Xbox 360 Thoughts from an Open Source Guy


I know!  I know!  How could I, an Open Source guy, send my money to Microsoft by purchasing an Xbox?  Well, when my family is concerned, I need to consider them when purchasing tech. My son wanted an Xbox, so Santa got him one this year — no matter what Dad thinks.

So, here are my thoughts about the Xbox system as a whole, from the perspective of an open source guy.

Updates Updates Updates

I swear my son was about ready to bust when it took HOURS to get the updates installed.  It’s not that there were so many, it’s that we are currently in Tennessee for the holidays. My Mom and Dad have DSL, but it’s not anywhere CLOSE to as fast as my home connection which is 20 MBps  download speed.  If you want an Xbox or have any ideas of using streaming services, you WILL need a faster connection than the base DSL connection many providers give you for that low price.  If you do not have a High Speed Internet connection, make sure you go at least one step up from the base level if you add an Xbox system. It will make everyone much happier!

Considering that this is a NEW Xbox 360, in my opinion it should have shipped with the latest firmware.  I know that is nearly impossible with the lead times needed for Christmas, but Microsoft should do a better job of keeping the software updates to a minimum during the holiday season.  For all I know, they could be doing just that, but it’s not a great out-of-the-box experience when you plug in a system and it immediately needs an update.  I will give them a slight pass on this, as I know this is something not many companies have gotten right lately, and of course there is a chance that the Xbox 360 I bought could have been sitting on the shelf for months before I bought it.

Complications and Typing with a D-Pad Sucks

After all the updates, I needed to set the rest of the system up including the free month of Xbox Live Gold.  The first frustration was typing with a D-pad … wow.  That sucked.  Unfortunately, until the Xbox is set up with its Live connection and connected to the network, you cannot use the Xbox Smartglass Android App which is simply amazing for one reason: I can use my phone’s keyboard to enter the password.

After Xbox Live Gold was set up, I added Netflix and more to it.  Most apps followed the same kind of scheme that Netflix did, but some did not.  There was no real standard way of setting these up.  Some required you to have another computer to enter an activation code, and while that saved you from entering a password via a D-pad or some other method, it still required something else.  Thank goodness it all worked fine using my laptop (running LinuxMint), but this really left a bad impression on my Mom and Dad.  They said it seemed really complicated watching me set it up, and they are right; the set up experience could have been much better.

Xbox Live Gold Required for ANY Media Service?

I kind of already knew this, but REALLY?  This is something Microsoft needs to fix in the next iteration.  I ALREADY pay Netflix and others for their services, but now I have to give Microsoft some money too?  Really?  I’ll stick to my Roku 2 for streaming.  I will probably continue to have Xbox Live Gold for other reasons, but this is just dumb.

The Technology

The system itself still impresses me for the moment.  That’s probably why it hasn’t been replaced just yet.  The games are beautiful even on my 720p TV.  While the system itself is still pretty nice, the Kinect is the single most innovative piece of tech in the Xbox 360 universe.  The setup of the Kinect was easy and controlling games with your body is pretty cool.  I even raced a car using the Kinect in Forza Motorsports 4, and while I still prefer using the game pad on that game, I enjoyed driving the car by holding my hands up like I was driving.  Plus you can also have it track your head in the game, so while you drive with the D-pad, your driver’s head bops along with yours which is pretty cool.  The tracking of your body and hands was excellent.  While it’s not perfect, it’s really close, and it’s a blast when compared to playing motion-based games with a controller in your hand.

The Games

We only have 3 games at the moment, but wow….this is why I bought the Xbox 360.  The one I have that impressed me the most and caused me to lose the most sleep is Skyrim.  Skyrim is like a book and a game all at once.  The story is compelling and the action is addicting.  Which means this is a game I will NEVER play during the week! 🙂

I also have Forza Motorsports 4, and Kinect Adventures, and they are both fun in their own right.  Of the other two, the Forza Motorsports was the most fun for me.  Kinect Adventures is more fun for my son than myself for the moment.  My next game purchase will likely be one that includes bowling, as my son is a NUT about bowling. He is starting to get good at the real life game of bowling, having recently bowled his first 200 game in open bowling (so it doesn’t count towards an award … unfortunately).


While I would love it if someone brought out a completely open game system based on Linux or some other open operating system, the reality is that it’s not very likely to get the attention of the big game development houses.  Steam on Linux could change this, but it’s still a closed source system running on top of an open source OS.

The problem, right or wrong, is that Linux systems are perceived as piracy havens; I and other Linux users know that this is incorrect.  Linux users DO want to support games on Linux — one needs to look no further than the Humble Indie Bundles.  Linux users have regularly paid higher levels than a typical Windows or Mac user would in the Indie Bundle series, which goes to prove that Linux users aren’t the freeloaders that many think they are.  They WILL support developers, if the product is good; the Indie Bundles have been good.

From the standpoint of technology, the Xbox 360 is definitely a great system.  However, I think that they have a long way to go to make it easier to use and set up.  It was easy for me, a geek, to set up, but other perspective buyers will likely find it to be a bit much.  Kids should find no issues with it either, but there’s a reason grandparents loved the Wii and love the iPad — the reason is simplicity.

The winner of the next generation of game systems will be the one that can keep gaming fun while integrating the media features that the Xbox 360 and PS3 have, while keeping the system easy to use.  The first next-gen system has been launched with the Wii U.  Will it be able to beat out what Microsoft and Sony have in the wings?  Only time will tell.

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About the Author

Joel McLaughlin
Joel is a consultant in the IT field and is located in Columbus, OH. While he loves Linux and tends to use it more than anything else, he will stoop to running closed source if it is the best tool for the job. His techno passions are Linux, Android, netbooks, GPS, podcasting and Amateur Radio.

2 Comments on "Xbox 360 Thoughts from an Open Source Guy"

  1. One other major annoyance I encountered this season is the DRM implementation. I don’t know if it’s Microsoft or EA but when I upgraded my 4GB Xbox 360 to a 250GB (using their overpriced transfer cable) and ran EA’s Kingdoms of Amalur I found that the old downloadable content only works for the account that downloaded it on the old Xbox. Not only that, but all my account’s saves are unusable because they can’t access the DRMed content. Aargh!

    P.S. If you like Skyrim, try Oblivion – more complicated but with a better story.

  2. As for XBOX Live Gold, I agree – but I think that the rationale is that for most folks the other stuff is secondary to the gaming, so they already have it for multiplayer matchmaking, and adding Netflix, etc is just a bonus.

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