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Microsoft won't turn your Xbox One into a PC, it wants to turn your PC into an Xbox One

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Don't believe the hype

The value in launching a gaming console is the ability to control the things that are sold on that console. For a company like Microsoft, the value of the garden is directly proportional to the height of the wall around it.

Don't believe Microsoft when it says the company wants to turn your Xbox One into a PC, or even move towards that goal. The PC is at least ostensibly an open platform. You can buy your PC games anywhere.

You can buy your Xbox One games through Microsoft. That's it. The company will never put itself a situation where that changes. If they try to convince you that the Xbox One is becoming like a PC, ask them how soon you’ll be able to install Steam or buy Overwatch from Battle.net.

Microsoft would like to turn your PC into an Xbox, however

Microsoft’s Play Anywhere initiative exists to get you more comfortable using the Windows 10 store, and to get you used to the idea that games should only be coming from Microsoft. It's not a matter of making the Xbox One more open, it's a movement that's designed to get you used to the idea that your PC may become more closed.

"Games like the open-world, multiplayer driving simulation Forza Horizon 3 exist because gamers aren’t able to modify their games, providing level playing fields for all to enjoy," PC World reported. "Microsoft also promises that UWP apps won’t contribute to 'bit rot,"’ where the digital detritus of everyday use gradually slows your PC. The downside is that Microsoft controls everything, from selling additional character skins or additional story modes and content. And, of course, fan-made spinoffs or mods such as Counter-Strike will never happen with closed code."

Epic’s Tim Sweeney famously attacked Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform initiative, and the company’s attempts to lock down Windows as a platform. "If you’ve tried to change your Windows 10 search engine, web browser, or movie player, or to turn off their invasive new lock-screen ads, Windows search bar Bing spam, and invasive 'analytics",’ you know what I’m talking about," Sweeney wrote. "It’s a deliberately anti-customer experience: the options are there, but good luck finding them."

Sweeney has serious fears about the future of Windows, and the developers working in that ecosystem, as he told Polygon:

If and when UWP were to become a standard, he said, Microsoft could stop supporting the current Win32 standard and essentially cut competing online stores like GOG, Origin, Battle.net, Steam and Epic's own game launcher completely out of the picture.

"There is a story that ... if you try to throw a frog into boiling water it will jump right out, but if you put a frog into cold water and then slowly turn the temperature up, you can boil him, and it will never notice that the temperature of the water got too hot," Sweeney said. "The hope here is that we avoid boiling the frog by starting to think about this problem and deal with the problem very early on before it becomes so pervasive that Microsoft with its hundreds of billions of dollars of market value can't just steamroll everybody."

And Microsoft's increasingly heavy-handed strategy for dealing with users has been noticed by anyone putting off upgrading to Windows 10. At some point the company more or less seems to take away your choice, and stories about unplanned upgrades to the operating system leading to issues are many.

"I had plans to stop being an old dinosaur and upgrade to Windows 10 last week," Kotaku’s Patrick Klepek reported. "What I didn’t expect was to wake up on Thursday morning and find out Windows had taken care of that for me. Maybe I forgot to push back the upgrade schedule, maybe I accidentally scheduled it by clicking the wrong button. Whatever the case, I definitely did not intend to install Windows 10."

You still can’t launch your own game or storefront on the Xbox One without going through Microsoft.

I’m not upset that Microsoft is trying to get more people to game on its platforms, nor am I going to pout about being given a free PC game with the purchase of an Xbox One game. But I’m not fooling myself; Microsoft has done nothing here to make me think the Xbox One console will be more open. You still can’t launch your own game or storefront on the Xbox One without going through Microsoft.

"Notch wrote this Java game, stuck it on a website, put a Paypal link next to it, said 'Click here to download,' and now he's a billionaire," Microsoft’s Phil Spencer said last March, in response to Sweeney. "There aren't that many ecosystems out there where something like that can happen."

One ecosystem in which that couldn’t happen is the Xbox One, and in fact I've argued in the past for something I called "The Minecraft test," which simply asks if Minecraft could have taken off on your platform as it happened on the PC. And right now the Xbox One fails the Minecraft test even if, ironically, Microsoft purchased Minecraft after it became a worldwide phenomena that took place due to the openness of the PC as a platform.

Microsoft has no financial incentive to open the Xbox One in the same manner that gaming PCs have historically been open, and in fact they would lose money by doing so. The company does, on the other hand, have a powerful financial incentive to begin closing Windows 10 in the same way that the Xbox One is closed.

When Microsoft tells you that it wants to turn your Xbox One into a PC, it's hard not to hear that as an admission that they'd love to sell you new hardware every two years instead of every six. You can pay more for a better controller. Not everyone will have the same experience.

I’ve seen nothing in the past year to make me believe that the Xbox One will be as open as my gaming PC, but I have seen plenty to make me believe Microsoft would like to make my gaming PC as closed as the Xbox One.