Sony Blocks Linux On PS3 - InformationWeek
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01:51 PM

Sony Blocks Linux On PS3

Removal 'for security reasons' of the 'Install Other OS' capability prompts a class action suit from PlayStation 3 owners.

Everyone knows about feature creep, but Sony is in trouble with its PlayStation 3 customers over feature removal.

Late last month, a group of PS3 buyers filed a federal class action lawsuit filed in the San Francisco division of the Northern District of California United States District Court slammed Sony's "intentional disablement of the valuable functionalities originally advertised as available with the Sony PlayStation 3 video game console."

According to the lawsuit, "this disablement is not only a breach of the sales contract between Sony and its customers and a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, but it is also an unfair and deceptive business practice perpetrated on millions of unsuspecting consumers."

Sony's shift is ironic, given the PS3's tagline: "It only does everything." Furthermore, it's just one of several features that have been removed, such as when Sony eliminated the console's backwards compatibility with PS2 games.

The Linux installation capability went missing as of April 1, when Sony's 3.21 PS3 firmware disabled the "Install Other OS" formerly available on PS3 systems prior to the latest Slim model (which began shipping in September 2009). "This feature enabled users to install an operating system, but due to security concerns, Sony Computer Entertainment will remove the functionality through the 3.21 system software update," said Patrick Seybold, director of corporate communications, in a statement on the PlayStation blog.

PS3 users who wanted to keep their "Install Other OS" capability could choose to not upgrade. But by not doing so, they would lose access to the PlayStation Network -- required to access the online features of PS3 games and chat, face future PS3 game or Blu-ray Disc playback problems, and be unable to play copy-protected videos stored on a media server.

The security concerns, which Seybold mentions likely stem from the efforts of George Hotz, aka geohot, an experienced iPhone hacker. He spent five weeks documenting, on his blog, his attempt to hack the PlayStation, finally recording the deed at the end of January.

By his count, the PS3 remained unhacked for "3 years, 2 months, 11 days" -- an eternity, given the speed with which a new Apple iPhone, iPod Touch and iPod gets jailbroken these days, and also remarkable given the PS3's powerful IBM Cell microprocessor.

Last month, after coming under fire for being the cause of Sony removing Linux from the PS3, Hotz issued an apology on his blog. "My logic was this. OtherOS support had already been removed from the Slim (not for technical reasons; I believe it only existed in the first place to promote the Cell for IBM). The builders had apparently no intention of including it in future products. So for the purposes of openness, why not release?"

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