If You Can't Beat 'Em, Invite 'Em In
Hackers. Most companies rue the term and the people it refers to. In many cases, this is with good reason. As an example, just this past month a multi-million-dollar security company looking for government contracts was totally destroyed by (apparently) a 16-year-old girl.
But for many hobbyist hackers, the goal isn't destruction of corporate America. Most would identify freedom as their intended aim. Freedom to choose, freedom to create. Consumer freedom has historically not been something companies back wholeheartedly, as it takes serious foresight to see the potential revenue at the end of the consumer empowerment tunnel.
When Napster cropped up, I wondered why the music industry didn't embrace the considerably improved format and distribution digital music provided. It took Apple and iTunes to show the industry the light (at a 30% cut of revenue). Apple itself was only supporting Web apps at the launch of the iPhone, and it took "hackers" to create the App Store (and in doing so, launch mobile gaming as we know it).
Sony has had a long fight with hobbyist hackers on many platforms including the PSP and recently the PS3. Sony has fought to restrict access to its devices in order to prevent piracy, and the hackers fight back to get greater control over their own devices. In fact, the PS3 hacks that opened the system up to piracy only happened after Sony removed the ability to install Linux on the consoles with that option. Now, Sony is taking those hackers to court.
This is a pattern all too often found in most media industries, including gaming. Which is why I have to applaud Microsoft with its recent announcement regarding a SDK for Kinect. The news really warms my heart, and is bound to win Microsoft a lot of good will. A SDK (Software Development Kit) allows programmers to more easily develop software that can use something: in this case, Microsoft's quite cool Kinect device.
The company could have taken a very different route and tried to restrict the Kinect hardware to Xbox 360 devices and publisher partner software, but luckily Microsoft had foresight. I anticipate some very neat development for this device -- development that can later be acquired or find sanctuary under an upcoming commercial license to improve the Kinect experience on a mass scale. Instead of having only developed a cool device, Microsoft has positioned itself to lead a movement.
There are three motion controller systems out there of note, but where Nintendo and Sony are notorious for fighting against customization, Microsoft has essentially put its hardware into the hands of several hundred very talented hobbyists. If just one security hobbyist could unravel a security company contracting with the U.S. government, what will dozens of software development hobbiests do with the Kinect? Personally, I'm looking forward to finding out.