One of the most important decisions made by a console manufacturer in the last console generation was Microsoft's choice to make the wired version of the Xbox 360 controller work out of the box with Windows, and to introduce the XInput API to Windows so developers could make games that integrated with the controller as fully on Windows as on the Xbox 360 itself. Even the headset connection jack and the ring indicating the player number are fully supported for games on Windows.
This gamble paid off in spades for Microsoft, as over the last generation, the Xbox 360 controller has become an essential accessory for PC gaming. Most of the games that come out with controller support on Steam these days can be played without having to touch the keyboard or mouse after launching the game - everything can be done with the Xbox 360 controller, just like on the console itself, and the input prompts in games assume you're using it and not any other controller. This has happened thanks to XInput, which has replaced DirectInput as the universal standard way to implement controller support in games on Windows.
The status of the Xbox 360 controller as the universally accepted PC gaming controller as well as a console controller does merit one question: what will happen when Microsoft stops selling the Xbox 360? The natural successor would be the controller from one of the next-generation consoles. Much has been made of Sony's DualShock 4 controller supporting "basic functions" on PC from launch, while the Xbox One controller has only a vague promise of PC support sometime in 2014. That makes the DualShock 4 the first choice to take the Xbox 360 controller's place, right?
Not so fast. A reasonable interpretation of Sony's statement that the DualShock 4 supports "basic functions" on PC would be that it only supports the functionality supported by the Xbox 360 controller, so features like the touchpad and light bar won't work. But what it actually means, as it turns out, is that in addition to those things not being supported, the DualShock 4 doesn't support XInput.
That's a big deal. Remember earlier when I said that XInput is now the standard way to implement controller support in PC games? That's right, the DualShock 4 does not work out of the box with the vast majority of modern PC games. You have to use a third-party program called x360ce which makes your controller pretend to be an Xbox 360 controller for it to work. There are third-party controllers for PC that are XInput compatible and thus work out of the box, but Sony didn't put in the work for the DualShock 4 to be one of them.
Even when using x360ce, the problem remains that only the bare-bones controller functionality is supported. The audio jack and the light bar still won't work without actual driver support from Sony. As I noted at the beginning of this post, the equivalent features of the Xbox 360 controller are supported under Windows, and it's safe to assume that the same will apply for the Xbox One controller whenever Microsoft gets around to implementing Windows support for it.
Sony had a chance to get an early foothold among PC gamers with the DualShock 4, but missed it with a half-baked implementation. The official word is that "in regards to DUALSHOCK 4 supporting full compatibility for playing PC games, there are no details to share at this time." With the Xbox One and Steam controllers on the horizon, they need to come up with some details to share before long if they want the DualShock 4 to be taken seriously by PC gamers. We'll be waiting.