does extending the Windows UI onto a console do for them?

I'm not really buying the argument that Gates got snookered here. DirectX is the standard in gaming today, in large part because of the Xbox. Gates got what he wished from the project. Had it not happened, games today might very well all be OpenGL on Ubuntu.
 

bviktor

Posts: 273   +476
Quite obviously because guaranteeing the ubiquity of the kernel and underlying APIs was Microsoft's goal all along. What does extending the Windows UI onto a console do for them?

I'm not really buying the argument that Gates got snookered here. DirectX is the standard in gaming today, in large part because of the Xbox. Gates got what he wished from the project. Had it not happened, games today might very well all be OpenGL on Ubuntu.
Please explain, how Microsoft wouldn't control DirectX without a Windows kernel! Who else would, seriously? It's their own software, for God's sake. They could only develop DirectX on top of one kernel, but not another? Do you even hear yourself?

Then again, the whole discussion started about the Xbox running Windows or not. Which is still a plain and simple NO. You could not run Windows apps on it, because guess what, it was not using the win32 API (the term you're so fond of). You did not control the interface in the same way, you didn't even have the same HIDs, it was a controller instead of keyboard and mice to begin with.

And no, people wouldn't play on Ubuntu if the graphics API was OpenGL. We've had Steam on Linux for 7 years. The market share wouldn't budge from that 1% mark. PlayStation is based on FreeBSD, where are the millions of players gaming on FreeBSD? What kind of sense does this logic make? How does a proprietary piece of appliance software based on FreeBSD help FreeBSD desktop PC adoption, let alone gaming on such platform?

We're getting completely sidetracked, but the truth is, no one gives a damn about Linux on the desktop, because it solves zero real problems that the Windows desktop has (no, RMS' paranoid crap does not count as real problems) but introduces a helluva lot new ones. And I say that as the principal engineer responsible for the deployment of our company's Linux desktops (and servers, for that matter), so I definitely see every day how 'awesome' the Linux desktop can be. (and yeah, now feel free to discredit me with stuff like 'oh what a great company it must be' or something, that's what I usually get at this point)
 
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Endymio

Posts: 1,101   +914
Please explain, how Microsoft wouldn't control DirectX without a Windows kernel! Who else would, seriously? It's their own software, for God's sake.
C'mon, this isn't rocket science. As I already said, the issue is ubiquity. Microsoft would control the standard regardless, but that control only has value if the standard dominates.

the whole discussion started about the Xbox running Windows or not. Which is still a plain and simple NO. You could not run Windows apps on it, because guess what, it was not using the win32 API (the term you're so fond of).
The APIs exposed by the XBox OS are very close (and in the cases of Direct3d/Directplay/etc) essentially identically to their Windows versions. That's why porting an Xbox title to the PC is so much easier than a Playstation title.

You did not control the interface in the same way, you didn't even have the same HIDs, it was a controller instead of keyboard and mice to begin with.
Did you really think Gates expected the Xbox to have a keyboard and mouse? This was all known from the start.

And no, people wouldn't play on Ubuntu if the graphics API was OpenGL. We've had Steam on Linux for 7 years. The market share wouldn't budge from that 1% mark.
Because all games come on DirectX, and work best on Windows. Again-- this isn't rocket science. You're making my points for me.
 

bviktor

Posts: 273   +476
C'mon, this isn't rocket science. As I already said, the issue is ubiquity. Microsoft would control the standard regardless, but that control only has value if the standard dominates.
It isn't rocket science, yet you still don't understand how APIs or kernels work. DirectX could be implemented over any kernel. Having DirectX doesn't turn the original Xbox OS into Windows.

The APIs exposed by the XBox OS are very close (and in the cases of Direct3d/Directplay/etc) essentially identically to their Windows versions. That's why porting an Xbox title to the PC is so much easier than a Playstation title.
See above. DirectX != Windows.


Did you really think Gates expected the Xbox to have a keyboard and mouse? This was all known from the start.
I never said anything like that. I was talking about how the Xbox userspace had literally nothing to do with Windows userspace.
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,101   +914
You still don't understand how APIs or kernels work. DirectX could be implemented over any kernel.
I thought you said you were a developer? When an independent group designs an API, they usually attempt to make it as agnostic as possible, but when a hardware maker designs one, they match its architecture as closely as possible to the underlying hardware. That's why Cuda will never run well on RDNA, despite the ease at which a translation layer would in theory allow it to, whereas something like OpenCL runs on both AMD and NVidia. (though slower than native implementations).

Microsoft doesn't make processors, but it did design DirectX to mesh closely with the architecture and exposed API of the Win32 kernel. This is evidenced not only by countless statements from Microsoft itself on the subject, but the difficulty and performance losses seen in porting DirectX to other kernels. Can DirectX run on other kernels? Yes. Does it run well? No.

Once again: Microsoft got what it wished from having a Windows kernel on the XBox. I don't believe they ever intended the Windows UI to reside there, nor do I believe it would have been a benefit for them to have it so.
 
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