During a meeting organized by Microsoft, the DirectX team, which had worked in secret on what could be a game console made by the Redmond firm, took the opportunity to present a PowerPoint revealing the Xbox project. Unfortunately for those who call themselves “the renegades”, They discover during this meeting that other people in the company are developing other ideas. Imposing the Xbox will not be as easy as expected: it will first be necessary to fight internally to impose the project. After many adventures, the DirectX team is in charge of this adventure. The problem is, the Xbox was sold to Bill Gates as a Windows-based game console. Unfortunately, engineers quickly realize that it doesn’t need such a complex operating system to make a console.. Worse, the different segments of Microsoft (Excel, Word) want to offer their software on the machine, because they think that people want to read their documents on their TV. “We needed the lines of code from these groups, so we had to be nice to them”Remembers Jeff Henshaw, software designer from 1990 to 1999.
The people working on the Xbox Project don’t want to use Windows, but rather Windows NT, a lite version of the operating system. But the Windows team guard it jealously. One night, people at Xbox steal Windows NT three weeks before Windows released a major version. This edition torn from the server room was then modified, hacked, 100% thought for the game. “It was becoming clear that what we were going to do was not what Bill and Steve thought they approved of.”Said Robbie Bach, the head of the Xbox project at the time.
A month before GDC 2000, the project team was convened by Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer on February 14. This meeting is known as “valentine’s day massacre”. This is the last briefing to definitely approve or reject the Xbox project. And the future creators of the console know they are going to have to tell Bill Gates that the machine will not run on Windows. The meeting is supposed to last 30 minutes in the late afternoon. Rick Thompson, Ed Fries, Jay Allard and Robbie Bach are gathered in a room where Steve Ballmer (the CEO) and other people from Microsoft are. Bill Gates arrives 15 minutes late. He throws the PowerPoint presentation prepared by the fine DirectX team on the table and shouts: “it’s a fucking insult to everything I’ve done for the company. Why are you trying to kill Windows?”He blurted out. “You lied to me, you took me for a fool”He insists. Ed Fries (Microsoft’s gaming man) tries to make Bill listen to reason, but is immediately interrupted. Bill Gates can’t stop screaming, Jay Allard and Robbie Bach can’t place one. As for Ballmer, he is content to demonstrate how financially unstable the project is. The meeting drags on. That evening, the soldiers of the Xbox team will not have dinner with their wives for Valentine’s Day. Bill Gates doesn’t like the idea of letting Sony control the living rooms, but the Xbox is the antithesis of what Microsoft is. The idea is to know what is more offensive to the group between letting Sony do what it wants or developing a console that does not live up to its initial promises. Bill Gates thinks about it and finally gives the green light : “I think we should do it”. And Ballmer in turn nods, almost miraculously. “We will give you what you want, we really want you to succeed in this project”They repeat. “And this part of the meeting only took 5 minutes” having fun Ed Fries. Microsoft ultimately grants $ 1 billion to finance the project.
Power On: The Story of the Xbox is available in full via here.