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Ultimately, I think it's a bad thing if it means that the designers have to compromise to accommodate backward compatibility. There's a huge advantage (IMO) of being able to start from scratch, taking from the previous generation only the stuff that works well. If you're worried about backward compatibility, there's a lot of things you'll have to put in or avoid for that reason alone. A lot of people call Windows "bloatware," for example. Well, it wouldn't be so bloated if Microsoft released a version that wasn't backward compatible with all those old devices and software.
From a marketing perspective, it's a huge deal, even for consoles. IIRC, Bill wanted the old PS3 because of it. It's a lot of trouble dragging out an older system, which you may have sold anyway to defray the costs of the new one--just to play an older favorite. I'm sure a lot of Joe Gamer types are easily lulled into thinking that a new console that can't play their favorite current gen games is a rip off--something along the lines of, "I gave those people my money and now I can't even play my games on their system." Irrational, but it's there.
So, in short, I think it's best that a new gen machine is not backward compatible. You'll suffer in the short term, true, but by the next generation, your old favorites will either be re-released or capable of solid emulation anyway. In any case, I think most of us would agree that it's better to keep an older machine than to sell it for money towards the new console.
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