Fake outrage for Sony’s moves

March 2010 is likely to become famous in the Free Software, Open Source movements’ histories as the month of the “corporate betrayals”. From one side, we got Oracle eating away all of Sun, including the latest developments on the Solaris license (which now becomes a 90-days evaluation license) and the change regarding security support for Solaris itself. From the other, we have Sony’s announced 3.21 firmware upgrade that disables the “Other OS” support from PlayStation 3 “phat” that are still around.

Now, the fact that Sony could never be arsed to call it “Linux support” but always stuck with “Other OS” could probably be a good start to understand that they weren’t that fond of the hacking community to play in different ways with their stations, but this is something that probably struck a lot of people, especially after Sony’s own promise of keeping the support around for the “phat” model when “slim” was introduced. Coincidentally, I dissed Sony a bit in my previous post and that was even before 3.21 was announced.

But as you might have understood from the title of this post, I’m not among those who scream “enemy” to Sony for this particular move; while I do agree that it’s obnoxious, and I think that Sony made a very bad move, especially after their promise, I don’t think that some of the comments I read recently seem to have a clue of what Sony is trying to do, and end up looking very silly to me, as they add nothing to the Free advocacy. So I’ll take another page out of Bill Maher, and speak about the “fake outrage” that people seem to have regarding Sony right now.

So the first thing in favour of Sony’s move is… they haven’t tried to stealth this in the firmware update! Sure they are weaseling their way in with “security concerns” but they actually gave a fair warning to the users and organisations that are using PS3s for their tasks, and told them not to upgrade; which is mostly what you should do if you’re just using your PS3s with Linux to do whatever work, it does not hamper you in any way, as the only drawback is… you won’t have support for PlayStation Network or the newest published games. What a waste, for all those people using PS3s for security work! Or is it?

I’m quite sure that most of the people who are using PS3s for high-speed CPU work are not using them to play games with the Sony firmware anyway; I think we actually heard of PS3 clusters to process a huge amount of data like the one that was needed to find the MD5 SSL vulnerability. Also, thanks to Moore’s Law we start to have maybe even more powerful workstation at our disposal: the power provided by (older-model) PS3s is now getting less and less relevant, especially considering that their cost hasn’t really dented so much, maybe cut in half in the past three year. And it still has only 256MB of RAM, doesn’t it?

Of course, I would be a hypocrite if I said that there is no gain for a single geek to run Linux on his or her PlayStation 3. As our own Steve (beandog) shown some time ago, you can use PS3s to rip BluRay discs, thanks to the ability to access the (otherwise pretty expensive) BluRay drive embedded in the unit. But even accepting that fact, which is something I’d be ready to bet Sony is not interested in keeping around, it doesn’t give you such a fantastic use.

Again, I’m all for fiddling with hardware, and getting Linux to run anywhere it’s possible. OpenWRT, OpenBTS, all these projects started by poking around at hardware that wasn’t supposed to be usable with Linux and are providing us with lots and lots of good stuff to use. On the other hand, I don’t see anything like that to be happening here, I actually see something very different! I see self-named “Free Software Advocates” rooting for a “hacker” (which we should probably call a “cracker” instead) that promised a custom firmware… what was the reason again, for which we’d need a custom firmware?

I’m not asserting that we shouldn’t be rooting for “crackers” in general. I think we have lots and lots of examples out there that show us that only by cracking something open we can actually use it properly, even if it might open as well negative and illicit possibilities such as piracy (I don’t condone piracy: let’s agree that all licenses are valid, otherwise I should be condoning GPL violations as well). Cracking encryption and so-called “copy protections” such as CSS, BluRay’s AACS, Apple’s FairPlay, and all the other DRMs is a very important stepping stone to really have Free Software and Free Content. And cracking hardware to run different software and operating systems is just as important for Free Software to extend its influence.

But with these two ideas in mind (cracking DRM and breaking Free hardware), what would a “custom firmware” for the PS3 accomplish? If you were to run a custom firmware, Sony would very much like to keep you out of their store; while obnoxious is something you’d have to accept; the same would be true for games that would require the newer version of the firmware. And if you don’t care about these two things, you can just follow the advice Sony gave you in the first place: don’t update. The only reason why people would root for such a “custom firmware” is – obviously – piracy. It would be hypocrite to say that nobody is hoping to be able to get their games for free, in this crowd.

Again, I’m not happy with Sony’s decision, but as long as it’s possible to use Linux on the PS3, even with some limitations on what you can do with it on the other side of the fence, I don’t see any reason to root for the cracker.

