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Microsoft's latest Xbox Dash update reaffirms the console's OS as the best in the business - but it's not good enough

One of the strongest and most predictable reactions among the Internet's chattering classes is resistance to change. No matter who's responsible for the change - whether it's Google, Facebook, Apple, the BBC, Twitter - the reaction is always the same. Change is bad. The comfort of the familiar, even if it's only a familiar website and a few familiar buttons, is good. The few seconds that could be spent learning a new layout and new functionality is more cathartic when spent complaining instead.

The problem with this knee-jerk reaction is that in its loudness, its vehemence and its ultimate meaninglessness, it obscures genuine feedback and dulls the impact of genuinely considered criticism. When everyone in the world is shouting "I hate it!" for little reason other than an ingrained dislike of change, it's hard for the guy saying "no seriously chaps, this aspect of the functionality needs a rethink" to make his voice heard. As with most feedback systems on the internet, the challenge of sorting signal from noise is almost insurmountable.

In this specific instance, of course, I'm thinking of Microsoft's most recent visual and functional overhaul of the Xbox Dashboard. This major update brought with it a new interface based broadly on the conventions of the "Metro" interface which will debut in Windows 8 in about a year's time, along with support for dashboard "apps" such as video service Lovefilm and a reorganisation of the system's content marketplace.

Compared to the complex and intelligent product discovery and promotion systems used by the likes of Amazon, Xbox Marketplace is nothing short of primitive

You could, of course, guess the reaction from fifty paces away. Change is bad. Most of the accusations levelled loudly and often at the new Dash are rather unfair, as you'd expect. It's accused, for instance, of burying videogames in favour of video, music and social network content, for example. While the "games" page is a few clicks away from the home location of the Dash, this rather ignores the fact that the two most-used options, namely to play the game presently in the drive and to access your games library, are the first two buttons you can access on the interface. Contrary to the tone of the backlash, Microsoft does still know it's still selling games consoles.

More pertinent but also arguably over-egged is the criticism regarding the reorganisation of the marketplace. This criticism has been most pointed, and most warranted, by developers involved in the Xbox Live Arcade market, who feel that the reorganisation has militated against the prominence of their listings on the system and will have a negative impact on their business.

I'm not sure I agree, although it'll be impossible to tell what the reality is until the figures start to filter through over the coming months. What's happened in this update is a gradual blurring of the lines between full-price Xbox titles and Arcade titles on Marketplace. On the surface, it seems like Arcade has been buried - personally, I think it's more significant that Arcade titles are now listed shoulder to shoulder with full price titles rather than being ghettoised. Time will tell, although one aspect is almost certain, which is that the gap between successful, heavily promoted games and less successful niche titles is going to grow as a consequence of these changes.

One definite loser in the whole affair is Xbox Live Indie Games, but it's not entirely surprising that Microsoft isn't keen to put that front and centre on its console. XBLIG has never been anything more than a half-measure, a case of Microsoft nodding in the direction of the power and flexibility of the App Store business model while simultaneously winking at its partners who are bound up in the more traditional console business model.

A low price ceiling on XBLIG, combined with an unwillingness on Microsoft's part to expend the effort required to either sustain a minimum quality bar or create tools that allow the best content to effectively self-promote through the system, means that the service is a bit of a mess - its content generally low-rent and uninteresting enough to be a bit embarrassing, frankly. It's unlikely Microsoft wants new Xbox owners to find themselves browsing through the reams of dreadful Avatar games and their ilk which populate XBLIG, and should surprise nobody that the new Dash update buries the service further.

Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.
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