Linux

Sony's removal of Linux support from PS3 upset gamers and the USAF

Sony pulled Linux support from the PS3, upsetting gamers enough that there's a class action lawsuit filed, but it also screwed up some high-profile projects, including one run by the U.S. Air Force.

Ever since Sony made the decision to no longer support Linux with the "Other OS" feature in the new PS3 line, gamers have voiced their frustration. In April, Sony went a step further in angering consumers by announcing that the v3.21 PS3 firmware update would disable the Other OS option completely.

Now, a class-action lawsuit has been launched on behalf of consumers who feel that the removal of the featured functionality that, in fact, made them choose the Sony product over others, represents a breach of the "covenant of good faith and fair dealing" the Sony made with consumers.

More recently, some of the rippling side-effects of Sony's decision are making the news, one of which involves the United States Air Force, of all things. Ars Technica reports that Sony's firmware update messes with a research project that the Air Force set up:

The Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, New York picked up 336 PS3 systems in 2009 and built itself a 53 teraFLOP processing cluster. Once completed as a proof of concept, Air Force researchers then scaled up by a factor of six and went in search of 2,200 more consoles (later scaled back to 1,700). The $663,000 contract was awarded on January 6, 2010, to a small company called Fixstars that could provide 1,700 160GB PS3 systems to the government.

While it sounds a little odd at first, at least the USAF was actually trying to save some money, no small matter to U.S. taxpayers these days. Each unit was imaged to run Linux, resulting in a 500 TeraFLOPS Heterogeneous Cluster before the Linux install option was removed. Since the cluster is not hooked into the PlayStation Network, it doesn't need the firmware update, but if units need to be added, repaired or refurbished, Sony's firmware update would make it unusable for the project. There are other academic projects around the country, including one at MIT, that face the same problem.

Credit: USAF

Do you think these other considerations will put more pressure on Sony either to come up with a compromise or eventually change the firmware update? Or will the gamer-anger and class action lawsuit be enough to drive Sony to do some damage control? This company has certainly been on a roll in the PR department, what with the whole copy-protection/root kit scandal of 2005.

Speaking of teraflops, petabytes, and other big stuff...

Okay, that's a bad segue, but I just wanted to follow up on the Ceph filesystem that I wrote a post about a couple of weeks ago. The latest Linux kernel release 2.6.34 came out with Ceph included, along with another filesystem -- LogFS, a scalable flash filesystem with a focus on large devices such as solid state drives (SSD) and other flash memory-based devices.

From the Ceph Project page:

Linux v2.6.34, which includes the Ceph kernel client, has been released! This is an exciting milestone for us, and we're pretty happy with the stability of the client code that made it into this release. This should make it easier for people to experiment with Ceph and see how it holds up on a wide variety of systems.

Of course, they also note that it is still experimental and not ready for production environments.

About

Selena has been at TechRepublic since 2002. She is currently a Senior Editor with a background in technical writing, editing, and research. She edits Data Center, Linux and Open Source, Apple in the Enterprise, The Enterprise Cloud, Web Designer, and...

21 comments
lcplwilson
lcplwilson

I wouldn't put anything past Sony anymore. I will not buy anymore sony products. Their support sucks and is expensive to boot. Bah and foo bah on them.

wizardb
wizardb

This kind of behavior by Sony is the reason I long ago stopped buying anything made by them,be it root kits on CDs or their bribing movie studios to not support HD-DVD they have proven that they will lie cheat and steal to make a profit the only true way to teach them a major lesson is to stop buying their products be it Bluray or PS3 or TVs don't buy anything made by them then maybe they'll get the message!

taylorstan
taylorstan

I think that the consumers would be best served if they would fight with a notion that they are forced into these updates. You can't play a newer game unless you are at a certain Firmware level. Many games are packaged with the update and install it when you load the game to play. Nintendo does this with the Wii. As far as I'm concerned it should be up to the user to detremine if a change to the system they purchased is required. That's a stronger argument in my opinion than telling Sony they can't develope their system the way they want to.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I dodged this particular bullet but have at least one PS3 owning friend who arrived home from vacation to discover his missing Yellowdog install. Even the folks who carefully read the effects of each update, people are getting stung. The USAF and university clusters also crossed my mind when this broke last week or so. The minimum Sony should do is restore Other OS. They should have been working to improve it all along instead of claiming "piracy/terrorists/for-the-children" and just yanking it through a required update. With the class action law suite, even 10$ per PS3 owner would send a clear message back up through the Sony org chart.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

that academic / governments will get special treatement by SONY to keep the OS option. You know it, I know it.

