A group of developers has released a version of the Linux OS for Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox game console in Europe, promising to turn the device into a fully-featured PC. Developed by a German group called h07.org, the distribution for the Xbox is based on MandrakeSoft SA's Mandrake 9.0 Linux.
The Xbox-Linux project takes advantage of the fact that the Xbox hardware architecture is very similar to that of a PC, with a 733MHz Intel Pentium III, 64M bytes of RAM and an 8G-byte hard disk. A keyboard and mouse can be added through the console's USB ports, the developers said in a statement.
To run Linux, the Xbox requires an extra chip known as a mod chip to be installed on the main circuit board, a modification which Microsoft believes enables users to circumvent copyright protection on games.
The 350M-byte installation is compatible with the PC version of Mandrake Linux 9, which was released last week. It contains the graphical environments Gnome and KDE, as well as software packages such as OpenOffice.org, Gimp, Evolution and Mozilla.
The developers said that mod chips are not illegal in Europe if they are not used with pirated software. The developers are also working on an alternative ROM that will contain no Microsoft code and won't permit running pirated games, according to the statement.
There are two ways to use Linux on the Xbox, either by using the Xbox's own XBE bootloader, in which case Linux is then started as if it was a game, either from CD or from hard disk. Xbox games can still be played in this configuration.
The ROM method completely replaces the Xbox system software, so that games can no longer be played, but the whole hard disk can be used for Linux and the system boots quicker.
Microsoft representatives in Australia have previously said the company is investigating legal options to stop distribution of mod chips for the Xbox.
The gaming community is currently full of rumors that Microsoft has succeeded in closing down one of the best-known mod chip retailers, Hong Kong-based Lik Sang International Ltd., after taking legal action against the company.