Linux kernel makes Xbox appearance

In the latest step towards running Linux on Microsoft's gaming console, programmers have managed to get the operating system core running - though it doesn't do much yet

The Xbox Linux Project, a volunteer effort aimed at running the Linux operating system on Microsoft's Xbox gaming console, said it has succeeded in booting the Linux kernel -- a small but important step forward.

The Xbox, unlike Sony's PlayStation2, does not have its own official version of Linux, and is unlikely to get one, given Microsoft's competitive relationship with the open-source operating system. Xbox Linux, led by Michael Steil of Germany, is aimed at developing a legal way to turn the console into a full-featured Linux workstation.

Even though Xbox is based on industry-standard hardware, getting the kernel, or core, of the Linux operating system to boot took some time. On a PC, Linux uses an application called a bootloader that runs on the PC's BIOS, or basic input-output system, and boots Linux into the PC's memory. However, the Xbox uses customised system software, so programmers had to create a custom bootloader to load the kernel into memory and execute it.

The group is also creating a boot method where custom system software is loaded into the Xbox via a modification chip, replacing the original Xbox system software.

Steil announced that the kernel had booted on the Xbox Hacker site late on Friday.

The kernel success follows the creation of a small application called "linuxpreview" that demonstrated that code could be written to execute on the Xbox system software without the use of a proprietary development kit.

The project still needs to develop the necessary drivers to allow the kernel to take control of the Xbox hardware such as hard drives and peripheral ports. Ultimately the project aims to produce a CD-ROM which will allow an unmodified Xbox to boot a complete Linux operating system and run as a workstation.

An anonymous donor has contributed $200,000 (about £128,000) to be parcelled out to programmers who successfully complete the various stages of the project.

The project uses no proprietary Microsoft tools or information, and says its efforts are protected under a reverse-engineering clause in the US' Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

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