Software developers will be able to tap into the Kinect gaming system thanks to an application builder that Microsoft plans to release this spring, the company announced Monday.

With this new development kit, Microsoft is hoping its innovative, controller-free camera system will woo more developers to Windows. Many developers have shifted their focus from desktops toward mobile platforms like Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

Unlike current Kinect games, which can be played only on an Xbox 360 game console, these apps would run on Windows computers connected to the device.

Enterprising app makers hoping to get in early on some kind of Kinect app gold rush will have to wait, however.

This first version, slated to release by late June, is being offered only to volunteers willing to give their programs away for free. Microsoft has a name for this target audience: “enthusiasts and academic researchers.”

Microsoft says it plans to release a version later for people who want to sell their apps but declined to provide a time frame. Company spokespeople also declined to make executives available for interviews.

Developers have been attracted to the Kinect technology because unlike normal webcams, Microsoft’s gadget has a depth sensor, making it more useful as a controller.

Shortly after the Kinect’s debut in November, developers quickly hacked the device to create unusual demonstrations of its power. Developers have created body-controlled versions of “Super Mario Bros.,” a realistic “Star Wars” light saber simulator and an app that turns your digital reflection into a ghost.

Consumers have taken to Kinect as well. Microsoft sold 8 million units in its first two months on the market, which coincided with the crucial holiday shopping season.

At first, Microsoft was hot and cold about the swelling community of Kinect hackers. At the same time some spokespeople were discouraging tampering, executives were expressing excitement about bringing Kinect to computers.

With an official development kit, engineers will be able to build standardized apps that can be distributed and run more easily than unofficial ones. Currently, someone would have to hook up a Kinect unit to a PC and run code to unlock the device before being able to play hacked games.

Microsoft’s research arm held an event Monday to discuss recent initiatives including Kinect development, a company spokesman said.

These apps will apply to Kinect units running on Windows PCs and won’t work on Xbox 360 systems, the spokesman said. Console makers, including Microsoft, work out royalty deals with game developers that want to build on their platforms.

But Microsoft has used its popular camera-powered device to bridge gaps between the company’s various platforms. CEO Steve Ballmer’s “one more thing” during a recent presentation described an initiative to make Kinect and Windows Phone devices interoperable.

Source: CNN