The Xbox 360 system software or the Xbox 360 Dashboard is the updateable software and operating system for the Xbox 360. It formerly resided in a 16 MB file system. However, starting with the NXE Update, more storage became a requirement, rectified by either having a Hard Drive installed, or one of the later revisions of the console with adequate flash storage embedded within the console. The system software has access to a maximum of 32 MB of the system's Random Access Memory. The updates can be downloaded from the Xbox Live service directly to the Xbox 360 and subsequently installed. Microsoft has also provided the ability to download system software updates from their respective official Xbox website to their PCs and then storage media, from which the update can be installed to the system. The Xbox 360 game system allows users to download applications that add to the functionality of the dashboard. Most apps required the user to be signed into a valid Xbox Live Gold account in order to use the features advertised for the given app. But as of the 2.0.16756.0 update, most apps do not require an Xbox Live Gold Subscription to access them, although the app may have its own subscription to be able to use it. With the exception of a few early apps, Microsoft has added partners to develop apps for the Xbox 360 system since the New Xbox Experience (NXE) Dashboard update in 2008. Following the success of Xbox One preview program launched in 2014, in March 2015, Microsoft announced the Xbox 360 preview program to the public.
Microsoft released the Xbox 360 console on November 22, 2005, a whole year earlier than both the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii. Having the advantage of the lead, Microsoft was able to experiment with various customization options for the consumer's individual consoles. The ability to customize the way the console looked with various themes to fit the front and sides of it was something very different for home console users. In system, the Xbox 360 Dashboard had the ability to have multiple profiles with password on the same console with each user being able to customize the dashboard to exactly fit their own unique style. There were premium themes available for purchase on the Xbox Live Marketplace apart from the default styles. Originally there were five tabs or sections known as the "blades" for the Xbox 360 menu, namely the Marketplace, Xbox live, Games, Media and System. In scrolling from left to right, each section would have a different-colored background signifying its own unique area but users also had the option to change all sections to one background color as well. In 2008 however, when the gaming scene changed dramatically because of the competitions with the PlayStation 3 and the Wii, a new Xbox Dashboard titled the New Xbox Experience (NXE) was launched, which features major changes in both the user interface and other functionalities. The new user interface had a navigation system similar to that of Windows Media Center. It contained a New pop-up/in-game Live Guide, using a redesigned version of the "blades" interface, a tabbed interface that featured five "blades". Also, users were able to create personalized Avatars, essentially mini characters of themselves. Furthermore, selecting an avatar is now required by the Xbox Live service. Two years later, Microsoft launched a new dashboard set for the release of the Microsoft Kinect, adding a fresh new user interface with a touch of silver, but in late 2011 a system update again came with a complete new user interface with a Metro-style design inspired by Windows Phone. The many enhancements that were included with this update pushed the system to a more modernized interface and improved features that pushed the envelope for social gaming and media.
While the Xbox 360 console is primarily designed to play games just like other video game consoles, it can be used as a media player too. Similar to the PlayStation 3 from Sony, Xbox 360 has media center capabilities built in, so it is relatively easy to set up. With the Xbox 360 users can also copy videos directly to the hard drive, or play via a USB stick. There are two ways to watch videos on Xbox 360. The first is to download videos from the Xbox Live Marketplace. Some of these videos are available for free while others have to be paid. Microsoft is in control of what videos are available through the Xbox Live Marketplace. The second is to stream videos from a Windows Media Center PC by using Xbox 360 as a Media Center Extender. In this way users are in control of what videos they want to watch, however there are restrictions on what kind of video they can playback. More specifically, it only supports playback of DVR-MS, MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and WMV videos. Every Xbox 360 can play DVD movies out of the box using the built-in DVD drive, with no additional parts necessary, although the user may control everything with an optional remote. There are other improvements to the experience on the Xbox 360 over the original Xbox too, including the ability to upscale the image so it will look better. Progressive scan is another feature of the DVD output in the Xbox 360 that produces smoother output when playing movies on televisions that support high definition, although using a dedicated DVD player would offer even more features and sound quality.
