Brief Thoughts on the NXE

Microsoft saw fit to unleash their NXE acronym, which I assume stands for “New XBox Experience,” upon the masses today. This major XBox 360 OS update, which completely revamps the system navigation and appearance, adds a few welcome features, and one that no one was clamoring for: avatars. After minutes of using it I have to say: “I want my old experience™ back.”

The old system wasn’t perfect, it had a lot of flaws with organization (especially in the online marketplace, which was basically a list of all game releases for the last three years — not easy to navigate,) but it was quick, unobtrusive and it put the information that you wanted into the forefront. When I booted up the old system, I’d get the XBox 360 boot animation, a quick login and, just like that, a list of my which of my friends are online and what they were playing. This is, after all, a games console and its primary function, despite Microsoft’s desire for a media centre in the living room, is to play games. Seeing what other people were playing, right off the bat, in a simple readable format encouraged that.

The new system obscures that. “My Friends” is, by default, a few navigation items away from what you boot in and when you do get there you have a horizontal scrolling, visual representation of your friends in the form of avatars with little gamey backgrounds and a small icon representing what they’re playing. An icon that, at its size, is far less useful than a text description (especially for games you might not be familiar with.) Worst of all, there’s only room for one friend at a time so if you have six friends online you have to scroll to the right six times (and it’s slow) to see what everyone is playing. Before, you’d get a list and see it all. It was far more useful.

The system looks quite nice and is full of pleasant little touches and animations, but that doesn’t make it usable. If anything, and anyone that has worked on the web can tell you, all these animations and doohickeys make the interface feel more sluggish than before. Rather than improving on their original system, which was rather original and iconic, they’ve put on some beer glasses and prettied the thing up without thinking about how and why people were already using it1. It comes across as though the system is designed for some potential new user that might or might not ever exist. All of this at the expense of its current userbase. So, in many ways, this is a typical Microsoft update.

It’s not the bubbly buttons and genie effects that make OSX better to use than Windows and it’s not the “Mii” avatars2 that make the Wii sell at a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio to the XBox 360. Microsoft would make good products if they focused on what they have rather than on what they don’t and what their competitors do. It’s why I still use XP. It’s why I bought a MacBook. It’s why I want my old XBox 360 blades back.

  1. I do like the new guide button since it provides everything I need in a nice, easily accessible interface. The whole system should be designed like this.
  2. The Miis might be more cartoony and simple, but they’re far more customizable because of it. I can create a Mii that’s a better representation of myself than any XBox 360 avatar. This is why I created a white pale, bald dude in a white suit. And it seems as though I’m not the only one: I’ve already seen two friends with almost identical avatars. Mine is distinguished by the monocle. How is this useful again?
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