Linux no longer

Date:1 September 2010 Tags:

That’s right: Sony recently issued a PS3 firmware update that strips users of the ability to load the console with the Linux operating system. Of course, we’ve heard this story before: hackers find a way to install an unauthorised operating system or piece of software on a device, so the manufacturer designs a firmware update that nullifies the hackers’ work.

But what makes this case so unusual is that Sony originally supported the PS3’s Linux compatibility and built it into the system. It wasn’t hackers or pirates who were cracking into the system, but normal users who were following Sony’s licence agreements to the letter. The stated reason for the change is unspecified “security risks”, although cynical gamers are more likely to believe Sony is using that as an excuse to exercise more control over how customers use its game system.

And for a certain segment of techies, the ability to run Linux (which is absent on both Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii console) was likely a key reason for their purchasing a PS3 in the first place. So what if you already have Linux on your machine? A Sony spokeswoman confirmed that upgrading the firmware will cause users to lose access to the operating system and any files that are parked in it. Which is unfortunate – for Linux users, it could feel like Sony is playing a game of chicken with them. You can choose not to upgrade your console to the latest firmware, but you’ll also lose access to core features, such as the ability to sign in to the PlayStation Network or to play newer games or Blu-ray discs that are designed to work only with the latest firmware. And if you’ve spent a lot of time and resources turning your PS3 into a working computer, loaded with documents and media, you’d better back it up onto some sort of external drive before you upgrade your firmware. Otherwise, your data will be gone for good.

Still, there’s one potential upside for customers on the horizon: Sony’s actions have prompted several disgruntled gamers to file class-action lawsuits, alleging the company had disabled features they had previously paid for. So even if PS3 owners have to choose between Linux and online gaming, there’s still the possibility that they could at least get a cheque in the mail for a small amount for their trouble