Running Linux on your PS3? Not for long

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One of the geek-friendliest features of Sony's PS3 when it launched was the option to install Linux on the console. There was enough interest in doing this that several distributions were ported and/or tweaked to run on the PS3 platform (Wikipedia has more details). The PS3's easily upgraded hard drive made it quite feasible to have a robust installation of Linux running on the same machine that you did your gaming on, and the hardware had the muscle to make doing so worthwhile.

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All that ends on April 1st, because on that day Sony is rolling out a patch that disables the "Install other OS" option of the pre-Slim PS3s (the newer Slims never supported a secondary operating system). And why is Sony kicking the Linux-running segment of their customer base in the teeth? All they're saying is that the update is "due to security concerns." What else does the April 1st update do for users? Nothing. At least, nothing is mentioned on the blog post announcing this change. Is it really an "Update" when all it does is remove features, Sony? Maybe you should call this the version 3.21 Downgrade?

If you're running Linux on your PS3 and want to update your PS3, back everything up. Once you update all your data will be gone. If you choose not to update, you'll lose access to the Playstation Network and of course won't be able to run any future disks that require the most recent firmware version (and you can bet that Sony will make that a requirement ASAP). Basically your PS3 will become an off-line game console for older games.

Having this option never made a lot of sense from a business point of view. Sony loses money on every PS3 they sell — the idea being they'll make up the difference and more on software (game) sales — and when people, companies, or armed forces buy PS3s just to run Linux on them, Sony never makes back that deficit. So I can understand why they removed the feature from the PS3 Slim.

Removing it from existing systems, on the other hand, seems like another Sony PR blunder. Every time Sony starts to shed the stigma it created around itself during the early years of the PS3, with its arrogance about the high cost of the console and a number of other unpopular decisions...every time it starts to gain some popularity with the fans, it does something to shoot itself in the foot. I don't have any numbers on how many people were running Linux on their PS3s but clearly there were open source developers putting lots of effort into making Linux on PS3 a solid experience. Now all their work is being made irrelevant in the name of some vague and unspecified security concerns. At the time of this writing, the blog post announcing the 3.21 "update" has 2,200 comments and counting, so clearly this is a hot issue in the Playstation 3 community. A random sampling seems to indicate that comments are split between lots of users who are angry that they're losing this functionality and some users who are angry that this update brings nothing new to the table. Very few commenters see the news as positive.

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