maclovin
maclovin

So, now that the US Military is involved, it's much more important that if it were a standard consumer. I understand, and appreciate, the saving of MY money. But, it annoys me that the coverage of said issue only much more now that a larger entity is involved outside of your standard tech circles.

maclovin
maclovin

In addition to my statement above, I DO believe that people cannot complain as much as they want. The Sony PS is a closed-platform device. So, to sue someone for altering THEIR closed platform device, is kind of.... I don't have a word better than stupid, so please fill in the blank for yourself!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I've been watching the reports on other sites and it has been pretty thick. Enterprise org grief may have got the new posted in The Times and such but it was far from unknown when just grief among the hoodwinked consumers. Now, what came to mind before was that the US Mil is a big enough organization that they could organize a custom contract with Sony for Other OS enabled. Large research orgs could try the same too though.

SmokeNMirrors
SmokeNMirrors

There are now 4 class actions filed against Sony relating to removal of the OtherOS feature and FW3.21. I think this case will set an important precedent for the whole of future consumer electronics. I surely hope the courts see to it that Sony, rather than the consumer, is at the short end of the stick.

bboyd
bboyd

Great article, was happy that the PS3 team had a great computational product to offer. Sony management seems to think that screwing consumers if high fun. Onwards and upwards Sony!

Rick Caringer
Rick Caringer

What was the USAF thinking? Should they have contacted the Japanese and asked if there game console was stable enough in their requirements to invest over half a million dollars? Yes, they should have. Who builds a mission critical project on the whims of an entertainment market? After the first phase of their proof-of-concept school science project, they should have vetted the whole thing prior to ramping up. Hopfully, this Japanese corporation will save the USAF (and apparently MIT). And more hopefully, they will learn from this.

sar10538
sar10538

Their game console is stable enough for the job it's just that the Sony Corp is not stable enough to deliver on it's promises sadly.

johnmckay
johnmckay

So there are a few high profile users of linux on a PS3 98.4% of us never bothered. We've not lost anything! The other 1.6% should be catered for by the option not to upgrade their firmware... Oh, stop press... I just noticed the firmware asks if you want to upgrade. Well that's that sorted. :-) Moving on again.... As for the rootkit? It was years ago and worse things have happened to mankind; hell I even think Intel forgot to mention flotaing point errors a number of years ago. No big deal unless you're planning on flying to the moon or some major scientific problem. We all make mistakes lets be honest, but removing Linux support doesn't seem a big deal to me. Or maybe the US military dual boot them and let the forces all play on one big closed gaming network. That would reduce real casualties but I don't see it catching on. You never know though.

bboyd
bboyd

NVidia has the same thing going on, GPU's are great parallel processors giving very high Flop ratings. So look at niche market, develop product (Barracuda) and expand into a consumer desire. Many PS3 clusters are among the high end super computers of today. Instead of derision, how about a little pride. http://www.ps3cluster.umassd.edu/

sar10538
sar10538

Agreed man but don't feed the troll! You and I know just the amazing amount of processing power that can be had in these sort of consoles for a very cheap price so they are great for clustering into supercomputers but then the manufacturer goes and locks you out of using it. What have Sony got against people getting more useful functionality out of the PS3. Surely there will be some sales which will be lost now due to this decision, let alone the bad press it will get for making such a bone-head decision. Not that Sony isn't well known for it's stupidity which goes back a long way.

sar10538
sar10538

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mdeans
mdeans

Empathy is not existent in your reply. A consumer, government or otherwise purchased an expensive item with specific capabilities with the understanding that while to might be expanded they would not be arbitrarily reduced without any real long-term recourse for the consumer. So it didn't effect you, does that make it unimportant? No. If they suddenly decided for no apparent reason to stop supporting your favorite game on the PS3 becuase only 1.6% of users played it and they just didn't feel like supporting it anymore you would be angry. Try not to disparrage the hardships others face simply becuase they don't effect you. I'm really not sure where you were going with the military comment but I'm relatively certain it had no basis in any possible reality while likely indicating an anti-military bias. I'm just saying...

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