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This article was published on December 1, 2010

Why Microsoft loves homebrew and hacking

Why Microsoft loves homebrew and hacking
Alex Wilhelm
Story by

Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

When the Kinect came out around the world, excited hackers took to the high-powered gadget with glee, taking it apart, and recoding it to new purposes. Microsoft initially registered unhappiness with their work which it later fully recanted, coming out in favor of tinkering with the Kinect.

A similar cycle seems to have taken place with Windows Phone 7. When the ‘unlocking’ tool ChevronWP7 took to the internet, Microsoft condemned it, warning people that it could brick their phones. Then today the company reached out to the team behind ChevronWP7 and proffered a hand of peace, offering a chance to work together on the future of homebrew for the platform.

To demonstrate Microsoft’s sentiment, let’s quote the ChevronWP7 developers who said:

Earlier today, we were contacted by Brandon Watson, Director of Developer Experience for Windows Phone 7, to discuss the ChevronWP7 unlocking tool.

Through this discussion, we established a mutual understanding of our intent to enable homebrew opportunities and to open the Windows Phone 7 platform for broader access to developers and users.

To pursue these goals with Microsoft’s support, Brandon Watson has agreed to engage in further discussions with us about officially facilitating homebrew development on WP7. To fast-track discussions, we are discontinuing the unlocking tool effective immediately.

Microsoft did get what they wanted, the unlocking tool taken down, and the hackers got what they wanted, a chance to open the platform to new forms of development.

It should be noted that this willingness by Microsoft to praise and work with the very people who are buggering about with their products is not new. Back in 2006 Microsoft started to work on homebrew development for the Xbox, something that took many by surprise.

Is it then unexpected that Microsoft is smartly letting people play with the Kinect hardware and software (which will only drive sales through the mountains of free publicity their work will receive), or program in ways that are not ‘kosher’ for the WP7 platform (something that will bring more of the technological elite to the phones, a large net positive for the platform)?

No. It was a strategy that worked well for the Xbox: play into the hands of the trend-setters, taste-makers, bloggers, pundits, and experts, and by letting them do their own ‘thing,’ give the platform in question its own personality apart from the Microsoft brand. Admit it, you don’t immediately say ‘Microsoft’ when you hear the word ‘Xbox.’

This has led some smart, well positioned people inside of Microsoft to, instead of combating the situation with a knee-jerk reaction, tactfully let people break some of their house rules and open their gadgets. There are real people inside of the borg after all, and it seems like they are making smart decisions that will support all their hard work.

Microsoft was started by an upstart hacker, and the company will do well by supporting those same individuals today, tomorrow, and for all the future of Microsoft.

Addendum: Reddit has an extensive discussion on the WP7 matter, and the top comment is very relevent to our discussion. We quote, from the user ‘estacado:’

It’s the only way for wp7 to gain ground against android and iPhone. Make it hacker-friendly, combined with easy to use development tools, and developers will throng to the platform. And the fact that developers don’t have to cater for a wide variety of hardware options is an advantage wp7 has over android.

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