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Microsoft announced last night that Kinect for Windows is now available. Tied to the hardware release is the Kinect SDK and runtime 1.0 for Windows, a set of programmer-related tools. This means that third parties can now build and release their own software solutions that utilize the new version of the Kinect hardware, designed specifically for Windows.

"Shipping Kinect for Windows was a cross-Microsoft effort," Microsoft general manager Craig Eisler wrote in a post to the Kinect for Windows Blog. "Not only did the hardware and software teams work closely together to create an integrated solution, but our support, manufacturing, supply chain, reverse logistics, and account teams have all been working hard to prepare for today's launch."

Kinect for Windows supports a number of interesting features, including a Near Mode that allows the sensor to work as close as 40 centimeters from the user, the latest Microsoft Speech technologies, an improved "far talk" acoustic model for better speech recognition accuracy, significantly improved skeletal tracking, and, curiously, the ability to use as many as four Kinect sensors simultaneously on a single PC.

Microsoft says that its Kinect SDK for Windows will be updated two to three times a year going forward, and that it will respond to user and developer feedback in future releases. As before, no word yet on when/if this improved sensor is coming to the Xbox 360 as well, though you have to think people will see if it works as soon as they can.

Want one? According to the Amazon web site, the Kinect for Windows hardware is $250 and should be available February 1, which is today. But the ship time is listed as "1 to 4 weeks," suggesting that either the original batch already sold out or that the device is not yet available.

I preordered Kinect for Windows the day it was announced, so I presume it's on the way.