Sony is removing the ability to install an alternative operating system such as Linux on the Playstation 3. In a blog post, Sony’s Charlotte Panther says:
PS3 Firmware 3.21 will be available this Thursday. It will disable the “Install Other OS” feature that was available on the PS3 systems prior to the current slimmer models, launched in September 2009. This feature enabled users to install an operating system, but due to security concerns, we’re now removing this feature.
Panther suggests not upgrading the firmware as a workaround, but observes that this will block access to the PlayStation Network.
It is a move that will matter little to most PS3 owners, but a great deal to the few who were doing interesting work with the cell processor that runs Sony’s games console.
The wider picture is that we are seeing a rise in locked-down devices across the industry. Games consoles are generally like this – the Xbox 360 is the same – as are most mobile phones. Apple is now extending the iPhone model, where users have limited access to the device, to the larger iPad. As I understand it, Google intends that ChromeOS devices will also be locked down, though it is too early to say whether installing alternative operating systems on these will be possible. Sony mentions security, and certainly having a protected operating system that can only be updated by the vendor is an excellent security feature.
The downside is that it gives greater power to the vendor, to control what you can do with the device, stifle creativity, and potentially to charge more for applications and extensions than is possible with an open system.
There is a good explanation of how this works in Daniel Lyons’ recent piece on the Apple iPad.