At the MIX'11 conference this week in Las Vegas, Microsoft provided a compelling public demonstration of its Kinect developer tools for Windows, showing off how programmers will be able to create interactive applications for its motion-sensing hardware. The Kinect was originally released last year for the Xbox 360, but it can be connected to Windows-based PCs, as well, by using a bundled USB cable. And Microsoft has big plans for this engaging hardware doodad.

"Kinect is exciting," Microsoft Developer Relations Guy (yes, that's his title) Jeff Sandquist said, opening his portion of Wednesday's MIX keynote. "It is the fastest-selling electronics device EVER ... with over 10 million devices sold. There are a whole host of innovators, hackers, enthusiasts, that were doing things with Kinect on Windows that none of us could ever have imagined. And that is why we will be releasing the Kinect for Windows SDK."

This software development kit (SDK) will ship "later this spring," according to Microsoft. But developers got an early peek at the possibilities this week, and judging from the crowd reaction, they liked what they saw. The demos included World Wide Telescope, in which the user pans around the galaxy using hand gestures, a Kinect-controlled lounge chair (exactly what it sounds like), and a Wall Panic game in which two gamers try to contort themselves to match the increasingly complex openings in a virtual wall that is barreling towards them.

The SDK provides full access to the motion-sensor add-on's capabilities, including the microphone array, skeletal tracking, and so on. And apps are written in the standard Visual Studio environment in popular languages such as Visual Basic, C#, and C++. The initial SDK release will be for non-commercial use only, but commercial licenses will become available later as well, Microsoft says.

Developers who are interested in the Kinect for Windows SDK can sign up to be notified of the release at the Microsoft Research website.