Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman, on Tuesday announced triumphantly that 10m units of the Xbox 360 would be in the market before Sony or Nintendo could launch their next-generation consoles later this year.

Attending E3, the video game industry’s biggest trade show, for the first time, Mr Gates also revealed at a press conference that Microsoft would be connecting gamers across consoles, mobile phones and PCs when its Windows Vista operating system is released next year.

This pooling of gamers by making platforms interoperable could give Microsoft a key advantage over its biggest rival Sony by dramatically increasing the audience for its games.

Mr Gates said he could reveal an internal goal that Microsoft now felt very confident of reaching:

“Before our competition even enters the market place we will have a 10m-unit head start for the Xbox 360, we think that’s very important,” he said.

“It’s a number that we only dreamed of a year ago, but now we can see we can achieve that.”

The 360 was launched in November last year and, after initial production difficulties, Microsoft recently predicted shipments of 5m-5.5m units by the end of June.

At its E3 presentation on Tuesday, Nintendo would only reveal that its Wii console would appear in the fourth quarter and would be cheaper than its rivals. It showed games played using an innovative wand-shaped controller.

Meanwhile, Sony continued to bet that technology leadership would give its PlayStation 3 the edge in the battle to dominate the next generation, though at the risk of leaving its machines at a big price disadvantage.

In a presentation late on Monday, it said it would sell two different models of the console: a machine with a 20GB hard drive that will cost $499 (or euros 499) and a 60GB version that will sell for $599 (or euros 599.) In Japan, the 20GB model will go on sale for ¥ 58,000 on November 11, with the console making its debut in the US and Europe on November 17.

The machine will feature a Blu-ray DVD drive, a nine-core processor and a motion-sensing wireless controller.

Microsoft, by contrast, sells a $299 version of its Xbox 360 without a hard drive and a $399 version with a 20 GB drive. It said on Tuesday it would offer an external DVD drive in Toshiba’s rival HD-DVD standard at the same time as the PS3 launch.

Mr Gates said Microsoft’s Xbox Live online service would have 6m users in a year’s time and, with Live Anywhere, gamers would be able to play with other users on phones using Windows Mobile software or on PCs running Windows Vista.

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