Microsoft have announced a next-generation software development platform called XNA, which will be used to create games for all future Microsoft platforms including Windows, Xbox and Windows Mobile devices.

The system is expected to be taken up by a number of parties and not just Microsoft, with middleware and game development companies expected to benefit from the tools, which are said to enable "game creators to spend their time where it matters most -- on the creativity that differentiates their games".

A number of features which have only previously been available to Xbox developers will now also be made available to other Microsoft platforms, bringing the possibility of Xbox Live style services including billing, security, login, friends and matchmaking to platforms such as PC games.

Microsoft claim that XNA will also set down a common controller reference design and also unify input APIs and button standards across different platforms - presumably opening the way for Xbox controllers to be used for PC gaming, and advanced PC controllers such as force-feedback wheels and flight sticks to be used on the Xbox.

More information about the XNA platform is expected to be announced by Robbie Bach and J Allard during their keynote speech at the annual Game Developers Conference in San Jose later today.