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Xbox 360 dashboard update: Microsoft's 10 key improvements

More secure, more game-oriented and more flexible

Microsoft's latest Xbox 360 dashboard update is on its way to select Xbox 360 consoles now, as part of a staggered distribution over the next two weeks.

It's a dramatic overhaul for the console's front end, even in the absence of Xbox SmartGlass (which lands later this month alongside Windows 8). Here are the most important new features and a few tips on how to use them.


1. The Big Grid
The main interface borrows from the new Windows 8 Metro design, with a five by three grid. This means there are more slots on each page, making it easier to see new stuff without having to dig for it. It's a fairly small change, but an effective one - we've been using it for a bit, and going back to the old version instantly feels confined and less helpful. It means there's more space for games on the front page, too - ads are relegated to the square on the bottom right.

2. Pins
By far the most useful feature, this is a list of shortcuts you can add to the home page. Anything you use regularly can be 'pinned' here, so you can quickly launch it without having to dig into menus - it saves a huge amount of timing digging through the dash trying to find digital titles or specific applications.

3. Security Details
The security settings have been beefed up. When you install the new update, you'll be prompted to add extra recovery options, like a phone number - this makes it harder for anybody to con their way into your Xbox Live account. As with all security updates, it's a bit of a nuisance initially, but you can't argue with the improvement. And don't try and skip it - we did, and it just kept asking us again.

4. Games Go West
The last update moved games right, making them seem less important than video and music. We all know our Xbox 360 is a top-rung multimedia node now, so Microsoft's kindly moved them back. Avatars are still front row, too - while they aren't on the main home page, notice that every time you boot up your console your Avatar pops in to wave at you, then jumps right to return to base on the Social tab.

5. Indie Spotlight
Previously, indie games were buried deep - now they're given the same billing as everything else. Select 'Browse Games' and you can easily see new additions to Arcade, Games on Demand and more. It's much easier to find, well, games, and again the advertising plays second fiddle.

6. Real Names
Your Friends List is now a bit more revealing: select a friend and you'll see their real name. Ideal for identifying the avatar in the MW2 mask you added ages ago but can't quite remember why.

7. Recommendations
There's now an Amazon-style recommendation engine that'll observe the games you play and suggest new ones based on that. Highlight it and press X to give feedback - rate the game if you've got it and like it, or say you're not interested. This is undoubtedly feeding into a vast database somewhere which should make future recommendations more accurate.

8. Xbox Music
Zune is dead - long live Xbox Music. £9 a month, or £90 every year will get you all the music you could conceivably listen to, as well as Smart DJ apps to keep a party going., Vuvo and so on are still there, too - find 'em under the Apps section.

9. TV Picks
The recommendation tech extends to TV you might like to watch, too. The recommendations we received weren't just based on other shows we'd watched, we also got told what was currently popular. Not sure how useful that'll be, but it came up with Breaking Bad so it can't be all bad.

10. Internet Explorer
Microsoft has finally included its Internet Explorer browser on the Xbox 360 dashboard (or Xbox 360 Home, as it's been called for a while). Slot a chatpad onto your gamepad, because you've got full internet access now. Why not add to your bookmarks?

Fire up our news feed for the full rundown of the new Xbox dash and Xbox Music.