Xbox gets Linux system software

The Xbox Linux Project releases an early version of software that is intended to control the basic functions of the device. The new software will eventually open the Xbox's hardware to any programmer

A group of programmers seeking to put Linux on Microsoft's Xbox video gaming console has created the software that will eventually replace the machine's built-in system software. The new software, called a Basic Input Output System (BIOS), is the latest step towards turning the £199 console into a Linux workstation.

The Xbox Linux Project, drawing on the skills of programmers in the UK, Germany and the US, released a pre-alpha version of the new BIOS on Sunday. When complete, the BIOS will give programmers control over the Xbox's components and peripherals and allow the rest of the Linux operating system to boot.

The replacement BIOS is intended to act as a template for future development, initialising the hardware's peripherals and performs a process designed to give full and stable control of the machine.

Linux is a favourite of programmers because its open-source licence allows the software to be freely modified and redistributed, as long as modifications are returned to the community. Its popularity led Sony to release a version of Linux for its PlayStation2 console, hoping to encourage open-source developers to learn the ins and outs of the hardware.

Microsoft has not been forthcoming with an official Xbox Linux, possibly because it makes the competing Windows operating system. The Xbox Linux Project is a volunteer effort, but bars the use of proprietary Microsoft tools or insider knowledge, in an effort to remain completely legal.

Xbox Linux recently received a grant of a total of $200,000 (about £128,000) from an anonymous donor, which was awarded to developers for completing various parts of the project, culminating in the ability to boot Linux on the machine from a CD-ROM. Non-Microsoft software can currently only run on an Xbox with a modification chip.

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