AT LARGE: Oh yeah?

Currently just under six feet tall, Matthew JC. Powell announces he will soon expand.

One of the more mischievous things computer journos do in interviews is ask questions of company executives about rumours and unannounced products. It's rare that you actually get any useful information from such a question - the career risk is more than most company types are prepared to take. Mostly, the question is asked because the interview is a little boring and the interviewer wants to have some fun. It's amusing watching company spokespersons and PR people squirming about and trying to find new ways of saying "we don't comment on unreleased products".

I'm intrigued, therefore, when I see companies exchanging salvos on the basis of unreleased and unavailable products. Where's the fun in that?

Just last week I wrote about Microsoft's entry into the console market with X-Box. I said I could understand developers being excited about the specs of the machine and the opportunities Bill Gates was offering them, but what was puzzling me was the nature of his game. With a week to think further on it, I have to admit I'm further puzzled by the mere fact that so much is known about X-Box so far out from even Microsoft's estimate of its release date. I suppose Bill reckons his job is safe.

Within a few days of the announcement of X-Box, I read another article in which Sony was quoted as saying it would release an expansion pak (hip console types leave the "c" out of pack) for PlayStation 2 in 2001 with a 25GB hard drive.

Actually, it wasn't Sony that said this, it was just a representative of the company - I'm sure if all of Sony raised its mighty voice as one, the sound would be heard even from here.

Anyway, the article then said that Sony's response meant that "Microsoft's early advantage has already disappeared". Huh? Whose early advantage?

Let's take a moment to evaluate the situation here: Microsoft has announced a whizz-bang spec machine (no pricing, incidentally) which will knock the socks off of PlayStation 2 (or so it says).

It showed developers a simulated demonstration of the machine's capabilities, generated by technology not identical to that in X-Box, but the results were the same (or so it says). X-Box will be available by September next year (or so it says). PlayStation 2 is available now, you can buy one if you're in Japan, and actual (non-simulated) demonstrations of its capabilities are not difficult to come by.

My Catholic upbringing leads me to recall St Anselm here, who said that existence is necessary for perfection - if something is perfect, it must exist. His point was to do with theology and God and whatnot, but the same principle applies to game consoles. X-Box may be grand, but it doesn't exist. PlayStation 2 may be less spectacular, but it does. In my book, the early advantage goes to Sony.

Who gets the advantage in the next stage depends upon whether Sony gets its Pak to market before Microsoft gets an X-Box (or some equivalent, but more intelligently named device) on the shelves. It's frankly too early to say, since both companies have been known to fudge a little on the old release dates thing.

Nonetheless, both companies have opened the door to discussing products that don't exist, so expect it to go on. Within weeks, I predict Microsoft will release a Pac for X-Box (thus establishing its own standard for which letter to leave out of "pack"). This Pac will expand the hard drive to 36GB, "so nyeah".

In response, Sony will announce another Pak enabling PlayStation 2 users to record television programs and DVD movies to their hard drives for editing and adding special effects "on the fly".

Microsoft's X-Box Expansion Pac II will then be unveiled, incorporating extensions to DirectX and other custom graphics routines enabling images to be generated that are indistinguishable from broadcast TV. It will demonstrate this by showing a videotape of Elle Macpherson's debut on "Friends", and promising that the images will be just as good.

It's a very easy game to get into, and fun to play. Just remember that the products don't exist, therefore they can have whatever capabilities you'd like to imagine they can have.

It's particularly important not to comment on pricing, since some of the more ambitious features you might like in a game console will be slightly dearer than a manned mission to Venus.

The finish line is perfection, and perfection requires existence. Let the race begin.

Matthew JC. Powell is not prepared to comment on when he will become taller. Hassle him about it at mjcpowell@ozemail.com.au

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