Operating Systems on Consoles: A small history.

Because you were crying out for it, here’s a small article on the history of operating systems  in gaming and their dashboards. I know, HUZZAH!

There’s nothing like a good operating system, just ask Sheldon Cooper:

You see, an operating system is the heart of any user based device. It’s the central point in which the world the creators of said operating system has developed for the user to feel safe, feel at home. It isn’t there to frighten you or intimidate you, it wants to be your friend. Well, except for maybe Windows Vista. I don’t like it either.

In this particular article of unparalleled knowledge that only you and alone will ever read because, well quite frankly I’m not entirely sure anybody else would want too however, that’s just what I think. We’re going to be looking at the operating systems of the current players, following up from history to see where we are today in terms of ease of use and accessibility. It’s an interesting time to be looking at these particular systems, with the two big guns in the industry turning their hardware from dedicated gaming devices to full multimedia hubs where you can search the internet, watch the latest movies and television shows, in certain circumstances doing this with just the sound of your voice and the movement of your hand in the open air. Of course, the invention of motion control has had an enormous impact on modern operating systems, with the impact reaching a massive percentage of modern home consoles along with handheld devices, designed for touch and motion control. But of course, more on this later.

We’re going to look at the history of operating systems for consoles and see the true evolution of an essential part of modern day gaming. Could the consoles still survive in the modern day demand without throwing operating systems? With the constant need for ‘on demand’ media from the typical 2012 consumer, would consoles have even survived the last ten years without this? Imagine, if you will, a world without Xbox Live or the Playstation Network – not WiiWare, a world with WiiWare is a world without WiiWare-. With all the excitement of having everything streamed to your television with little to no effort on your part made to ensure it gets there, can you remember a time where downloads/add-ons weren’t an important aspect of gaming? If you’re as old as I am, fair reader, than you can indeed. A new generation though is expectant of normalities. To them, it’s considered blasphemous that an electrical device with a screen is not connected to the internet, allowing you to download, watch, listen, poke, tweet, bing, consume, consume CONSUME. What if consoles ignored this whole fad and stayed exclusive to games and nothing more? No downloadable titles, demos or content. No options to play any other media other than your games. No music streaming, no Facebook on your TV?? Can you imagine such a world? No..no NETFLIX?? *CRIES*, OK…*cough*, look, *pulls self together* without an operating system or GUI, (Gaming User Interface), consoles would have stayed in a state of simplicity, with no real reason to revolutionise themselves as full multimedia powerhouses. EVERYTHING that happens on your Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii is because of the operating system. If the Wii stayed offline and had the same ethics as an N64, just plug in and go, what would have happened to the industry? This, and many other things is the journey we’re going to take in this comprehensive look at the world of operating systems. I’ll do my best to make it fun and enlightening as well as educational, such is my dedication to humour and passing on the good word of our wonderful industry to those who seek word of its practises. You, humble reader, are the reason I compile these reports, for YOU. The outer body experience you are about to feel I take full responsibility for, I’m your guide. Your soother. Your hero.

Historically, operating systems for gaming are actually rather young, at least in their current form. But how young? Where did they come from? Where will they go?

Follow me into the world of operating systems, friend. We’ll share it together. This is without doubt the nerdiest article I’ve ever done. 

XBOX


The original Xbox dashboard was very simple, yet slightly futuristic. It only gave you the option to access your hard drive or card memory, Xbox Live and the console settings. The original Xbox dashboard was also the first to allow you to rip music onto the hard drive for use in games. The dashboard never changed throughout the consoles life.

The only addition to the dashboard throughout the consoles cycle was the addition of an Xbox Live bar, added once the service was finally available. It didn’t necessarily change the look of the dashboard, instead adding to the look many were already familiar with.

The Xbox 360 dashboard has gone through several variations over the course its life. Since 2007, there have been four different operating systems for the console, beginning with the original ‘blades’ style which was simple to navigate however many claimed it to be rather dull in design. The most recent of the dashboards has been designed to coreless with Windows new OS which they are spreading across all of their devices. It’s said to be primarily designed with Kinect users in mind.

