It's a story you don't hear too often: a large company taking a step back from pursuing those who might be using its technology in ways that were never intended, as well as admitting that the product was made to open up those avenues by design.
That much is now true of Microsoft and its stance on going after those who were making third-party software drivers for its Kinect hardware accessory.
The story of how we got there is now, for the most part, well known. The product came out and was taken to immediately, not just by gamers but also by tinkerers who wanted to have their way with the hardware and use it in places Microsoft was not yet offering--like on its Windows operating system.
What's interesting about all this though, is that it's a distinct departure for Microsoft, given a history of increasingly closed hardware accessories that make up the Xbox ecosystem. Admittedly, Kinect is a very young product, having been on store shelves for less than a month, but it's already proving to be a hit for Microsoft, selling more than 2.5 million units in its first 25 days on the market. The company estimates that it will sell another two and a half million by the end of the year, which is quickly approaching.
So is the move to encourage tinkering part of that drive for success? Is Microsoft hoping some of the videos of virtual lightsabers and 3D camera shifting to get people that may not have purchased one to think again?
How we got here Kinect was made available to developers shortly after it was announced at Microsoft's press conference at E3 2009. Following the hardware's consumer release earlier this month, enthusiasts quickly got to work creating software of their own that would let them tap into the device's array of cameras, microphones, and the built-in motor. This process was, in part, incubated with financial encouragement from Adafruit Industries, which promised to reward the person who could create an open-sourced driver for the device with an ever-increasing amount of cash.
It only took a week for that to happen, and the software was released, creating a flurry of project videos that popped up on YouTube ranging from things like 3D drawing programs to multitouch, gesture-controlled photo viewers--all of which used an open data channel through the Kinect's USB interface.
During this process, Microsoft had told CNET that it had hardened the Kinect's security both on the software and hardware side, and that going forward, the company "will continue to make advances in these types of safeguards and work closely with law enforcement and product safety groups to keep Kinect tamper-resistant."
Then, a week and a half later, two company representatives effectively did an about-face on the subject during an interview with NPR, saying that those who were writing software for the Kinect would not be pursued. Furthermore, the company was paying attention to what users were doing with the hardware. … Read more