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Xbox chief vows no "blue screen of death"

Microsoft's Xbox technology officer makes promises and debunks rumors about the upcoming console at the Game Developers Conference.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Microsoft's upcoming Xbox game console will not freeze your TV screen with the "blue screen of death" error message feared by nearly all PC owners who use the Windows operating system.

Seamus Blackley, Xbox technology officer at Microsoft, made that pledge and debunked rumors during a keynote speech Friday at the Game Developers Conference here. Beyond that, however, the man who helped originate the Xbox concept was remarkably short on specifics as he gave game developers a status report on the software giant's high-profile plunge outside the PC business.

Microsoft marketing pros had forbidden him from showing any new game demos or revealing specifics such as price and release date, Blackley said. Those goodies are being saved for the Tokyo Game Show next week and the Electronic Entertainment Expo in May.

Blackley was equally cautious at times in an interview with CNET, hinting at plans for broadband Xbox content that might contradict previous reports that there will be no online content for the Xbox when it launches. But Blackley maintained he was forbidden to release details before the Tokyo event.

"I'm not disappointed with our broadband plans at all, and that's about all I can say right now," he said.

Despite Microsoft's reputation for pushing back release schedules, Blackley said in his speech that Xbox is on target to hit the market this fall, as Microsoft has promised since the product was announced. "We are on track for fall 2001 launch," he said. "We really are. Really."

The Xbox software is 95 percent complete, he said, and factories are working around the clock to stamp out Xbox components to be assembled by contract manufacturer Flextronics.

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Developing games for Xbox
Seamus Blackley, Xbox technology officer, Microsoft
"Building a console is really, really hard," he said of the manufacturing process, noting that nobody at Microsoft made fun of Sony for its PlayStation 2 shortage. "It's very easy to screw it up."

There will be 12 to 20 software titles ready when Xbox launches, Blackley added, exhorting software creators to keep up their hard work. "Those of you working on launch titles, get out of here," he said. "Don't make me look bad."

Blackley spent much of his talk crediting developers for the final form of the Xbox, saying Microsoft's top priority has been to give them what they need to make great games.

"As a consumer, you don't care about the box; you care about what it draws on your TV," he elaborated in the interview. "You make the box for the game developers, and they make it fun for the gamers."

Blackley also tried to bat down speculation surrounding the Xbox, especially reports that the console has found little support among publishers and developers in the crucial Japanese game market. Xbox will be the first major console made by a non-Japanese manufacturer since the failure of the 3DO system nearly a decade ago.

"We have a lot of companies in Japan working on games," Blackley asserted in his speech, noting that Microsoft has a separate Xbox division for the Japanese market. "They know what they're doing."

Much of the problem is perception, Blackley said later in the interview, noting that Japanese developers typically are secretive about specific plans, while Microsoft has been more aggressive in revealing information about upcoming U.S. software.

"There's a lot of great Xbox work happening in Japan; people just don't know about it," he said.

Blackley also shared some of the wilder rumors surrounding the console, including an e-mail he received speculating that the glowing green "X" logo on the console conceals a camera that will secretly record the activities of users and transmit the images to Microsoft to guide future development.

"I forwarded it to research," he said with a poker face. "Sounds good to me."