April 08, 2010, 7:59 AM — Well that didn't take long.
Last week on April 1st, Sony pushed out a (more or less mandatory) firmware update (version 3.21) that clobbered the "Install Other OS" feature from older PS3s (the feature had already been disabled from the newer PS3 Slim).
When Sony revealed that a firmware update would remove this feature, hacker George "Geohot" Hotz announced that he'd see what he could do about helping people retain this functionality while still being able to use their PS3 on the Playstation Network. His plan was to build a custom version of firmware 3.21 that had all of Sony's content (such that is is; the update didn't seem to do anything but remove the feature) while retaining Other OS.
Yesterday he released video purported to show an early version of his custom firmware in operation (video embedded below). Hotz's blog post offers a few more details, but the one caveat is that your PS3 has to have firmware version 3.15 or earlier in order for this to work. If you've already upgraded to 3.21, you'll be out of luck when Hotz releases his custom version.
What's interesting to me about this story is that Hotz (who, prior to taking on the challenge of the PS3, was big in the iPhone hacking scene) was the first to hack the PS3 back in January. Some suspect that this was the incentive for Sony to go all paranoid and yank the "Install other OS" feature in the first place, so there's some poetic justice in Hotz putting that feature back in.
Now I don't know George Hotz and I'd never heard the name "Geohot" before that news in January, and only recently have I started reading his blogs. From reading him, it sounds like he initially hacked the PS3 just for the challenge of doing so and because he's legitimately interested in seeing how things work. He states more than once that he doesn't condone piracy and for now, let's take that at face value. On the other side of the coin, I can understand how Sony can be so skittish about having their hardware hacked, considering how much rampant piracy (accomplished via custom firmware) impacted the Sony PSP. But I think Hotz makes a really good point in the closing paragraph of his most recent blog post:
"Note to the people who removed OtherOS, you are potentially turning 100000+ legit users into "hackers." There was a huge(20x) traffic spike to this blog after the announcement of 3.21. If I had ads on this site I guess I'd be thanking you."
How many PS3 owners were paying attention to the PS3 hacking scene before Sony yanked this feature on them? It didn't seem like there were that many, but now it's become big news. Is Sony trying to put out a fire with gasoline? Newer PS3s didn't have the "Install Other OS" option. Now Hotz says it's possible that his hack will enable it on those new systems too. If that turns out to be true, Sony has done themselves more harm than good. Accepting that Hotz has no interest in piracy, that certainly isn't true of everyone and it seems logical that his custom firmware will offer a good starting point for those with more nefarious reasons for hacking their PS3. By removing the Install Other OS feature, all Sony has managed to do is garner ill-will and encourage the PS3 hacking scene that it was trying so hard to quash.