In fact, Microsoft has spent considerable effort turning its Xbox 360 gaming platform into a well-integrated ecosystem, although it's still a work in progress. You can connect from a Windows 8 device to your Xbox 360, and see your gaming history, download games to the Xbox 360, customize your Xbox Live profile and avatar and more. And there's a free Windows 8 and Windows Phone SmartGlass app you can download that works as a remote control for the Xbox 360. It also displays information about what you're playing or watching on your phone or Windows 8 device. However, you can't actually play the games on the Windows 8 device or Windows Phone. Instead, the game will play on your TV, as you normally do with the Xbox 360.
All that is just a prelude to Microsoft's plans for the next generation of the Xbox, called Xbox One. Microsoft's goal is no less than using the Xbox to be the centerpiece of nearly the entire entertainment ecosystem in people's homes. The Xbox One's new architecture is a combination of Xbox and the Windows kernel, and it has a new, faster processor, a Blu-ray Disc drive, 500GB hard-disk drive and Wi-Fi Direct.
It will control your television set and cable TV, and is designed to move easily between gaming and TV watching. It will run Hulu, Netflix and other streaming video services; will play CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs; will come complete with Kinect (see explanation in the next paragraph), and will work with Windows 8 devices such as tablets and smartphones. These new capabilities come with a price tag to match: The Xbox One is expected to ship in November, and will sell for $500 (compared to $200 for the existing Xbox).
Microsoft has other gaming resources outside of the Xbox. Kinect lets you play games on the Xbox without a controller -- sensors let you control and play games using your hands, body and voice. Windows is itself a big game platform. And Windows Phone also offers gaming, although because its app ecosystem isn't as rich as for iOS or Android, you'll find fewer games available for it than for its competitors.
The company has also a number of game software megahits, notably the Age of Empires, and especially the Halo series.
After Apple almost single-handedly created the digital music market with iTunes, the world of selling digital music was stable for years: There was iTunes -- and then there was everyone else.
But times have changed and the digital music world is in flux. iTunes was built on selling digital downloads, which in a sense copied the physical world of retailing. You paid money to buy something and then it was yours, with certain limitations due to DRM.
Today, though, music services led by Pandora and Spotify have shown that streaming, not digital ownership, is likely the future of music, and each big ecosystem has taken a different tack in this arena. Read on to see how they compare.