Officially On The Internet
Microsoft will release online gaming servers next summer. Those will let you play via the internet on dedicated servers. You will be able to connect directly to a cable or DSL modem with an Ethernet connection. If the modem is USB, you will have to convert. Dedicated modems will probably come out. Furthermore, all Xbox owners will be able to communicate with each other with a headset and microphone similar to Game Voice, the communication module for the PC. It should be called Game Commander or Xbox Communicator. It includes headphones (mono sound) and an adjustable microphone connected to a box. It plugs into one of both controller ports. You will be able to use voice recognition software so that you can give commands during certain games. More a gadget than anything, you will also have voice masking capabilities.
The Practical Aspect
The fact that this is a PC in a box makes the Xbox quite large. In comparison to the PS2, one could almost call it obese. It should have been possible to make things smaller-one needs only to consider laptops and the new mini-PC solutions by VIA and National Semiconductor. Anyway, I think that Microsoft would have been better served to entrust the technological realization to a company like NS, which would certainly have produced a console with the same specifications, but much smaller, more integrated, and certainly less expensive. Nevertheless, since Microsoft chose to remain on a physical PC platform, miniaturization would have been too expensive. This being so, it's not tragic, and at the size of a mini system, the Xbox doesn't spoil the looks of the living room. The logo design, the black color and its round shape fit in any environment, making it look quite classy.
On the other hand, the Microsoft designers are behind the times; for more than a year, angular designs have been back in fashion. As far as its robustness is concerned, clearly one must anticipate somewhat reduced durability. There are fans and a hard disk. Given the heat generation and the MTBF of the disk, it is probable that the average life cycle will be shorter than that of a PS2. As far as shock resistance is concerned, it's enough not to shoot into it when it is on, since that would certainly damage the disk. On the other hand, it would survive a three-foot fall onto concrete without a problem if it's turned off (as tested). For the time being, returns are limited to the US, but we'll see if this continues.