Microsoft took a drastic departure from their standard method of operation in announcing that an SDK (Software Development Kit) had been released for Windows 7 that allows academics and amateurs at home to tap the power of the Microsoft Kinect. This is just the most recent of a series of departures for Microsoft that range from abnormally early announcements, such as announcing the development of Windows Phone 8 before Windows Phone 7 released, and indicating that the upcoming Windows 8 will not only completely transform the UI (User Interface) for a touch-based approach, but also work seamlessly on both ARM and x86 architectures.
While the Kinect is the newest of these drastic policy changes, it certainly has its own backstory that is both full of controversy and richly documented. When the Kinect first debuted, Microsoft realized that both academics and individual hobbyists were both hard at work making the device do new and miraculous things. Microsoft threatened them with a stern warning that involved mention of the possible inclusion of law enforcement. That didn’t stop developers from moving forward by developing, or offering bounties for (illegal) open-source drivers in the hopes of developing. Over time, Microsoft has slowly began to embrace the independent developers by acknowledging the possible uses outside of the Xbox gaming platform, and finally today by releasing the Kinect SDK for everything but commercial uses which are still banned.
The Kinect was originally designed only for use with the Xbox 360 video game console to attract casual gamers away from the Nintendo Wii’s motion controlled interface. Unlike the Nintendo Wii’s contrioller, the Wiimote, Kinect requires no physical remote and utilizes cameras and microphones to treat one or two human beings as simultaneous entities that can be observed and translated into digital space. This digital translation is made possible by audio and visual sensors. The Kinect has cameras that, when used with the appropriate software, can detect shape, color, and depth as well as microphones that can cancel noise, diminish echo, and recognize human speech.
While Microsoft may be reversing direction on many fronts, they apparently have a clear objective for their operating systems over the coming years. Microsoft recognizes the ongoing mobile revolution which they, in part, helped to jump start with Windows CE powered “palmtop” computers in the late 1990s, among other devices both greater and lesser known. Microsoft is also recognizing that computer architectures of all types are becoming increasingly powerful and can harness the types of quality user experiences that Microsoft expects from a computing environment.
While benefits of utilizing the Kinect with traditional computers are numerous, it is the applications within health care, science, and education that Microsoft claims to be most interested in.