Lindows head funding Xbox hacking project

The donor for a hacking project aimed at bringing the open source Linux operating system (OS) to Microsoft's Xbox gaming console was revealed last week to be Inc. founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Michael Robertson.

Robertson's involvement in the project brings him in even further opposition to the Redmond, Washington, software behemoth, which he is already butting heads with both in the courtroom and on the desktop through his Lindows venture. Lindows provides a low-cost, Linux-based operating system that supports popular Microsoft Windows file types. Microsoft is suing the software startup for trademark infringement over the similarity of the Lindows and Windows names.

The rivalry has been taken one step further, however, with the revelation that Robertson is the previously anonymous donor pledging US$200,000 to developers who are able to successfully complete the hacking project. The donation, which was disclosed on the Web site for open-source developer collaboration, is being allotted as two prizes.

The first prize is being given to the developers who successfully complete Part A of the project, which involves "running Linux on the box." The second prize is being awarded for Part B, running Linux on the Xbox with no hardware modifications. Part A has already been completed and "Linux Xbox "is available free for download from the SourceForge site, at Part B is still incomplete, and Robertson has extended the deadline for another year.

Although sponsoring a hacking project aimed at one's main competitor is usually seen as a personal assault, Robertson has claimed that he is funding the initiative in support of his belief that users should be able to run any software they want on any hardware.

In that vein, the hacking challenge aims to provide a version of GNU/Linux for the Xbox so that it can be used as an ordinary computer. The Xbox consists of PC-based hardware from IBM Corp. and runs a stripped down version on the Windows 2000 kernel, according to the project site. For antipiracy reasons, the Xbox only runs games, however.

The developers working on the Xbox hacking challenge claim that an Xbox running Linux is useful as a desktop computer, Web server or node in a Linux cluster. The hacking project comes as a revolt against Microsoft's closed architecture approach to the machine.

No one representing Microsoft was immediately available to comment on the matter last Friday.