Xbox 360 Spring Update revealed

Microsoft introducing Windows Live Messenger capabilities into Xbox Live, planning to release keyboard attachment for controllers.

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Microsoft today announced that the Xbox 360 Spring Update will be released next month, and the revisions to the system's dashboard will include increased instant messaging abilities, revisions to the Xbox Live Marketplace, and more detailed achievement alerts.

The biggest change in the cards for the Spring Update is the addition of Windows Live Messenger functionality. In addition to letting Messenger users on the PC chat with their 360-having friends, the update will also let Xbox 360 owners see if any of their Messenger contacts have Xbox Live gamertags. Messenger contacts will be kept in a list separate from Xbox Live friends, and Xbox 360 users will be able to chat with six Messenger contacts at any given time.

Xbox 360 gamers who quickly grow tired of navigating the onscreen virtual keyboard to type messages can either plug a USB keyboard into the system, or wait for Microsoft to release its new Xbox 360 keyboard controller attachment this summer. Snapping into place on the bottom side of the controller through the headset jack, the as-yet unnamed device features a QWERTY-style keyboard layout. Users will be able to access the new chat functions from an option on the system's main menu, in the same spot where the Xbox Live Marketplace can currently be found.

The chat functionality is displacing the current Marketplace menu option, but the Xbox 360's online store shouldn't be any tougher to find. Microsoft is creating a new desktop "blade" to serve as the Marketplace's main access point. While gamers can customize their system's existing desktop blades with downloadable themes from the Marketplace, users won't be able to personalize the look of the store's own blade.

The Spring Update will also add to users' options when it comes to downloading content from the Marketplace. Gamers concerned about leaving their systems on overnight in order to grab large downloads will be able to rest easier. Any user will be able to queue up a stack of downloads and then put the system into a low-power mode while they are retrieved. Once the queue is empty, the system will shut itself off.

New Xbox 360 owners looking to catch up on everything the Xbox Live Arcade has to offer can set the Auto Downloads option to automatically retrieve not just new demos of XBLA games, but the entire collection of XBLA demos. Progressive download controls will also let those grabbing videos from the Marketplace to fast-forward, rewind, and pause their clips as they are being downloaded.

Microsoft is also streamlining the notification process for achievements. No longer will players have to push the guide button and bring the game to a halt to find out what they did when an achievement notification pops up. The Spring Update will change the notification to include the short name of the achievement, as well as its gamerscore value.

Microsoft plans to have the Xbox 360 Spring Update available beginning the week of May 7.

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