Convergence: Microsoft, Mozilla, Nintendo and Sony Digg this entry Add this entry to del.icio.us bookmarks Add this entry to Slashdot bookmarks

If you're anything like me, you spend too much time in front of some sort of screen.

On weekdays I work as a web programmer for a medium-sized company. During nights I work on any number of my own half-baked projects. I usually relax in front of a television, playing video games or watching reruns of Law and Order. Even as I write this, Sarah and I are watching an episode of the X-Files.

So you can imagine my excitement at the idea that two major industries are going through significant shifts within the next 3 to 6 months. The console gaming industry is officially beginning a new generation with the releases of the Playstation3 (PS3) and the Nintendo Wii. The web browser industry, revived in part by the introduction and wide adoption of standards-friendly browsers, is also at a turning point. Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) and Mozilla Firefox 2 are both near completion, and scheduled for release very soon.

The New Console Gaming Era

The popularity of console gaming has exploded into a multi-billion dollar / year industry, and it's showing no signs of slowing down. It wasn't long ago that gaming was only considered a form of entertainment for children and teens. Its acceptance has successfully crossed all possible demographics, a fact which became increasingly obvious during the previous console generation. Realizing this, Nintendo and Sony are making bold moves in two completely different directions.

Sony's PS3 boasts improved graphics, sound, and speed, along with an extensive line-up of developers and titles. The new Sony console aims to compete directly with the XBox 360; the PS3 will have an advantage in hardware due to its high-definition Blu-ray DVD drive. Sony, by incorporating their Blu-ray technology, is hoping the widespread popularity of gaming as well as the existing customer base of PS2 owners will generate enough PS3 sales to establish Blu-ray as the standard HD DVD format. The risk? Sony is also hoping that we'll be willing to pay $500 to $600 (US) for a new system.

With the release of the Wii, Nintendo is attempting to push gaming beyond the sedentary. Their goal is to disrupt the market by creating a truly immersive experience for the user. The Wii-mote, Nintendo's redesigned controller, is meant to be moved; your movements in your living room will determine the movements of your on-screen character. They have announced full backward-compatibility with the Gamecube, and will introduce an iTunes-like service to download classic Nintendo, Sega, and Turbografx games for $5 to $10 (US) each. Nintendo has announced that the Wii system will cost $250 (US).

The Web Browser Redefinition

Web browsers, like video games, are used by a much wider demographic than they were in 2001. As a result of the deliberate acceptance of e-commerce and the exponentially increasing amount of available information on the web, the browser has become an industry of its own. Mozilla Firefox, a free, open-source browser, was among the first to turn a profit, thanks to its built-in search functionality. This paradigm has inspired many other browser makers to follow suit.

Firefox has successfully established itself as the secure, full-featured, standards-based alternative to IE. It has been downloaded over 200 million times since the official release in November 2004, and an estimated 10% of those who browse the web do so using Firefox. Firefox 2 is unofficially scheduled for release at the beginning of November 2006. It is to include a number of enhancements, including built-in phishing protection, session restore, and support for Javascript 1.7.

In a browser market dominated by IE for over five years, the growing Firefox user share was more than enough to get Microsoft's attention. It had become increasingly evident that IE6, fraught with critical security holes due to shotty or otherwise stagnant code, was ready for an upgrade. To help them compete with the transparency of Firefox's open-source model, Microsoft started IEBlog, an outlet for the IE7 developers to share their progress. They also unveiled an open, online bug reporting service, similar to Mozilla's Bugzilla. Now, after months of feedback, the IE7 team is nearly ready to release the finished product. It looks to be a major improvement with respect to security, and while the new IE will not be fully CSS 2.0 compliant, its W3C standards support is miles ahead of IE6. Microsoft may have waited too long to be considered an innovator in the browser market, but the direction they have taken in the development of IE7 is clearly a victory for web developers and standards enthusiasts.

The Threshold of Change

With the PS3 and the Wii, both scheduled for an autumn release, Sony and Nintendo represent deeply contrasting visions of where console gaming is headed. Microsoft, influenced by the successful development model of Firefox and other browsers, is almost ready to distribute their first browser upgrade after close to six years. Coincidentally, Mozilla's Firefox 2 is approaching completion, and should be available in November.

Please forgive me for being a little over-interested in the timing. Perhaps the coming revolution in console gaming is, in some cosmic way, an additional reward to the web development community for a job well-done. Maybe the end of the world really is near, and this is some odd sort of sign. However you look at it now, the next few months will be represented as a large mark on any technophile's timeline for a long while. And I can't wait to watch it all happen at once.


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