Though Microsoft has dominated headlines the last few days with the debut of Windows XP, its new operating system, the company has another major release in the works: the Xbox--a new gaming console due Nov. 15.
The Xbox is Microsoft's first foray into the $20 billion a year global video games market, and represents a massive investment for the company. Microsoft is expected to ship over a million of the $299 boxes by year's end and spend more than half a billion dollars in advertising to support the launch. But there may already be a problem: Demo units installed in stores across the country are reportedly plagued with serious bugs.
"Sometimes it just shuts off," says Anthony Langley, an employee in the electronics department of a Target department store in Germantown, Md. "It'll be running fine and then it'll conk out." Langley says he regularly has to reboot the machine to get it working again. And an employee of the Bowie, Md., Target says the machine wouldn't run at all. "It was defective and we had to send it back," he says. "I haven't even seen what the graphics look like, aside from the commercials."
According to a Microsoft representative, there is no problem with the system, and the only trouble the company's been aware of so far has been the fault of users. "The problem was that the retailers had not hooked them up correctly," he says, adding that there are no plans to delay the release of the system. Microsoft has released a statement stating that with over 10,000 demo machines in retail stores, there are bound to be a couple of problems; it denied that any problems were systemic.
Yet an unscientific random survey of 10 Toys R Us locations in eight states found that two out of 10 stores had experienced problems with the Xbox. "It looks like it's jittery, then it'll stop," says Aaron Baylor, an associate at a store in Phoenix. "You have to reset it." He says a friend at another Toys R Us in the area has experienced similar problems, and the whole thing is making him worry about the upcoming release. "When I get a brand new system in that's a week or two old, and it starts to lock up, that worries me."