Helium may have put Windows in 360s

Xbox expert Dean Takahashi unearths e-mail about Microsoft's Helium project, which may have been third SKU of 360 running Windows.

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The final iteration of a product put out by a large company is often just one of many proposed ideas and prototypes. Behind closed doors, hundreds of ideas bounce off executives, many of them landing in the waste basket in the form of a crumpled piece of paper. But some make it past the initial process and even get approved, with their fates determined well down the road.

Dean Takahashi, author of The Xbox 360 Uncloaked and writer for The San Jose Mercury News, found some information on one of the early possibilities of the Xbox 360 while researching his book. The writer posted an e-mail on his blog today, revealing the beginning of Microsoft's Project Helium.

Well...sort of revealed. The December 2003 internal e-mail, sent from former head of Xbox software Jon Thomason to the Xbox team, states that Project Helium had moved from research and investigation to a full-fledged project.

Unfortunately, that's about all it detailed. The project's fate is uncertain--there aren't any solid details about its purpose, whether or not it was actualized, or whether it is still in the works. The e-mail doesn't mention anything except that the project had been approved, and that it was Xbox related. Thomason left the Xbox division in 2004 and is now no longer with Microsoft.

Takahashi's sources claim that the project was intended to put the Windows operating system onto an Xbox 360 and would have been a third SKU of the console. However, Takahashi also states that Microsoft execs have repeatedly made it clear that having an Xbox 360 that was also a PC made no sense, and the project was reportedly canceled.

When he asked Xbox marketing VP Peter Moore at E3 about the possibility, Moore brushed it off, pointing out the fact that the company had its sights set on Live Anywhere, the service that connects PCs, Xbox 360s, and mobile phones, and isn't "device relevant."

Moore definitely would have been clued in as he joined Microsoft in early 2003, and Project Helium lifted off in late 2003.

The ultimate fate of Project Helium may not ever be known for certain. What is known is that Microsoft opted to allow some type of PC connectivity with the Xbox 360 via the console's Media Center Extender feature, letting it stream digital music and pictures and even run some third-party applications.

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