While the original 360 dashboard had an option to play DVD’s and CD’s, the current dashboard has a veritable smorgasbord of multimedia options including Facebook, Twitter, Last.FM, YouTube, LoveFilm, Netflix, MuVu, Zune and  more. The current dashboard has came in line with the current trend of console dashboards by offering an enormous amount of content other than games, which – on the 360 dashboard at least – has been relegated to just another option rather than the main use for the console itself, possibly symbolising consoles are being considered less and less as exclusive game consoles and rather full multimedia hubs offering you everything at once.

PLAYSTATION

The Playstation 2 dashboard was naturally, very simple. With the options relegated to just ‘Browser’ and ‘System Configuration’, where you can modify clocks and dates etc, along with monitoring the use of memory within your memory cards. The interface is straightforward and simple to navigate, with gaming still front and centre.

If you look above, a big part of dashboards from this generation is 3D boxes which were used as a visual representation of the consoles power. A three dimensional reflective box was deemed somewhat revolutionary. Nintendo’s Gamecube took a similar approach.

The Playstation Xross Media Bar interface has become iconic in the world of gaming. Beginning life as the UI for Sony’s Playstation Portable, its success saw the Japanese firm carry it on to their next home console, to great success. With its simplicity and access to all media on a single screen, Sony will reportedly be keeping with this interface for their next home console, such is its popularity with users. The XMB has seen very little change over the consoles life, only adding features instead of design. The layout is very simple and effective. From left to right: Home, Settings, Photo, Music, Video, Game, Internet, Friends. Like the Xbox 360 dashboard, the gaming itself has been moved to the very end of the line, specifically last in the actual features, after photos, video and music – again signalling that hardware developers are moving away from consoles being gaming exclusive platforms. While it’s very unlikely the average consumer will purchase a Playstation 3 for its photo or video features, the fact Sony are making them easier available to the consumer before their gaming features  suggests the ‘multimedia’ aspects of the PS3 are being pushed centre stage over the gaming itself. Perhaps a response to their advertising slogan ‘gaming is just the beginning’.

NINTENDO

Released slap bang in the middle of the 3D gaming revolution, Nintendo’s fantastic but largely unpopular Gamecube dropped with its tiny discs and crazy controller. The dashboard itself was on its own in design, unparalleled in terms of usability. The 3D Cube which was featured heavily in the PS2 GUI is front and centre here.

With all the options available on the screen from the get go, it was as simple as pressing up, down, left or right to navigate to what you wanted. The memory card option in particular was extensive yet very simple to use. It became a standard of consoles of that generation.

Nintendo are known for their unique ideas, making sure each console they release has a killer USP to ensure they stand out from their competitors. With the reveal of their Wii remote, they needed a dashboard to fully expand its use. The Wii dashboard is now iconic in its simplicity, with a simple point to the screen enabling a hand  to navigate across the screen. A game CD option was placed in the top left corner, with the rest of the ‘tv’s  used for game downloads from the Virtual Console along with internet access channels and more, including news, weather and a Mii Creator. Simple and intuitive. Along with game and software options, the Wii gave you the option to find messages from other players via an Inbox. This would also include messages from Nintendo informing you of new downloads from the Virtual Console along with information on your play time of games. This would also be where Nintendo would send the beacon informing the userbase that an update is due. The Wii dashboard has stayed exactly the same throughout its life, save the addition of a digital clock in the bottom centre of the screen. The simplicity of the dashboard seemed enough for Nintendo, and didn’t want to overcomplicate things with constant updates and changes. The dashboard has now become iconic in gaming and some are assuming Nintendo will keep this design for the Wii U.

SMARTPHONE GAMING

What else is there that can be said about IOS? Apple has created the most unique looking phone navigation interface ever conceived, which has now been copied and redone countless times on other devices. Essentially spreading out a Mac OS taskbar, the Apple IOS has seen little evolvement over its history. But then, does it really need it? Found originally in the first iPhone, IOS has steadily grown to find a place in all of Apple’s handheld lines, namely also the iPod Touch and iPad. The one touch access to everything available was unique and easy, and made iPhone the best selling phone series in the world.

