The most significant improvement that Xbox One brings with it is something gamers may never really notice: The operating system.
Speaking to Polygon, Ben Kilgore, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business and one of the chief architects for the new console, said the console's new hardware and software architecture is the main thing that makes this new Xbox better than the 360.
"It is a combination of hardware and software," he said. "I think the most magical thing that we have done that is going to give us a platform of innovation in the next decade is the architecture. We have multiple operating systems that are able to co-exist to allow game developers ... to get exclusive access to a bunch of resources."
The Xbox One runs on three distinct operating systems. One powers the games, another, the kernel of Windows 8, powers the apps and a third, always-on operating system, connects the two.
This system allows Microsoft to essentially partition those non-gaming apps like Skype, Internet Explorer and movie and music players off from the resources used to power the gaming operating system.
"So basically when you look at all of the dashboarding samples that were shown today, the Internet Explorer or Skype, all those things run in that operating system," he said. "They are basically partitioned from the game, so that's how the game is guaranteed to have a great performance so even if you are doing a Skype call or snapping IE on the side or watching Netflix."
Microsoft's Phil Harrison added that the significance of this design is that game developers will always have an "absolute guarantee of performance."
That's achieved through hardware architecture that gives the game operating system a "fixed reservation" of CPU power, Harrison said. The same is true for Kinect.
"We have special processors for Kinect that enables a bunch of really cool things like part of what you saw today, when Youssef was like in internet explorer and said 'Go to home' or 'Go to ESPN'," Kilgore said. "He also said 'Go to Halo' and when he was in Halo he could have gone somewhere else. So the system is always listening, kind of outside of the game, which is really different from the 360 model, once you get into the game, it's really only the game code that is running. So we can extend all that in our system versus it being tied up in the game code."
That trio of operating systems is how Microsoft was able to include a single universal command in the Xbox One, "Xbox pause," which will pause the action no matter what you're doing, be it playing a game, watching a movie, or Skyping.
It's also why the Xbox One includes a new saved game architecture, one that allows you to stop playing a game whenever you want and simply save where you are until you're ready to resume, even if you turn off the console.
"So when you are gaming and your phone rings, and you want to answer it but you don't want to worry about losing progress in your game," Kilgore said.
Kilgore and Harrison likened the operating system as something more akin to smartphones in the way it handles multiple applications, pausing and saving. The Xbox One is a console designed to work around your schedule, instead of forcing gamers to work around the save points of a game developer.
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