Xbox Linux project gets $200,000 developer lure

A project aimed at developing a version of Linux that will run on the Xbox gaming console may get more developer interest, after an anonymous donor agreed to pay cash for successful code

A software development project aimed at getting the Linux operating system to run on Xbox received a boost on Monday, when an unnamed donor agreed to pay successful contributors a total of $200,000 (about £140,000).

The Xbox Linux Project is aimed at allowing Microsoft's Xbox gaming console to be used as a desktop computer, by attaching PC USB peripherals to the device's ports through adapters, and using a video converter to attach it to a computer monitor. However, the project is still at the early stages of development.

The payment could add to the appeal of the project, which is pitched as a hobbyist's pastime rather than an effort to allow Xbox to run pirated games. It also imposes a deadline: the awards are only good until the end of this year.

If Linux can be made to run on Xbox, it will not be the first gaming console to get a port of the open-source operating system; Sony has released a Linux kit for PlayStation2, which includes a keyboard and other peripherals as well as the requisite software.

Xbox is a tempting target for Linux enthusiasts, however, because its components are almost completely PC compatible, meaning that, in theory, Linux software designed for Intel-based PCs should be able to run on the box with only minor modifications. However, the machine presents various complications, such as an altered BIOS (basic input-output system), that will only allow approved Microsoft code to run.

Xbox Linux Project has divided the job into two sub-projects, each garnering a total of $100,000. Project A involves getting Linux to run on a hardware-modified Xbox. The largest award in this sub-project, for $55,000, will go to developers who get an IBM PC-like BIOS to run on the machine, allowing it to boot Linux from a hard disk.

Project B will be to eliminate the need for hardware modification, by developing a CD-ROM that will allow any Xbox to boot Linux.

Xbox Linux Project leaders said that an awards committee will decide how the funds are distributed, but all contributors to a successful project should receive some compensation.

Project maintainer Michael Steil emphasised that Xbox Linux is designed to be completely legal, and programmers with inside knowledge of the Xbox code are requested not to participate. "We do not use any non-licensed software for development, such as the Xbox SDK (software development kit)," Steil wrote on the Xbox Linux Project Web site. "Reverse engineering of the Xbox system software is only done in compliance with corresponding local laws."

Steil said that he and other project leaders know the identity of the donor, but have been asked not to reveal his name.

Microsoft has voiced concerns about pirated software running on Xbox. Several modification chips for Xbox, designed specifically to allow it to run pirated games, have appeared on the market, but some -- such as Enigmah-X -- have recently been pulled from the market.

Besides operating as a desktop PC, the Xbox Linux Project developers hope to use the open-source Linux kernel as a basis for Xbox media player software.

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