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Microsoft yesterday used the GDC conference to launch a development platform called XNA. This will roll out across all future game platforms - including Xbox consoles and Windows PCs.

The initiative is aimed at providing a common environment for game development on all of the platforms with which Microsoft is involved, ranging from the Xbox - and Xbox 2 - through the Windows operating system to Windows Mobile devices.

As with most such initiatives, XNA's biggest claimed benefit is that it will free up developers to work on unique features, rather than constantly re-inventing the wheel by writing the boilerplate code that holds games together on a basic level.

XNA's launch will see a number of interesting technology moves, of which appearance of the Xbox Live development toolkit on the Windows platform is perhaps the most important of these.

Developers working on Windows games will now be able to use the billing, security, login, friends and matchmaking tools which are integral to the Xbox Live service - effectively extending Live functionality onto Windows games. However, it's not clear if PC gamers will be expected to pay Live-style subscription fees for these services.

Microsoft also plans to develop a common controller reference design which will be rolled out for both Windows and the Xbox, providing a basic standard across both platforms as well as unifying the input APIs and button standards on both systems.

On a more technical level, a number of Xbox development tools such as the PIX analysis tool and the XACT audio authoring system will be made available for PC development purposes for the first time, while the High-Level Shader Language (HLSL) which was recently introduced on the Windows platform will now be ported to Xbox.

The move to unify the development environment between Xbox and Windows is likely to be welcomed by developers working on cross-platform titles, and will have even greater repercussions as Xbox 2 development kits - which are also expected to use the XNA framework - are made more widely available.

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