Thinking about the next XBList

Well, the new Xbox.com/Xbox Live update is out. It mostly introduces a Message Center for Xbox.com, where you can send and recieve messages just like on your Xbox. Of course, I’m already thinking about how best to integrate this into XBList, which is starting to see some strain from all the features I’ve added to it. Actually, it’s still pretty lean, but it’s more complicated now than I had ever intended.

I have two choices now. I can do what I usually do, and stay up all night cranking out a quick implementation of Message Center integration. You’ll be able to see how many messages you have from each friend, and send them messages and whatnot. Not exactly Adium level messaging, but it would get the job done. The other option is to go straight to XBList 3.0. By that I mean a bunch of new features, and a rewrite for a lot of the older stuff. Here are some of my ideas:

  • Message Center integration, as I mentioned
  • A new friends list display that’s not based on TreeView, which could be prettier and also include larger icons, gamer points, etc.
  • Remove the IE control from the system, or at least everything but the gamertile popup. I’ll get back to this one later.
  • Upgrade to the .NET Framework 2.0
  • Plugin support, so people could write their own providers for pictures or other neat things.
Those last three require more explanation. Removing the IE ActiveX control would be the biggest change. If I can remove it completely (the Gamer Tile popup uses it to draw the tile, and it would be a bit of work to draw it by hand), the XBList download will be smaller and the program will take a lot less memory. Even if I can’t get rid of it completely, removing it in favor of a custom approach would mean XBList would be faster, more stable, and less prone to throwing up weird dialog boxes or making clicking sounds. In general, I think it would make the program much nicer. The down side is that I’d have to start prompting for your Passport login/password from XBList. While I know that I’m not going to take advantage of your info, or even store it anywhere, it’s a lot easier to convince people if they get to sign into Xbox.com from IE instead of entering their info into some random, possibly untrustworthy program. I’ve resisted this in the past, but I’d like to know what people think about the idea of switching to an XBList login dialog, maybe with some clear text that promises no harm will come to your information.

Upgrading to .NET 2.0 is mainly a perk for me. It would make XBList run faster, and would make it easier to develop, since I could use Visual Studio 2005. In addition, I could use the new managed WebBrowser control instead of Torsten Rendelmann’s excellent but undocumented IEControl wrapper. I could also use things like the new BackgroundWorker control to improve the admittedly shaky multithreading in XBList. The downside here is that you’d need the .NET Framework 2.0 installed. I hate to force people to download yet another thing, though I suspect most people will already have it by now.

The last one, plugin support, has been a pipe dream of mine since XBList 1.0. It could be used to support things like GamerPics.net, who could create a plugin to use your real photo instead of your gamer picture. This one is pretty open-ended, and I’d like to see more ideas of what sort of plugins people would want before I commit to putting a complicated infrastructure in place.

So, if you’re reading this, what I’d love is if you’d post in the comments here, or in my forums, what you think about these ideas. I’ll go back to trying to beat my high score in Geometry Wars until the comments start flooding in…

I'm Benjamin Hollis, a software developer in Seattle. Check out my website.