Microsoft made the Kinect for Windows SDK beta available for download earlier this year, enabling programmers to create applications for PCs utilizing motion-sensing technology. Although that release involved a non-commercial version of the SDK targeted at academics, enthusiasts, and researchers willing to give their programs away for free, the company has now said it will open up its peripheral for commercial, third-party applications early 2012.

Currently, more than 200 businesses worldwide – including Toyota, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Razorfish – are already part of a Kinect for Windows pilot program launched last year that focuses on exploring business usage of the Kinect sensor. The majority of these companies have opted to keep their names hidden for now for competitive reasons, but Microsoft is reportedly working with them to get their apps up and running as soon as possible.

Healthcare is one of the areas where there's been a lot of early experimentation with Kinect's potential applicability. Spanish technology group Tedesys, for example, has linked Kinect to a PC and monitor to allow surgeons to "wave their way through patient records on screen during operations," the Financial Times notes. The video below highlights this and other potential uses for Kinect beyond gaming, in what Microsoft is calling the Kinect effect.

Interestingly, although Microsoft's motion controller quickly became a best seller after it's November 2010 launch, it hasn't made big strides in gaming due to a lack of attractive software titles. But if developers in other fields embrace Kinect, it could shape the future of interacting with technology and the financial potential for Microsoft would be huge.

The Kinect for Windows SDK beta runs on Windows 7 and gives users full access to everything the peripheral has to offer, from the VGA and depth-sensing cameras to skeletal tracking and audio elements that are integrated directly with Microsoft's Speech API (SAPI). Microsoft hasn't mentioned anything about Kinect running on its upcoming Windows 8 operating system at this point, but it would only make sense for the technology to be supported there as well.