The Dust Finally Settles: Next-Gen Xbox Will NOT Require Permanent Internet Connection

One of the most persistent and frustrating rumors about the upcoming Xbox from Microsoft is that the console would require an always-on Internet connection to play games. Such a move would severely damage the used games market for the Xbox 720 / Durango, and would prevent users with spotty connections or limited service from taking full advantage of the console.

According to a leaked internal email sent to Ars Technica, the official word is that Durango categorically will NOT take this route. From that email:
There are a number of scenarios that our users expect to work without an Internet connection, and those should 'just work' regardless of their current connection status. Those include, but are not limited to: playing a Blu-ray disc, watching live TV, and yes playing a single player game.
As Ars notes, it's possible that Microsoft could implement a system that requires gamers to authenticate titles online (but not remain online post-installation), or the company could insist on periodic online checks to confirm authenticity. It's also possible that MS will implement a flexible system that puts final control in the hands of publishers when it comes to how restrictive titles are and what hoops customers are forced to jump through.
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The Bigger Question:

Here's the larger concern:  Why are we hearing about this strictly through a leaked email?

I don't say that to harp on Microsoft. It's been obvious for months that consumers were very concerned about the always-on rumors. The company has refused to comment directly. Even now, we're hearing this information via trusted leak rather than official statement. It's fair to say that MS might have still been drawing up its policy, and waiting to confirm it until the plans were firmly made, but there are plenty of other areas where Microsoft has dropped the communication ball in recent months.

Last year, news that Windows 8 would focus on Javascript, HTML5, and XML for app development caused shockwaves through the industry. It took the company quite awhile to clarify what it meant by these changes. Early this year, Microsoft announced that XNA wouldn't be supported going forward and that the DirectX MVP program was being shut down. A few weeks back, AMD's Vice President of Graphics, Roy Taylor, stated "Soweit wir wissen gibt es keine Pläne für DirectX 12." Translated, that means: "As far as we know / have been told there are no plans for DirectX 12."

Microsoft came back with "We have no intention of stopping innovation with DirectX," which isn't actually a refutation of Taylor's point. We've heard other rumors that DirectX will be rolled into a standard Windows technology and will continue to be updated, but not as a standalone component. That would square with both statements, but it's a major policy shift that again, hasn't been clearly articulated.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's Windows 8 plans continue to be vague. Steven Sinofsky was the God of Windows development until the company fired him weeks after product launch. Now there's talk that Windows Blue will return the Start button (but not the Start Menu). Maybe there's a Metro File Manager. Maybe not. Maybe Windows RT is about to get the axe -- or it isn't. Microsoft's communication is increasingly spotty these days, and the confusion over the Xbox Durango's always-on status is just one sign of the larger problem.