6 thoughts on “Fake outrage for Sony’s moves

  1. well the bad thing is that you’ll likely lose ability to run new games and psn access if you don’t update the firmware.it’s a forced one-or-the-other choice. which is unfair. after all there are people who run linux on ps3 from time to time, and use it to play once in a while too.also, linux support was an advertised feature, which arguably pushed sales in ps3’s early days.it’s considered illegal to remove such a feature from a product, because it breaks the user agreement. i hopy sony gets some legal heat from a few determined people over this.if sony manages to get away with it, it might inspire some other companies to do the same. right now the user agreement is one of the few things left a customer has left to protect their rights. and it’s already pretty restrictive.personally i hope that a solution to restore the other os feature comes out.obviously many people will try to abuse it for various purposes, but that’s to be expected. no way around it.i can already see a potential application of that solution for apple in the future – release a firmware upgrade that would disable h264 support in their devices, due to rising MPEG-LA royalty threats. who knows, some vendor might actually do it.

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  2. Getting Sony’s ass kicked the legal way would _definitely_ be a good thing, for us all. And having them provide a way to still get the support for installing Linux would be awesome.On the other hand, I _still_ can’t get hyped up to root for the cracker to get a “custom firmware” on it.

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  3. I simply cannot agree with your statements. I couldn’t’ care less about the custom firmware hack, as it’s just a band aide that will have to be re-hacked with every single update from now until the console is dead. That’s not a solution.But just to say, “Oh well” to anyone running linux? That is just wrong. The PS3 was advertised and heavily promoted as linux capable (it’s vista capable all over again) and now they are just removing support because it’s become ‘bothersome’ to support?I bought my Phat PS3 because it was backwards compatible and supported linux install. Yeah, linux sucks on it and i’ve already thought about removing the partition myself…but that’s MY choice! I could always put it back on when support improved.Instead, Sony is removing one of the three features i purchased the unit for. I WANT Linux capability. I bought it with that in mind. And now everyone’s ok with it disappearing?I don’t care if the slim lacks it…they paid less. They paid less for less ‘machine’, so to speak, and fully knew what it entailed. I paid for the functionality and i should be able to keep it or be financially compensated my $200 for that feature ($300 for a slim + $100 for a PS2 (backwards compatibility) leaves $200 left over). That is the fair thing to do.I didn’t buy a EULA. I didn’t buy software. i bought hardware that was advertised to do certain things…and to think they can just change that because it’s become inconvenient for them to support it is wrong.how long until other ‘features’ become a ‘security risk’? How long until PS2 BC becomes a ‘security risk’, or playing ‘certain video formats’ is a ‘security risk’?Why is it Sony gets a pass for doing this on the PS3 but if they or any other manufacture did this for a PC (not a console) they would be roasted alive!? But because it’s a console all of a sudden my hardware rights are just ignored?Yeah, I’ll upgrade, because if I don’t, I don’t’ get to play have my PSN games anymore. I found that out the hard way during the 24hour flu the PS3 had this year.But it still makes me mad…..

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  4. A cracker is usually reserved for those who break into a system with malicious intent, while a hacker is someone who works his/her way around a technical barrier. Running a custom firmware seems to fit the second description (hacker) much better.How does this have *anything* whatsoever to do with copyright infringement (which you call ‘piracy’)? If the device can run Linux, let it! My Linksys WRT54G router needed a custom firmware to run Linux (well, it maybe was before); my iPod needed custom firmware to run Linux. Neither of these are involved with copyright infringement. How does a PS3 running Linux suddenly become a reason, on its own, that these computers (game consoles) must be doing illegal things and need to be stopped?

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  5. There is no need for custom firmwares to run Linux on the PS3. You just cannot do that with the latest firmware _and_ run games on it as well.Can you run Linux on your iPod _and_ at the same time use it with iTunes like before? Nope.Can you run Linux on whatever soho router and at the same time has the exact same functions you had before? Nope.And in the same spirit you can either use your PS3 vanilla or install Linux, and you don’t need any “custom firmware”.But knowing that the one particular _cracker_ that people seem to root for wanted to be able to run illicit copies of games on the PS3 for months already, *that* is the connection with copyright infringement here.Want to root for running Linux on something new? Get Linux to run on an iPhone… maybe get _Android_ to run in there, that would be cool. But simply “jailbreak” an iPhone for the sake of it, more than half the time is only used to crack wide applications and get them distributed outside of their licensing. And Free Software advocate or not you shouldn’t be condoning that.Free Software does not mean you can get your software free of charge disrespecting any license. Free Software means you can get *Libre* Software, which can be as good and often better than the proprietary alternative.

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  6. Good blog by the way.I just wanted to say that although i believe sony are trying to protect themselves especailly after the vast amount of money they have spent on this console. (cos its almost the dreamcast over again)I was going to put a tera into my PS3 and install Linux. And use my PS3 as my central hub. But now i cannot.I know i’ve left it FAR TO LATE. But unfortunately what sony has done is unethical. Sony for the sake of technology have been stabbing its customers in the back(and now gradually they are removing this technology). Us european customers have been screwed over since the console was released. Decent titles (that are not multi-plat) are only just appearing on the console now. The playstation store is absolute rubbish. Isn’t it enough that i went out and spent 500 English pounds on the console when it came out, for them to then start removing things from it. Re release and slim it down and remove processors. My hope for some AMAZING GAMING has gone tbh.I want nintendo to hurry up and invest all the money they have made into a pioneering console.

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