Remixing Your Xbox


How many monkeys does it take to change a lightbulb in a ski-lift? Evolutionary theorists would suppose that if we put enough monkeys in enough ski-lifts, eventually they’re be a set of monkeys carving the hillside, flapping their furry tails in the wind. Given this might take a while, and as we still have some snow in the country, cast your mind to the humble penguin – much more adept in snow matters, and mascot for the linux operating system. Now try and imagine a penguin atop a Microsoft Xbox, hurtling down Thredbo’s gnarliest runs, as Michael Steil explains the Xbox Linux Project :

Bill Gates wanted to ‘amaze people with the power’ in the Xbox. Why should people modify it to run linux?
To be able to use the power that Bill Gates promised and the Xbox Linux Project has fulfilled. Sure, the Xbox is a great piece of hardware when playing games, but when I am given a BMW and I’m told that it is no car, but that it is a small apartment for up to four people, I’d start using it as a car – wouldn’t everyone? The Xbox is not a gaming console that has to be modified in order to run Linux, but it is an IBM PC that Microsoft has locked so that it does _not_ run Linux. The user only has to remove this lock. An Xbox running Linux can be used as a desktop computer, a thin client or a server, but you can still use it for games and run Linux to view your MPEG4/DivX.

What are the steps involved to make it happen?
The easiest way at the moment is to rent the game “MechAssault” for a day, as well as a USB stick. Using the USB stick, you have to copy a modified savegame to the Xbox hard disk and run the game – done. Now your Xbox still runs games, but the lock has been removed. Another way is quite similar, but it requires you to solder two points on the motherboard. But as you have the Xbox open already, you can replace the hard disk with a larger one, if you like…

Is it legal, or do you believe it should legal to modify the Xbox hardware?
We believe that everyone may do whatever they like with their hardware, at least as long as it is for their personal use. I bought the BMW, remember, and now you tell me that I am allowed to sleep in it, but not to drive it??

Are Microsoft taking any steps to challenge Xbox modifiers?
Microsoft has always locked out Linux with the same methods they locked out copied games. Therefore it is hard to say whether their improved security is aimed against Linux, against copied games, or both. Microsoft keeps updating the Xbox security system in small steps.

Are there ways of running linux without modifying the hardware?
See above. 🙂 I admit, it’s a new trick. [The final howto will be published within a few days.]

How well does the Xbox perform with linux? ( with say games, multimedia, internet ? or compared to an equivalent pc? )

The Xbox needn’t be “compared” to a PC, because all of its components are taken from the PC world. The Xbox is a Mobile Celeron III at 733 MHz with 64 MB or RAM (expandable to 128 MB), a GeForce 3/4, a 8 or 10 GB hard disk, a DVD drive and Ethernet and USB connectivity. It performs just as well as a PC with this data.

Why not target the much more widespread Playstation for conversion?
Linux already exists for the Playstation 2. Sony sells a kit consisting of a hard disk, a network card, a keyboard and a mouse, which costs about the same as the console itself; so the system costs twice as much as an Xbox running Linux – and it’s not PC combatible, i.e. standard software does not run out of the box on the Playstation 2.

How many Xboxes do you think are running linux now?
Our estimates are above 200,000.

Where do you want to go ( with the Xbox Linux Project) today?
Today, we want to make removing the Xbox’s Linux lock even easier, we want to create some specialized Linux systems for special purposes, and we want to get our code into standard distributions. So much for today… 😉

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