The team working on getting the Linux operating system to run on Microsoft's Xbox has made a bizarre plea to the software giant - requesting that it support their efforts by digitally signing the operating system so that it can run on unmodified Xboxes.
At present, Linux can only be run on Xboxes which have been modified to replace the standard Xbox BIOS, thus removing the protection system employed by the console. Although this modification is relatively simple to perform - much more so than the fiendishly difficult process of installing a PS2 mod chip - the chips themselves are illegal, and soldering directly onto the Xbox motherboard is required.
The programmers working on Xbox Linux, therefore, have sent an open letter to Microsoft requesting that the company digitally sign their project - in effect, applying the encrypted tag which tells Xboxes that it's okay to run the software. The letter cites recent anti-trust cases against the software giant, and accuses Xbox of being a similar case because it cannot run software which is not approved by Microsoft.
"Because of Microsoft's deliberate design choices in terms of restricting the software that may run on an unmodified Xbox to 'Microsoft approved only'," the letter laments, "coming to ask Microsoft, and presumably paying Microsoft, is currently the only way we can get our port of the GNU/Linux OS to interoperate with an unmodified box. Unkind people might characterise this as a second deliberate monopoly created by Microsoft even as they were being found guilty of creating an illegal monopoly in operating systems software."
Now while we're all for open source software, there's a certain reality check required here. What this group is effectively asking Microsoft to do is to facilitate the running of unlicensed software on the Xbox - a system which is already subsidised to the tune of about $150 per unit in the hopes that it will eventually pay back its costs through software licensing revenues. Allowing Linux to run on the system would be an open invitation to computer users everywhere to buy Xboxes as low-cost, highly subsidised PCs rather than as games consoles - a scenario which Microsoft is desperately trying to avoid by cracking down on mod chips.
The incentive offered by the group to Microsoft is that there is a $200,000 prize pot on offer to the first group to run Linux on an unmodified Xbox, which Microsoft would be eligible to claim if it signed the operating system. In the last quarter, Microsoft lost well over a quarter of a billion dollars on its Xbox operations; the potential losses from Xbox being treated as a subsidised PC by computer enthusiasts are even higher again. $200,000 isn't exactly going to hold back the floodgates.
Much as we're fans of the open source movement and the Linux operating system, this entire effort seems completely misguided. Effectively asking Microsoft to give approval to the thing which is most likely to damage the fortunes of Xbox is painfully naïve at best, and shows a basic lack of understanding of the business models behind closed platforms such as videogame consoles.