Unshackling the Xbox: hackers and the right to tinker

Friday, 18 July 2003, 9:39 AM EST

Not long after a 31-year-old Manhattan financial executive became bored with his Xbox games and Xbox Live Service, he opened his Xbox and soldered in a chip that allowed him to change the console's basic computer code and bypass its internal security technology. Then he installed a new hard drive and transferred about 3,000 MP3 music files to the system and downloaded illegal copies of 3,500 old-time arcade games. He installed the Linux operating system, which allowed him to use the box essentially as a personal computer.

When Microsoft released the Xbox in November 2001, it was heralded as far more than a game machine. Even as the Xbox took aim at Sony's PlayStation 2 game empire, the console was meant to lead Microsoft's broader invasion of the living room. Incorporating a hard drive, which made it more readily adaptable than other consoles, the Xbox had the potential to be a digital-entertainment nerve center.

That is happening, but not necessarily as Microsoft planned. All sorts of new software is indeed running on Xbox consoles these days, and they are in fact becoming home-entertainment hubs, but not as Microsoft had expected.

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