For many years, Microsoft's profits from Office and Windows have allowed the company to invest in new markets, such as gaming, at an early- stage ROI that would make most VCs queasy. The Xbox-driven Project Natal may now return the favor and help Microsoft Office outpace its competition -- an unexpected, but pleasant, quid pro quo.
I'm referring in particular to the open source office productivity movement, specifically OpenOffice.org, which could find itself at a competitive disadvantage if Microsoft can execute with Project Natal in the enterprise and OpenOffice.org doesn't change its current course and speed.
[ Also on InfoWorld: "OpenOffice.org considers an Office 2007 ribbon user interface" | Keep up with the latest open source news with InfoWorld's open source newsletter and topic center. ]
Microsoft describes Project Natal as "a revolutionary new way to play: no controller required. See a ball? Kick it, hit it, trap it or catch it. If you know how to move your hands, shake your hips or speak you and your friends can jump into the fun -- the only experience needed is life experience."
While Project Natal sounds like the real deal for gamers, the technology has applications within the home, and more importantly, in the office. Ina Fried writes that "at last week's analyst meeting, Bach and Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer, also outlined the broad appeal of being able to interact more directly with computer interfaces. After Bach tried his hand at some Natal gaming, Mundie offered a demonstration of how gesture recognition might function in a work setting, saying that the desktop PC of the future could in fact encompass the entire office."
Project Natal is clearly Microsoft's response to Nintendo's Wii. Without a doubt, the Wii has forced the gaming industry to rethink the gaming user experience. The Wii has pushed competitors, including Microsoft, to -- pardon the pun -- raise their game. End-users have obviously benefited from simpler and more fun user experiences.