The Apple revolution within mobile devices forced many companies to clone the idea, however none were more successful than Android from Google, which is now the most used operating system on the planet, having been installed in over 20 lines of phones instead of just one. Rather than clone IOS, the Android interface is – in my opinion – a cleaner and more interesting visual OS, able to do many things IOS is now claiming to do first, long before it ever could. Android is here to stay, for a long time. Found most commonly now in Samsung and HTC phones, Android has moved onto tablet computers from each company, namely the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the HTC Flyer, both best sellers in their category. The Android interface is essentially less is more, allowing you to control exactly what you see on the screen at all times and what the GUI should look like. The customisable options within Android makes it more appealing proposition to phone experts, who claim the IOS is lacking in user enabled choices which would allow them to choose the look of their device, along with IOS users being stuck with apps they don’t want on the home page, something Android eliminates by giving the user complete control over how it looks. The only way is up for Android.

PC AND MAC

The ‘original OS’, Windows has revolutionised the world with its simplicity. Making a computers usability easy for everyone, Microsoft can lay claim to the fact that Windows is the most used operating system in the world, and will continue to advance for many years to come. As above, the next Windows is rumoured will share Xbox 360’s current OS interface, along with the current Android Windows smartphones. Windows, while constantly evolving, has always kept a similar look in terms of natural design. While more customisable now, the original look of icons on the desktop and a toolbar at the bottom of the screen has been a staple of the operating system since its inception.

Much like Windows, the Mac OS hasn’t seen too much of a revolution in its history, instead advancing the overall look and design to fit in with today’s more modern aesthetic. The Mac OS’ incredibly unique and simplistic design has won over many design heads, citing Mac OS as the greatest OS of all time given said simplicity which, while intimidating to begin with, it overtly more functional and straightforward than say, Windows. The Mac OS’ simply revolutionised modern computing and design. Apple are cited for starting the revolution of legal digital music download with iTunes, which started life on Mac OS. Since its inception, the ‘i’ moniker of Apple products has become a staple of their current line of handheld devices, all beginning with ideas from this operating system. The amazing bottom taskbar, which features more or less every single software installed on the hardware, available at a click of a button has began a trend in Apple products, with one touch access being a staple of their operating systems. With the rumoured Apple TV coming soon, it is rumoured that the interface will be a mix of the two operating systems, with the rounded squares of an ‘App’ with the instant access of the historic Mas OS taskbar.

There we have it folks, so what is the future of the operating system for each console? If we begin with Microsoft, I’m gonna put my entire wages on the keeping the Metro dashboard on the Xbox 720. The entire base of it is built around Kinect, and there is no chance they’re going to give that up anytime soon as it seems they’re the only company who truly believes in it. I’m sure we’ll see it refined and upgraded somehow but the aesthetics will stay the same. With each of their devices having the same visual appearance, the Xbox isn’t about to mess with that, is it? Plus, in my humble opinion, Metro rocks. It would be a shame to see it go so quickly, I’m pretty sure it’ll be with us for a fair while.

The same is perhaps true of Xross for the Playstation. While the PS Vita has taken on a life of its own with their OS – which is just nasty and needs PLENTY of work – its big brother hasn’t changed a bit since inception. Unless Sony is planning to ship 42 inch touchscreens with the Playstation 4, I’m gonna take a punt and say that the Xross will stick around too.

Nintendo? Who knows. As mentioned above there is talk the Wii U dash will have a similar appearance as the current Wii OS, which is fine. But with their tablet controller, will we see it being able to be controlled via the touchscreen instead of pointing towards the television? The Wii dash is ready made for a touchscreen, if you look at it from that perspective. I imagine Nintendo would have taken this on board and it’s almost a certainty those big rectangles with the rounded edges are going to be around for when we see Wii U – or whatever it ends up being called – appear later this year.

As for the phones and the computers, Apple clearly adore iOS and will constantly refine it, rather than change it all together. It’s iconic and works beauitfully, so why mess with it? The same goes for Mac OS, which is now a staple of modern production computers. The same will go for Windows, despite Microsoft messing with their dash to include Metro, albeit in a smaller capacity than completely taking over.

Android? Bring on Ice Cream Sandwich, that’s what I say. We’ll see how that goes down before we start picking apart this one. There is just too many different variations of Android for it to be truly unique. Until Android is settled everywhere, there’s no way of telling where it can go.

What are your favourite operating systems? If I haven’t bored you to tears just yet, get talking down below. It’s always fun to start discussions like this.

You stay classy, Thumb Culture Land.

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