May 20, 2005 10:00 AM PDT

Week in review: Playing for keeps

This year's Electronic Entertainment Expo could have been dubbed the Battle of the Boxes, as game console makers competed to show why their next-generation machines will be the next must-have.

Sony kicked off the E3 expo in Los Angeles by releasing eagerly anticipated details about its upcoming PlayStation 3 and said the console will reach shelves in spring 2006.

Boasting a new chip touted as powerful enough to rival most processors in personal computers on the market today, the new console is designed to be a step forward from today's game machines, as well as a key element of a broader networked home-entertainment system. The new console will support high-definition graphics and have wireless controllers, a detachable 2.5-inch hard drive, slots for CompactFlash and Sony's Memory Stick media, and a built-in Wi-Fi connection that can link to the PlayStation Portable.

Meanwhile, Nintendo, once the unrivaled king of the home video game business, released details of its planned new game console and unveiled a new portable device called the Game Boy Micro. The tiny game player, smaller than an iPod Mini, is aimed at a generation of game players increasingly accustomed to filling their pockets with tiny cell phones loaded with games--something that's nearly impossible to do with the larger and more powerful PlayStation Portable.

As for the new Nintendo game console, it's still known by its code name, "Revolution." It will be significantly smaller than rival machines--about the size of several stacked DVD cases--and will come in several as-yet-undetermined colors.

The Revolution will play DVDs, have built-in Wi-Fi and an SD memory card slot, and 512MB of flash memory. Executives said Nintendo will offer a free online gaming service, which may accelerate the move of console gaming to the Net.

Nintendo Revolution

Microsoft, which got a jump on the competition by unveiling its Xbox 360 a week before E3, announced that more than 160 games are on the way for the Xbox 360, with up to 40--including best-seller "Final Fantasy XI"--expected to be available by year's end.

Company representatives also announced a partnership with Square Enix, the Japanese distributor of the "Final Fantasy" series, which has sold more than 60 million copies worldwide.

Broad game support and popular titles are significant for any console. A console, after all, gets all the more appealing when more games can be played on it. Microsoft learned this the hard way, analysts have said, because it was late to market with its first-generation Xbox console and thus unable to build up broad title support.

To learn details about some of the hottest new games coming for the Xbox 360, one might want to track down the nearest Fortune 500 CEO. That's because Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates showed off a montage of new game demos as part of his exclusive yearly gathering of chief executives in Redmond, Wash. However, during that part of his keynote speech, the video feed being shown to a handful of reporters abruptly halted. For several minutes, all that was shown was a security disclaimer.

Coming attractions
In addition to a look at what games Xbox 360 players can expect, Microsoft also offered a peek at its next Office productivity suite.

While the company is still not discussing specifics on most of the features it will add with Office 12, it is promising to have the productivity software suite ready by the second half of next year. The company is also talking about some broad areas that it sees as ripe for improvement, including enhanced collaboration. Among the other key areas are individual productivity, finding business information and managing corporate business documents.

To handle an expected explosion in e-mail traffic, as well as the rise of instant messaging and other forms of electronic communication, Microsoft is trying to develop software that can do a better job of sorting out the really important messages.

As part of its attempt to let workers better make sense of ever-growing amounts of data, the company is adding into Excel the ability to create dashboards and scorecards that offer a quick way to visually keep track of just how a business is doing.

Microsoft has also confirmed that its upcoming version of Internet Explorer will include tabbed browsing, a feature made popular by competitors Opera Software and Firefox. But in a Microsoft blog, IE's product unit manager told consumers not to expect too much from tabbed browsing in IE's beta offering.

"The tabbed browsing experience in the upcoming IE 7 beta is pretty basic," he said. "The main goal for tabs in our beta release is to make

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