PS3, iPhone hacker sets sights on Windows phones

Despite being in the beginnings of a legal battle with Sony over cracking open the PlayStation 3, famed technology hacker GeoHot now says he's going after Microsoft's latest mobile phone platform.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

LG's Quantum, one of the first Windows Phone 7 devices.
LG's Quantum, one of the first Windows Phone 7 devices. Sarah Tew/CNET

Although Microsoft gave the team that created the Windows Phone 7 home brew unlocker ChevronWP7 a very friendly "please stop doing this" several months ago, it's gone in a slightly different direction with the infamous hacker who cracked both Sony's PlayStation 3 and Apple's iPhone wide open.

Earlier this week, hacker George Hotz, who is better known as "GeoHot," announced that he was beginning work on a jailbreak for Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 platform. Shortly thereafter, Brandon Watson--who runs developer platform product management for Microsoft, offered Hotz a Windows Phone over Twitter, saying "#geohot if you want to build cool stuff on #wp7, send me e-mail and the team will give you a phone--let dev creativity flourish #wp7dev."

Microsoft now says the two exchanged a few notes following the tweets.

The move marks yet another occasion where Microsoft has publicly--instead of legally--dealt with people who've sought to go around boundaries the company has set up to protect its products. As with the previously mentioned ChevronWP7 tool, which was designed to let users install home brew software on Windows Phones, Microsoft's Watson got in touch with the creators to get them to come to company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters to talk about bringing such functionality to the platform. In return, the ChevronWP7 team agreed to take their tool down.

There's also Kinect, Microsoft's hot-selling accessory for the Xbox 360, which tinkerers cracked open a few days after its release. In that case, Microsoft originally threatened the strong arm of the law, before relenting and admitting during a radio interview that, on an hourly basis, the team was receiving videos of "cool, neat, creative experiences" people had tinkered together.

Besides the PS3, Hotz is famous for developing a number of jailbreaks for Apple's iOS devices, as well as a tool that would let iPhone users unlock the device for use on multiple phone carriers. Though last July, Hotz said he would be "retiring" from further iOS hackery, citing that people were taking his work too seriously and that it had just been a hobby; even so, Hotz continued to put out beta releases of his "limera1n" iOS jailbreaking tool.

More recently, Hotz's involvements have centered around Sony's PS3. Hotz created a software tool that would let users re-enable the "other OS" option, which Sony had removed as part of a system firmware update. Sony, in turn, took legal action against Hotz, claiming that Hotz's jailbreak violates both the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Computer Fraud Abuse Act.

Last week Hotz appeared on G4TV's Attack of the Show to discuss Sony's restraining order against him, which was filed earlier this month. Hotz argued that while Sony was going after him because the company viewed his tool as an exploit that would allow game piracy, his tool had been designed only for home brew applications. Assuming those are Hotz's intentions with Windows Phone 7 platform, we could see an alternative to Microsoft's Marketplace application akin to what ChevronWP7 first promised. The real question is whether Hotz will follow Microsoft's lead and play nice, or if he'll try to crack the company's newest smartphone platform wide open.

Update at 12:10 p.m. PT: A Microsoft spokesperson further elaborated on the company's exchange with Hotz, saying:

"Brandon Watson and GeoHot exchanged a few notes following Brandon's Twitter posting yesterday. They discussed providing GeoHot with a device. Microsoft in deeply invested in sustaining strong relationships with a wide range of developers and enthusiasts and are always interested in what we can learn from those communities."