Dean Takahashi at the San Jose Mercury News has apparently been hacking into Microsoft again (or getting emails from execs!), and he's reprinted a fascinating email about the birth of the Xbox on his weblog.

Takahashi sets it up handily: "A little more than seven years ago, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates decided to pick the Xbox team over the WebTV rivals and enter the video game business. He allowed both teams to move forward for a time, but in the meeting summarized in the email below, he made a fateful decision to go with the Xbox."

The second memo explains the genesis well, as a MS exec comments: "We're convinced there's a threat to the PC business in the home, in part based on Sony's success with the PlayStation and interest in the PlayStation 2." Then, Bill Gates himself checks in: "Our goal needs to be to contain Sony and to focus on a duopoly. I'm concerned about the costs of bootstrapping a console effort: branding, marketing, ISVs, manufacturing." Plenty of other oddness and insight in here.