Some users are starting to view Microsoft's Xbox gaming console as an inexpensive appliance easily rigged to operate as a fully functioning personal computer, according to a USA Today report.
Thousands of users are reportedly souping up their Xboxes to house movies and music, serve up web pages, and write software by simply investing a few hundred dollars and downloading free tip sheets from the web.
XboxHacker.com, one of several web sites packed with information on building Xbox media hubs, is said to log 8,000 visitors a week.
Because Xbox has so much capability, hackers have found it works well as:
Media hubs. Unlike a PC tower, the compact Xbox can be easily positioned next to the TV. By adding a start-up chip and a bigger hard drive, the Xbox can morph into an inexpensive media center for storing and playing a vast amount of games, movies and music. The TV screen serves as a monitor.
Linux PCs. A group called the Xbox Linux Project reportedly advocates bypassing the Xbox's Windows operating system and replacing it with the free Linux operating system. This lets users run a wide variety of free software.
Web tunnels. Microsoft charges gamers $4 a month to use Xbox Live, its fledgling online gaming service. It hopes to add more subscribers and raise the fee. But GameSpy.com and XBConnect.com offer free ''tunneling'' software that reportedly lets Xbox gamers interact with each other online using unmodified Xboxes.
Microsoft's news on Wednesday that it is dropping the price of a new Xbox by U.S. $20 to $180 may drive more users to give it a try.
The software company claims the $100 or so it loses on each Xbox is the price of entry to compete against Sony's dominant PlayStation 2 gaming console. While Microsoft says it will attack hackers on a case-by-case basis, some analysts say the company has so far tolerated the Xbox hacking as an unavoidable nuisance.
While some Xbox hacking ? such as copying games -- is illegal, tunneling, installing Linux and building media hubs fall are disputable, as they fall into the gray area of what rights owners have to change a technology once they have paid for it.
Microsoft says it is pursuing several initiatives that could make it illegal to tamper with hardware embedded with certain security codes. In addition to saying it'll stop illegal hacking, the software company is also warning that opening the Xbox -- required to install hardware -- voids the warranty. (USA Today)
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