Good Stuff Happens When Companies Don’t Act Like Jerks

Microsoft, the company everybody loves to hate, has been changing for quite some time and here we have a reflection of an unexpected benevolence expanding the possibilities. Of everything.

The Kinect product for XBox that Microsoft released last year has been a smash hit and uses some very sophisticated bleeding edge technology. When modders and other geeky types recognized what was inside Kinect they went right to work trying to use this most amazing piece of technology. Initially Microsoft was a bit unhappy with this but in a rather short time realized the value of sharing what they invented.

This article is a bit long and somewhat technical but worth a read to gain some insight into how industry and private individuals can interact in a mutually beneficial way and make things better for everyone. It’s called sharing. LINK

I encourage you to read or at least skim the article to get a feel for how this relationship has evolved. It is eye opening and really informs us of what can be.

I’m posting only a short, but relevant piece.

None of these projects were sanctioned by Microsoft (especially that last one). Indeed, for the past few months, if you wanted to use the Kinect on anything other than an Xbox, you had to install homemade drivers cobbled together by a dedicated group of hackers. Yet the company’s official response to all this activity has gone from hostility to acceptance to vigorous support. In June, Microsoft expects to release a software development kit that makes it easier for any academic or hobbyist to build Windows applications using the Kinect’s camera and microphones. The company is also granting access to the high-powered algorithms that help the machine recognize individual bodies and track motion, unleashing the kind of power that was previously available to only a small group of PhDs. (Microsoft is also working on a commercial version of its software development kit, which will allow entire new businesses to be built using the Kinect’s technology.)

Major manufacturers have long recognized the value of letting customers modify their products, a fact obvious to anyone who has ever swapped out factory-issue tires for performance treads. Many successful technology companies have encouraged independent developers to build on top of their platforms—consider, for instance, Windows, Facebook, and the iPhone App Store. And over the years, modders have introduced several innovations that have grown into entire product categories—like mountain bikes, heart-lung machines, and rodeo kayaks.

But today, unsanctioned tinkerers have more power than ever. Sophisticated computers, sensors, and accelerometers are all common ingredients in personal electronics, available for $100 or less at Best Buy. As a result, the kind of equipment that was recently available only to research universities or major corporations is now accessible to anyone with a cell phone and a soldering iron. That has dramatically altered the kind of projects modders can take on. “If you’re talking about changing the spoiler on the back of a Ford, that serves a very specific purpose,” says Eric von Hippel, a professor of technological innovation at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. “But a depth camera or an accelerometer or a GPS chip enables not just one application but a wide range of new activities.”

I can be wrong on this assessment but I see the hand of Bill Gates at work here. While not working full time at Microsoft anymore he is an influential memebr of the board and certainly has a hand in directing company policy. Some cast him as a hard nosed business person but he is a geek at heart and always has been.


2 thoughts on “Good Stuff Happens When Companies Don’t Act Like Jerks

    1. An accelerometer is explained in depth on this page. That one I know about. Intimately.

      I don’t know about the depth camera. Even the term is confusing to me. I’d have to do some looking to make sense of it.

      It’s really cool what purposes people are putting the Kinect to. It’s slick because it’s this package of sensors that can be used in so many ways. Initially Microsoft didn’t like it until they realized what they had actually made.

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