Ever since Microsoft announced that its Xbox One would have some sort of unspecified cloud streaming capability that would allow it to offload game processing into the cloud, speculation has run rampant over precisely what that capability would look like, or what form it would take. The announcement of yet another cloud streaming project at the company has partially answered the question: Microsoft still isn't sure.
According to a new job posting, Microsoft is looking for a "self-motivated, driven, collaborative, and flexible" candidate to seek "the simplest and most elegant" solutions to difficult problems while working on what the company acknowledges is a "v1" product. In Microsoft parlance, this implies no one should consider buying in until Version 3.0.
Mary Jo Foley has some additional commentary on the situation over at ZDNet, where she describes this new project, codenamed Arcadia, as a cloud streaming platform that's supposed to drive both gaming solutions (a la Sony's PlayStation Now) as well as possible opportunities to run non-Windows products on Windows Phone platforms. Wisely, the team appears to have put this particular notion on hold, though it still lists iOS and Android experience as positive factors for a potential candidate.
Running non-Windows Phone Software On Windows Phone? Terrible Idea
Here's the problem with the idea of running non-Windows software on a Windows device: this type of software or hardware compatibility never, ever achieves the goal of pulling users back to the initial device manufacturer. Ask IBM, with its "A Better Windows Than Windows" campaign around OS/2. Look to the various CPUs that attempted to emulate x86 instruction capability in either hardware or software.
Streaming another company's software to your platform never really helps the company doing the streaming. It may provide a sliver of compatibility for developers or die-hard users, but it introduces UI oddities and disparities in design philosophy. Much of the backlash over Windows 8 centered around the fact that the two halves of the operating system have entirely different UI layouts -- a problem that would continue to exist in any streamed software from iOS or Android.
On the other hand, Microsoft does have a potential cross-platform business that could benefit tremendously from game streaming -- the Xbox / Windows split. Exactly how this would work would depend a great deal on how Microsoft wants to leverage each set of assets, but imagine if it was possible to stream certain Office capabilities or software suites to an Xbox provided you owned the appropriate Windows license. Or, alternately, stream Xbox One games to a PC provided you had an appropriate Xbox Live account and a compatible wireless controller?
This could be a killer app for Windows just waiting to be discovered. Obviously for now, Microsoft would likely tie streaming to the Xbox One hardware itself, but the ability to stream games while on a laptop or traveling across the country would be a huge boost for the platform. This could be the killer feature that blows Sony's PS Vita Remote Play option out of the water.
The expected timeline for such developments, however, is still years in the future (Foley suspects a post-Windows 10 development cycle) and Microsoft could still ruin the pie by attempting to tie it too onerous subscription services or similar measures.
Still, the company has a massive consumer gaming business in consoles and a presence on PC hardware that still dwarfs anything Sony or Nintendo could claim outside of core gaming peripherals. It would be nice to see that expertise used in a way that leveraged the strength of both assets.