That Sony is a company known for its rather… Unfortunate stance towards DRM and copyright infringement should come as no surprise to anyone, after they more or less crippled the MiniDisc format with DRM, installed rootkits on users’ machines, and started removing features from the PlayStation 3. That last one doesn’t seem to end well: George Hotz, the famous iPhone hacker and the first to crack the PS3’s security, has vowed to bring Linux support back to the PS3.
Only yesterday the news hit the web that an upcoming firmware update from Sony will remove the “Install other OS” feature of the PlayStation 3, a feature which allowed geeks, nerds, and researchers to install Linux on the Cell-powered device. While this feature most certainly isn’t high on most people’s priority lists, it’s still an advertised feature that is now being retroactively removed.
No, that PlayStation 3 isn’t yours. You may have given Sony money, but that’s it. This is how we do in the modern world, baby.
While Sony claims it’s about “security concerns”, we all know what it’s really about: protecting the rights of content providers – since they are way more important than you, the lousy customer. The security in the PlayStation 3 was finally cracked this January, and it seems this is Sony’s response.
However, that very same hacker has now vowed to combat Sony’s update. First, though, he expressed his disgust at Sony’s intentions. “What security concerns?,” he wonders, “It’s not like the exploit can be run even close to without the users knowledge. You have to open the fucking thing up. How could this harm users? Your blog post doesn’t list positive reasons for upgrading like I think most users expect. Instead it lists things you will lose if you don’t upgrade. Seriously?”
This isn’t the first thing Sony has removed from the PlayStation 3’s feature list. While Japanese and US models of the PS3 had hardware emulation for PS2 games, the European version had to settle for a less-compatible software version – PS2 support was removed altogether with the third generation PS3. SACD playback support also fell victim to Sony’s feature removal police at around the same time.
While Hotz had promised not to involve himself with custom firmware, he now no longer believes he has much of a choice. “A note to people interested in the exploit and retaining OtherOS support, DO NOT UPDATE,” he warns, “When 3.21 comes out, I will look into a safe way of updating to retain OtherOS support, perhaps something like Hellcat’s Recovery Flasher. I never intended to touch CFW, but if that’s how you want to play…”
“This is about more than this feature right now,” he continues, “It’s about whether these companies have the right to take away advertised features from a product you purchased. Imagine if an exploit were found in Safari on the iPhone, but instead of fixing it, Apple decides to pull web browsing altogether. Legally, they may be within their right to do so, but we have to show them it’s the wrong move for the future of the product and the company.”
How very early-Jobs-and-Wozniakian of him, but it’s hard to disagree with him. Sony’s behaviour here is despicable, and the company needs to know that. Owners of the fat PlayStation 3 have had this feature advertised to them, and as such, they are entitled to it. I hope the PR ramifications of this move will be massive, hurting the company. This kind of stuff – like Apple’s approach to jailbreaking iPhones – should not be possible.
Interestingly, this reaction is exactly what Sony tried to avoid with the Linux feature. Hackers these days are very enthusiastic and insistent when it comes to the task of bringing a Linux system on *any* kind of hardware. And gaming consoles are especially interesting to them due to their capabilities and perceived financial gain (as the hardware prizes are subsidized).
The linux-on-the-console hacking however nearly always opens the door for game piracy. It is the same as with DeCSS for DVDs. It was wrote to enable Linux playback, and used to copy disks.
With a tightly controlled vendor offer of Linux, Sony was quite successful on distracting hackers from the task of cracking the console. However, the Linux experience was just one bit too frustrating, it was far too crippled. So eventually they could not evade the hacking.
Still, it saved them several crucial years. Now as their strategy doesn’t work out anymore, there is no purpose in their Linux offer for them anymore. So they quit it.