The Xbox 360 system software includes built in software emulation support for the original Xbox game system. Software emulation is achieved with downloadable emulation profiles, which require a hard drive. Not all original Xbox games are supported; the last reported update to the compatibility list was in 2007 and support has since been discontinued for adding new titles. There are more than 400 titles on the list which covers most of the big name titles, and as a requirement for backwards compatibility the users have to have a hard drive for their Xbox 360, specifically an official Microsoft-brand Xbox 360 hard drive. In contrast, Xbox 360's successor, the Xbox One console was not backward compatible at launch, but after applying the November 2015 "New Xbox One Experience" system update it also supports a select group of Xbox 360 games using a software emulator, similar to Xbox 360's backward compatibility feature. However, there are also notable differences between the ways of their emulations—unlike Xbox 360's emulation of the original Xbox, by Xbox One's emulation of the Xbox 360 games do not have to be specifically patched but instead need to be repackaged in the Xbox One format.
Starting with the NXE Dashboard in November 2008, Larry Hryb (known on Xbox Live as "Major Nelson") and other team members hosted a new segment using Microsoft Connect to allow members of the Xbox Live community to get a chance to have a preview of the next dashboard. Small bug fixes & minor improvements were not included in the Preview Program; it was limited to major releases (NXE, Kinect, Metro) released in November of some years. In 2009, the Preview Program returned in August rather than November for a summer update.
The Preview Program incentive enrollment started in either March/April or August/September, depending on when a major dashboard release was being planned. Applicants were notified no later than 2 weeks after the enrollment date with the new Preview Program dashboard launching on their consoles as early as 24 hours after acceptance. The Preview program is by invitation only. Users can be invited by their friends by using the Invite friends page in the Xbox Preview Dashboard app if their friends are already in the program. The Xbox Preview Dashboard app is the place for Preview participants to give feedback about the program, get the latest news, change console enrollment settings, and report problems. If users decide that they didn't want to get Preview updates anymore they could opt out in the Xbox Preview Dashboard app. All details for the Preview Program were located on the Xbox official website.
The Xbox Live Preview Program for the Xbox 360 has since been discontinued.
The first version of the Xbox 360 system software was 2.0.1888.0, released on November 22, 2005, as shipped in the original Xbox 360 consoles, although the version numbered "2.0" was available at product launch. Over the course of next a few years saw the continuous updates of the system software. While early updates such as version 2.0.4532.0 released on October 31, 2006 added supports for 1080p video output and the external HD DVD drive attachment, version 2.0.7357.0 released on November 19, 2008 was the first major upgrade of the system software, titled the New Xbox Experience that had added many new features, including a completely redesigned GUI. It included changes in the menu system, featuring a more 3D style vibe with more options and sections, new sound effects (menus only, notification sounds remain the same), support for 1440×900 and 1680×1050 16:10 resolutions (letterboxed) over VGA, HDMI and when using DVI, as well as the abilities to preview themes before setting them, to disable notifications (new messages, chat requests, etc.) or mute the notification sound, and to change to QWERTY keyboard in place of alphabetical keyboard.
Subsequent system software updates after this major upgrade continued to add (although usually numerically smaller) new features or make other changes, including bugfixes. An example of the new features introduced in version 2.0.8498.0 released on August 11, 2009 was the addition of Display Discovery to allow console to override factory settings for HDTV resolutions and refresh rates as well as discovering the best possible resolution and refresh rates that the HDTV is capable of displaying (Selected HDTVs). Version 2.0.12611.0 released on November 1, 2010 also added features such as the ability to install game updates to the HDD (select games only) and a visual refresh to incorporate elements of Microsoft's Metro design style. It also featured a new boot screen animation with redesigned Xbox 360 orb and ribbons. New anti-piracy 2.5 scheme to newly released games was also added in this version, later updated to anti-piracy 2.6 in the version 2.0.13599.0 released on July 19, 2011. Version 2.0.14699.0 released on December 6, 2011 introduced a redesigned interface and a fresh new take on a platform that has had more than half a decade of changes and enhancements. The releases after the version 2.0.16197.0 released October 16, 2012 were typically minor, usually bugfixes or as a mandatory update that prepared for subsequent growth of the service, but the system software is still being constantly updated by now. On June 15, 2020 the advertisements included on the Xbox 360 software were removed via a server-side update without notice.