Microsoft announces Preview Program for next Xbox update

The Xbox 360 gaming console is about to get the second half of the dashboard update Microsoft promised at E3. To refresh your memory, that means Twitter, Facebook and integration (with the promised instant-on 1080P streaming not specifically mentioned). While there's no official date on the new additions (November 17th has been leaked as a possible date) Microsoft is now inviting users to sign up for a preview program. Xbox Live Director of Programming Larry Hryb, aka Major Nelson, posted about the Xbox LIVE Update Preview program on his blog yesterday.

If you're interested in getting into the preview program, here's the link to get started. You'll need your Xbox 360's Serial Number and Console ID (both of which you can get off the System Info screen on the dashboard) as well as the make and model of your router, TV, and the speed of your internet connection. In short, don't bother trying to sign up from work.

Cnet's Josh Lowensohn was lucky enough to get some hands-on time with the update and has a very nice write-up of his experience with it. His biggest issues seem to be not being able to follow links on Twitter (which I agree sounds like it'll sap much of the fun out of reading my friends' tweets) and the fact that won't operate in the background. No counter on the number of characters in a tweet seems like a strange oversight and I wonder if that'll be addressed before launch. Lowensohn does mention streaming and that it is closer to instant-on, but he doesn't mention 1080P, so we'll have to wait to see if that is offered.

Personally I'm most looking forward to having Twitter on the Xbox 360, just as another conduit for reaching out to friends for some online gaming. If you're looking for some talent to fill out your Halo ODST Firefight team, you could send out a tweet urging your friends to log in and join up. Facebook integration sounds like a great way to view Facebook photos. I'm not as sure about, but maybe that's because I'm not a heavy user. I generally just stream music from my PC to my gaming console (in all honesty I use the PS3 for streaming).

One last note: the Xbox Chatpad that Lowensohn mentions is a pretty nice peripheral; I leave mine hooked up all the time for sending messages to friends (it sits between the 'handles' of the Xbox controller). It has a lighted keyboard which comes on automatically when you start typing, and is quite comfortable to use. You'll definitely want something other than the virtual keyboard if you're going to be using Twitter and Facebox on your Xbox, and the Chatpad integrates more naturally into the experience than a USB keyboard will.

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