Microsoft: Kinect USB connection left open intentionally

Microsoft hopes the recent release of the Kinect platform will spur new interest in the Xbox 360 game console during an uncertain holiday. Shortly after release, it was announced the Kinect had been hacked, with a cash bounty offered to programmers able to release open source drivers.

There was immediate concern that such contests would only irritate Microsoft, and there was immediate concern the company would look to somehow block these new drivers or try to prevent their use.

Microsoft: Kinect USB connection left open intentionally

“Kinect was not actually hacked… hacking would mean that someone got to our algorithms, that sit inside the of the Xbox, and was able to actually use them, which hasn’t happened,” said Alex Kipman, Microsoft program manager, while speaking on NPR. “Or it means that you put a device between the sensor and the Xbox for means of cheating, which also has not happened.”

This so-called “cheating” is what Microsoft looks to prevent in the future, and it certainly hasn’t already happened, Microsoft insists. Instead, coders took advantage of the USB connection that was intentionally left open, and Microsoft says it looks forward to seeing what the community is able to produce.

Some critics claim that Microsoft is trying to backtrack to make Kinect look secure and free from hackers. In the future, Microsoft will continue to prevent unauthorized access to directly modifying the Kinect internal software or its hardware — but it seems like that it’s only a matter of time before Microsoft faces problems with “real” Kinect hacks.

As part of the Adafruit Industries Kinect open source drivers contest earlier in the month, a Linux developer released Xbox 360 Kinect open source drivers. The $1,000 bounty was eventually increased up to $3,000, and the winning software still doesn’t do much. However, these new open source drivers that turn Kinect into a Linux peripheral offer an important blueprint to programmers looking to create their own Kinect-based technology.

I understand the importance of protecting in-house technology, but I found it hard to believe that Microsoft wouldn’t try to embrace this effort by the community. Microsoft is well known for being very hands-off towards its products, but the company has undergone change to embrace cloud computing and other newer technologies.

Microsoft said 1 million Kinect units have been sold in 10 days, with consumer interest only adding more hype to the technology. Some analysts expect Microsoft to sell almost 5 million units by the end of 2010, although it depends how anxious shoppers are to splurge on the optional accessory.