Microsoft has released Kinect for Windows hardware and the first official SDK is now available for download. The Kinect for Windows hardware is optimized for computers running Windows 7, Windows Embedded Standard 7 and Windows 8 Developer Preview.

A $100 educational discount is also in the works but isn't expected until sometime later this year. The SDK itself is free to download but without the hardware, you shouldn't expect to get too far with it. The public release follows Beta 2 and includes many improvements such as support for up to four Kinect sensors plugged into the same computer and significantly improved skeletal tracking.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer spoke about Kinect for Windows at last month's Consumer Electronics Show. During Microsoft's final keynote speech, the chief pegged today as the launch day for the program and announced that the company is already working with more than 200 partners including American Express, Boeing, Siemens, Mattel, Toyota and United Health Group.

Redmond sold 18 million Kinect devices for the Xbox 360 last year - enough to earn a Guinness World Record for the fastest selling consumer electronics device ever. Kinect for Windows, however, isn't initially being marketed as a gaming accessory.

The hardware is available in 12 countries at first (United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom) with more countries being added soon.

Kinect for Windows features a suggested retail price of $249 that includes a one-year warranty. Microsoft notes that the hardware isn't being sold at the same price as the Xbox 360 version due to the latter being subsidized by users purchasing supported games, subscribing to Xbox Live and other transactions associated with the 360 ecosystem.