When the Kinect first launched back in November it took the hacking community mere hours to develop unofficial PC drivers and start toying with numerous alternative uses for the device, showing off stuff like Minority Report-style interfaces and holographic video chat. Microsoft was not amused at first but quickly came to realize that Kinect hacking was a good thing and promised not to take legal action against those who use it for more than just basic gaming.

Now the company is taking it a step further announcing plans to release an official Kinect software development kit this spring. According to Microsoft, it's part of their research wing's strategy to embrace developers and make it "easier for academic research and enthusiast communities to create even richer experiences using Kinect technology." The first SDK version is slated for late June and is being offered only to volunteers willing to give their programs away for free.

This non-commercial "starter version" SDK will give users access to Kinect system information such as audio, system application-programming interfaces, and direct control of the Kinect sensor. Microsoft says it plans to release a commercial version later for people who want to sell their apps but declined to provide a time frame.

It's interesting to see Microsoft courting hackers and independent developers at the same time as Sony is suing them in court, though in all fairness the implications of releasing the PS3 root key into the wild were quite different.