A group of programmers have managed to turn Microsoft's Xbox gaming console -- which is built on standard components found in a PC -- back into a desktop computer.
That is the effect, at least, of a breakthrough by the Xbox Linux Project, which on Monday said it had managed to boot a version of the Linux operating system on the Xbox. Project members said they had loaded SuSE Linux 8 on the machine, along with the graphical user interface software Gnome and KDE, KMail email software and the StarOffice office suite.
A member even managed to run a video game called Tux Racer -- though at only one frame per second.
Since the Xbox uses connectors based on the USB standard, the hackers were also able to attach an ordinary keyboard and mouse to the machine. The machine only displays via a television for now, however.
Michael Steil, the project maintainer, said that Xbox Linux is less about attacking Microsoft than about opening up the possibilities of the console's hardware to uses other than those hard-wired into it. "We are computer enthusiasts and we think it is fun doing this," he said.
A page written to be served from the Xbox's Linux-based Web server stated the project's aims in more idealistic terms. "For the first time, the box you paid for can do what you want it to do: as the owner you are where you should be -- in control," it said. "You don't have to be a passive consumer of corporate content. With Linux you can plug into a world of sharing and contributing."
Ultimately the project plans to create a version of Linux that can load from a CD-ROM, without needing any hardware modifications to the box. Currently, non-Xbox software can only be run on a machine that has a modification chip installed.
An anonymous donor has pledged to dole out a total of $200,000 (about £128,000) for the completion of various parts of the project.
There are some signs that this cash may have caused a split in the project's ranks, however. Last week it was reported that Enrico Kern, said to have founded Xbox Linux Project, had disassociated himself from the effort. Kern told NewsForge, an open-source industry publication, that he had become disenchanted by the money-driven attitude that had taken over following the announcement of the reward.
The project was created last autumn by a group of German programmers called H Zero Seven.