Linux on the Xbox: Part II: Planning

by Devanshu Mehta

This is the IInd part of an “ongoing series”: on my experiences with installing Linux on my Xbox.

Ah, nice to know there are other zealots out there. So, before you do anything else, you want to bookmark the “Xbox-Linux website”: Lot’s of interesting information about how and why you would want to attempt this project- the kind of stuff “I’ve already written about”:

First of all, you want to go through “the great text adventure game”: that will help you choose your own adventure through the Xbox Linux terrain. This will allow you to determine how to proceed considering your unique situation. Do you have everything you need? Do you really want to do this? Do you have the technical fortitude to do it? The website can even “suggest people who can help you do it”: for free (or for toys). But if you want someone to do it for you- what are you doing here?

My text adventure came up with the fact that

  • I’m taking the software-only route.
  • I need a way to get the software on to the Xbox. The solution is a USB flash drive.
  • So that means I need a way to connect a USB drive to my controller port. I considered building my own cable out of a USB extension cable and a controller extension cable; but in the end decided to “buy my own here”: for $8.99.
  • Not all USB flash drives are compatible with the Xbox. Understand- we are not talking about linux compatibility. This is pre-linux installation. So determine if the drive you have or plan to buy will “workable from this list of compatible devices”: There is also some more “information here about USB, Xbox and linux”: You can also use “this Action Replay device available here”:$&r=0&l=1&ProdID=119 instead of a flash drive, but you may need USB anyways once you install linux so its good to know how to make this possible.
  • Next, you need to rent or buy a used copy of MechAssault the game.

That brings us to the most ingenious part of the whole getting-linux-on-the-xbox process. Microsoft always knew there were smart cookies out there waiting to put linux on anything with a processor- or more likely, try to cheat on games. So they made it close-to-impossible for the average user to install anything on the system, to use any software not signed by Microsoft and to attach hardware they didn’t approve (thus the clever hiding of the 4 USB ports as strange controller ports).

Enter Mechassault. Not the ‘Greatest Hits’ version. Not the ‘Game of the Year’ version. Not MechAssault Rides Again. Not MechAssault- The Untold Story. Not even MechAssault- Assault of the Mechs. No, the original MechAssault alone will do (the key is to check the disk for a laser etching of MS02301, or so I’ve read).

The people working on the Xbox-linux project realized that the only way to get anything of their choosing to execute, it had to be… a saved game. That’s right- in a clever hack in the tradition of many past “FOSS”: hacks, they created a set of saved games that you can load in to the Xbox off a USB drive. Then you pop your MechAssault in the drive and ask it to load a saved game. Which one, it asks. The ‘Install Linux’ saved game, you say. It’s your favorite one.

So now you need two more important links to help you with the process:

So after going through all of that, I discovered that these are the things I would need to get started:

  • Any Xbox (except for the Japanese version or 1.6 without modchip)- GOT IT
  • The Xbox game MechAssault (original version, see above)- BLOCKBUSTER
  • A USB memory stick (note that you will have to overwrite it) or another USB mass storage device, such as a SD card reader or digital camera (look at the “Xbox USB Compatibility List”: seems like I have a CREATIVE MUVO 128MB MP3 PLAYER that is compatible. If not, I will BUY ONE
  • An Xbox USB adaptor- will buy from link above- PURCHASED, WAITING ON DELIVERY
  • A Linux, BSD, Mac OS X or Windows computer with USB connectivity- GOT ALL FOUR

Finally, there is an emergency recommendation for a network cable to a hub or a crossover cable to another computer. For now, I’m sticking with the crossover. My Xbox is too far from my hub and once I have linux on it I will turn it into a wireless 802.11b machine. (The reason it won’t really be 802.11g is because the Xbox USB ports are only v1.1, not v2.0. Yeah, I know.)

In Part III of this series I will go into the details of my first steps into these uncharted waters. But first, I must wait for my USB-to-xbox-controller adapter to arrive in the mail.