In 2001, everyone considered Microsoft and the Xbox the underdog. Nintendo had the heritage and the monopoly on the Pokemon market. Sony had made PlayStation a world-wide brand name and shown the world that videogames were a bigger market than Hollywood movies. The PlayStation hosted some of the greatest games ever made, and the PlayStation 2 would no doubt continue that trend. Microsoft looked like the dreamy-eyed Don Quixote with no concept of reality. They were the company trying to act cool who didn't realize that everyone was laughing at them and not with them. After all, they were trying to market a console that was ugly, expensive, and nothing more than a budget PC that could be sold a short-term financial loss.
Ironically, it was the PC architecture of the Xbox that gave Microsoft its success. While the PlayStation 2 was still home to the quintessentially "Japanese" blockbuster games such as Final Fantasy X, Ico, and Katamari Damacy it was the PC-style games like Halo, Knights of the Republic, and Splinter Cell, and technologies such as Xbox Live that forced console and PC gamers to give Microsoft a second look.
For the first time, the console gamer who never had the budget for a high-end gaming PC or the technical knowledge required to maintain it, now had a taste of what we've always known: first person shooters are fun. On the other hand, the Xbox did a lot for PC gamers. Many PC gamers who bought Xboxes did so to take advantage of games like Halo, or to hack the console to run Linux – but in turn, this gave PC gamers a chance to really see the simple beauty of a solid button-mashing console game such as Forza Motorsport, Dead or Alive 3, or Ninja Gaiden or an environment such as Xbox Live where a subscription fee supported high-quality servers and anti-cheating mechanisms. More importantly, behind the scenes, Microsoft's financial investment into getting software developers to exploit pixel and vertex shaders has had a direct and palpable contribution to improving the quality of PC games. If it weren't for the Xbox, PC graphics would be a one or two generations behind. Even competitors like Sony have Microsoft to thank, because it was the Xbox that showed them how important the GPU truly was and why it's was necessary to bring in outside help.
Almost everyone has benefited in some way from the Xbox, whether you only play PC games, only plan to buy a PlayStation 3, or don't play games at all and simply run a Linux machine with a Media Center front-end. Of course, Microsoft took a significant loss to create the infrastructure behind the Xbox. The first Xbox was a suicide mission, planting the seeds of warfare, obtaining reconnaissance of the battlefield, and engaging in psychological warfare to disrupt the confidence of their opponents. If you have any doubts about the success of the Xbox project because of its inability to produce a profit, consider the fact that today no one considers the Xbox 360 the underdog. 4 years ago, everyone knew that the PS2 would be the #1 console of that generation. Today, no one other than console fan boys would be willing to make a prediction on who will take the lead in this generation. Instead of laughing at Microsoft for creating a console, the world is not looking at them to see how they will compete against Sony for the position of #1.
The first Xbox represented the Microsoft of the dot.com world. Big, slow, out-of-date, and full of security holes. With the Xbox 360, Microsoft has done something different. Instead of trying to evolve, they've gone back to and captured the strength and essence of the 1980's Microsoft that took the world by storm. They've taken a look at their own mistakes and successes, but more importantly, like the 1980's Microsoft that "borrowed" the user experience from Apple and "collaborated" with third party companies such as IBM to subsidize the cost of their own research, the Xbox 360 represents the console built with the collective knowledge of their competitors.