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Kinecting with community

The OpenKinect project kicked off thanks to a $1,000 bounty for anyone who could get it working with Windows or other PC operating systems. Microsoft reacted immediately:

Just hours after the bounty announcement, the firm said it did not condone modification of the Kinect and would "work closely with law enforcement… to keep Kinect tamper-resistant". It was a red rag to the hackers, and that evening a note appeared on the Adafruit blog: "Ok fine, the bounty is now double, $2000."

The same thing happened again a little later:

By Saturday 6 November, a hacker who goes by the nickname AlexP had gained control of the Kinect's motors. Microsoft tried to quash the news, saying the Kinect had not been hacked "in any way". The hacking community took it as an affront. "This is silly, so now we've made it $3k," wrote Adafruit.

In the end, Microsoft came to its senses, and realised that these hackers were trying to make Kinect usable by even more people with even more applications, in other words, they were broadening the ecosystem. Microsoft quibbled about what had happened, but accepted it nonetheless:

Microsoft's Alex Kipman told NPR Science Daily listeners that as far as the company's concerned, the Kinect hasn't actually been hacked thus far, and that Microsoft actually left the camera's USB connection unprotected "by design" to let the community take advantage. Though he and fellow Microsoftie Shannon Loftis wouldn't commit to official PC software drivers for the device, he did say that the company would "partner sooner rather than later" with academic institutions to get the hardware doled out, and suggested that some universities started playing with Kinect even before its commercial launch.

Microsoft should not be hiding behind equivocations about whether the Kinect has been hacked or not. The time has come for it to embrace fully the open source community that has formed around Kinect, and to recognise and support its work. Doing so would provide a huge boost to the ecosystem there, and encourage other companies to build on the OpenKinect code.

This in its turn might lead to Microsoft opening up more aspects of Kinect and its software. That would again encourage third parties to work with Microsoft to create new and exciting uses of Kinect, which is already being applied in many unexpected applications. Even more importantly, it would allow Microsoft to explore the ramifications of adopting open source for key products in a controlled fashion, without damaging its traditional businesses. It's a unique opportunity that it shouldn't squander.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and on Google+. For other feature articles by Glyn Moody, please see the archive.

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