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Giving Kinect to the ‘hackers’ makes sense

Kinect CinderBlock software hack

Following a huge response from PC ‘hackers’ fiddling around with Xbox Kinect, Microsoft has opened up its camera for amateur software developers. Now that’s how you get the best out of your technology.

The Xbox 360’s new motion-sensing camera has been a hit with bedroom developers. Not long after the device was released, it was made to work on PCs. What followed was lots of exciting motion-sensing experiments, such as the pictured body dismorphia hack.

Rather than cracking down on these amateur devs, Microsoft has decided to release a development kit that will reveal the secrets behind Kinect. Hackers will no longer need to use their own cobbled-together methods to make the camera work with their PC, and they’ll potentially gain access to more of Kinect’s capabilities.

Opening up Xbox Kinect

Microsoft hopes that an army of these amateurs will take the camera’s controller-less motion sensing technology to another level. Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, defended the company’s decision:

‘As breakthrough technologies like these reach scale, the resulting creativity and invention will open up a whole new world of possibilities for computing.’

This is a philosophy more companies should take up. Naturally, piracy shouldn’t be encouraged, but creativity certainly should be. So if a company spots amateurs using its device to create experimental software, they should give them the tools to take it further.

PlayStation Move should follow

It’s very easy to compare Microsoft’s philosophy to Sony’s attempts to sue its PlayStation 3 hackers. The comparison, however, doesn’t really hold up too well. When Jack Turner asked whether you should be allowed to ‘mod’ your games console, commenter Haggis responded:

‘If modifying a piece of equipment interferes with a service supplied by the manufacturer or its agents, then probably not. Otherwise yes, absolutely!’

He’s quite right. Hacking the PS3 and releasing its security codes could potentially lead to cheating in online games and pirating software. Whereas giving ‘hackers’ access to accessories does not carry this danger. Developing software for Kinect does not hold any risks for the Xbox 360 itself – and Microsoft won’t be opening up the latter anytime soon.

In fact, despite what you might think about Sony’s militancy against hackers, the company’s actually planning to open up its own motion controller. At this year’s Game Developers Conference, Sony plans to reveal their project to make it ‘possible for academics and hobbyists to develop software using the PlayStation Move controller on their own PCs.’

It’s good that these companies see the advantage of opening up their tech to the thousands of passionate amateur developers out there. Because, if companies can get hobbyists on their side, they’ll reap the benefits without much investment. Do you think more companies should follow suit and make similar tools available for their devices?