Developer creates proof of concept for running Win32 apps on Xbox One

Thanks to an anonymous developer, it is now possible to run CLI Win32 applications on a developer mode activated Xbox One.

The person has also open sourced the code base, a cherry on top!

Consoles and homebrews have had a love-hate relationship.

Historically, the console makers have shown neutral to negative attitude towards the homebrew scene, but the devs as well as enthusiasts never lost hope.

Sometimes people stumble on custom CPU architecture, or even the maker forces a brick via OTA, but the journey continues.

Unlike its main competitor a.k.a PlayStation 4, Xbox One does come with a standard ‘development mode’.

xbox-one-dev-mode

You don’t need to fiddle with homebrew enablers or such, but need to register yourself as a developer by paying a small fee, and do few more generic steps.

The console then switches itself from ‘retail mode’ to ‘developer mode’ so that users can compile & test apps and games on it, but retail apps and games are prohibited in this mode.

Switching between two modes is easily possible though.

xbox-developer-mode

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Now there is a catch! Microsoft is trying to hard to bring their OS and application ecosystem under one umbrella for quite a long time.

The terms like ‘OneCore‘ and ‘UWP‘ don’t sound like alien jargons nowadays.

Because of UWP, it is now possible to maintain a common codebase for an app which is applicable for every kind of device supported by variations of Windows.

On the other hand, it imposes strict sandboxing, limited API access and other restrictions which annoys power users and modders.

The runtime features in-built DRM too, which stood against crackers for a while, but eventually failed.

microsoft-universal-apps

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By design, Xbox One’s developer mode allows only UWP apps and games to be executed on it.

But an apparently new user named XVMM over at GBATEMP forums revealed a neat trick to get shell access and the ability to run vanilla Win32 CLI apps on the gaming console.

Note that the current implementation should be regarded as a proof-of-concept and its far from the typical homebrew offerings that common people expect.

The tinkers, on the other hand, should find it as a stepping stone to dive into the internal file system, explore the capabilities and expand the current status of homebrew development.

xbox-one-white

Readers can find XVMM’s thread here – though it’s fairly technical, the flow of the writeup is quite smooth and easy to follow.

He also created a GitHub organization named ‘Xbox One Research Project’.

The codebase of the sample app (XRF) is the only candidate there.

However, we are expecting more candidates in there soon, as one of the contributor mentioned there is gligli who is famous for his works on Xbox 360 homebrew.

The template to write a Win32 app compatible with the One yourself is also shared in the original thread.

Quoting the author:

This is not an exploit or breakthrough of any sort. It’s simply taking advantage of provided debugging features in developer mode!

A IDE like Visual Studio 2015 or 2017 along with telnet/SSH access to a XB1 with developer mode should be sufficient to free yourself from the UWP jail.

After all, who doesn’t want freedom?

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Kingshuk De

I came from a mixed background of Statistics and Computer Science. My research domains included embedded computer systems, mobile computing and delay tolerant networks in post-disaster scenarios. Apart from tinkering with gadgets or building hackintosh, I like to hop on various subreddits and forums like MyDigitalLife and XDA.