Firmware update will strip Linux support from the PlayStation 3

Sony removing the ability to run third party operating systems such as Linux on the PS3. Is this the final nail in the coffin of the PS3 as a general computing device?

Sony’s PlayStation 3 started out life as more than just a gaming console. When first announced Sony played up the importance of the Cell processor inside the system, using the ‘supercomputer in the home’ analogy.

There were visions of the future in which Cell was able to communicate and pool processing resources with other Cell powered devices in the home. This was a byproduct of Cell being a joint development effort between Sony, Toshiba and IBM.

The vision – more than a gaming console
In order to facilitate this Sony launched the PlayStation 3 with a function called ‘Install Other OS’. This allowed owners to install a cut-down version of Linux on the system and use it for more than gaming and media consumption. Sony’s website still promises that “By installing the Linux operating system, you can use the PS3 system not only as an entry-level personal computer with hundreds of familiar applications for home and office use, but also as a complete development environment for the Cell Broadband Engine (Cell/B.E.).”

Over time these grandiose dreams have waned. Cell never really made it into other consumer devices, and while Linux did end up on the PlayStation 3 it was mainly leveraged by research institutions rather than home users. Sony removed the ability to install Linux on the second generation Slim PS3 models, however enthusiasts and tinkerers still actively search out first generation consoles for two reasons – ‘Install Other OS’ and backwards compatibility with PS2 games.

Sony’s new firmware update
Unfortunately the ‘Install Other OS’ option gained notoriety in January this year when noted iPhone jailbreaker Geohot announced that he had made serious inroads into hacking the PS3. Using Linux he was able to penetrate the supposedly secure ‘hypervisor’ software that acts as a low level protector of the system. While he didn’t get far enough for the feared flood of pirated PS3 games to hit the internet he did manage to lay the groundwork for future attempts.

To combat this Sony announced overnight that it was removing the ability for consoles to ‘Install Other OS’ in a firmware update due on April 1 (confusing the heck out of commenters on its website who are convinced it is an April fools joke). To add insult to injury it also announced that not upgrading to the latest firmware would lock users out of a lot of PS3 functionality such as access to the online PlayStation network. It would also mean that future game and Blu-Ray releases will be unplayable on un-updated systems.

The PS3’s future
While this will have little impact on PS3s employed as supercomputers, it is the final nail in the coffin of the PS3 as a general computing device. This has all happened despite assurances given late last year that the Install Other OS function would not be removed from older model consoles.

As for the hacking situation Geohot is unsurprisingly advising people to not update their firmware. He promises that he will come up with a workaround, which likely means that Sony’s solution will have little effect on those wanting to keep their options open for future piracy.

damn… so no firmware update for now. is sony becoming microsoft? i’ve been using linux happily ever since i bought the PS3. with this update, this feature shall be disabled… bad news for us linux users.. hopefully this remains as rumors alone.. article from Australian PC Authority.