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Firmware Upgrade To Disable PS3 Other OS Feature
Firmware Upgrade To Disable PS3 Other OS Feature
March 29, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander

March 29, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander
Comments
    39 comments
More: Console/PC



Sony says that due to security concerns, the upcoming PlayStation 3 firmware update, version 3.21, will remove the ability to run other operating systems such as Linux on the console.

Older-generation PS3s, excluding the new Slim models that launched in September 2009, had an "Install Other OS" feature. Then, hacker George Hotz recently advertised on his blog that he had created a security exploit for PS3 that uses the Other OS feature.

"In addition, disabling the 'Other OS' feature will help ensure that PS3 owners will continue to have access to the broad range of gaming and entertainment content from SCE and its content partners on a more secure system," says SCEA corporate communications director Patrick Seybold.

Users who elect not to install the firmware update so that they can continue to use their OS will no longer be able to sign into PlayStation Network or use online features. They'll also miss out on new features and updates in future firmware upgrades, Sony warns.

Sony adds that those who've been using the Other OS feature will need to back up the data stored within that hard drive partition before they update, or else they'll lose access to it.


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Comments


Sean Currie
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Fingers crossed for a lawsuit on this one. I never used the feature, but I know plenty of people who do - and they spent a lot of money for a machine that plays games, blu-rays, and runs linux. Exactly where is the consumer protection here? I use the backwards compatibility on my PS3 all the time (and that was the reason I bought the model I bought) when's that going to be removed for "security reasons"?



In other news - new iPhone firmware upgrade will only allow calls to 911 and select Apple sponsors.

David Galindo
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Lawsuit? No way is that happening, because it's right in your EULA agreement for the PS3: "Some services may change your current settings, cause a loss of data or content, or cause some loss of functionality." I'd say removal of OtherOS is a "loss of functionality."



I don't like that it's happening, and it's quite an extreme move, but to say they'll start removing other PS3 features like BC is just a strawman argument.

Neale Davidson
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Yeah, right. There's, what, a few dozen people who use their PS3 as Linux boxes and MILLIONS that may be affected by the self-same Linux box users who are bragging about hacking the thing? Yeah, that'll be a fun lawsuit to watch.



They're killing a problematic 'feature' that only a handful of guys used or wanted for a product that, by all rights otherwise, would already be discontinued. Darn. If you want to keep it as a Linux box, then keep it offline or don't install the Firmware update.

Sean Currie
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@ David



There's plenty of debate around the legitimacy of EULA's and whether or not they're legally binding. In most cases, most EULA's violate the offer and acceptance provision of contract law, in which the contract is not presented clearly or in most cases isn't even presented until after purchase of a product or service.



You don't sign a contract when you walk out of the store with a PS3 and no one gives you the EULA to read. It would be extremely easy to argue (especially in this instance) that the EULA is invalid simply on the basis that it wasn't available to most consumers until after purchase and (according to the EULA) acceptance of the contract.

Neale Davidson
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I doubt that they would use the EULA as a defense anyway. There's no need. "We're phasing out this support due to safety concerns" is pretty compelling, and since the 'crowd' that object to this phase out is the VERY SAME CROWD that make the safety concern in the first place...

James Barnette
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@sean you are 100% correct. But still no hacker is going to take sony to court over not being able to hack his PS3 anymore. Even if someone does try it it will never even make it to court.

Keith Thomson
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I'm just glad that I have two PS3's when this came down. I've ordered a new laptop hard drive for my 40gig PS3, and will be moving all of my gaming files over to it. The 20gig(upgraded to 120gig) model will stay stuck at its current firmware version for OtherOS use, as well as PS2 games...



Now hopefully they don't find a way to slip this in as a "Gardener in the Dark" patch if I forget to unplug the network cable when I go from Linux to PS2 gameplay...

Tom Newman
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I know more than a few people who run linux on their PS3 - it works as a great alternative for those HD consumers who want a computer hooked up to their big screen without needing a tower. I tried it myself just for the novelty, but would not miss it.



I think the number of people using this feature is being under estimated for sure.

E Zachary Knight
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@Neale, James



Glad to see stereotyping alive and strong. Yes some people are trying to use the "other OS" feature to hack the PS3 but not all users are doing it. Just as some people are hacking their PSPs but not all users. Just like some people are hacking their DS's but not all people.



Is it a security risk? Yes for the content providers, but I do not see how this can be a security risk for the end user. You know the content consumers. And that is how they are describing this patch, as a security risk for end users.



They should tell it like it is and tell the world that the only reason they are removing the feature is because it can be used to bypass their Blu-ray DRM.



I also love the iron fisted way they are pushing the patch. Update or lose complete future functionality of your game system.

Neale Davidson
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Ephiram, again, we're talking a number of users here that don't likely come up to a single percentage point of their installed base. And a security risk for no matter WHICH side of the transaction it's occuring on is STILL a bad thing, even if it is one of those 'evil content providers' which you dismiss so quickly.



I know you want to see the 'big conspiracy' here and all, to punish the Avatar-like Linux crowd, but it was in fact that crowd that not only exploited the glitch but posted how to do it for all of online to see. That means that it had to be fixed, by brute force if neccesary, and fixed right away. It's an inelgant solution, sure, but it has minimal impact on its installed user base while protecting that user base from catastrophic damage.



If you had any contempt for the hackers who did this to you in the first place, I may have some sympathy. Instead you throw up a conspiracy theory about Sony, give a thinly-veiled insult to 'content providers', and throw up the DRM boogy-man all at once.



I'm not buying it. Sorry.

Langdon Oliver
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Well said, Neale.



I have yet to hear of a legitimate reason for installing OtherOS on your PS3. So far, I've heard two reasons: (1) to use it as a media center, or (2) to use it for emulation. I don't consider either of these to be legitimate, since 9/10 of the people doing this will be stealing the content they're using (download movies, shows, or ROMs). The PS3 already serves very well as a media center as it is, especially with Netflix and the available Hulu fixes -- and even more so if you add software like TVersity on top of that if you really want to steal and stream your content.

Ning Wang
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Some researchers use ps3s to do calculation in linux, which was an "official" advantage of PS3. Anyway, the move hurts some users.

Sean Currie
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@ James and Ning



Yeah, I know a bunch of computer science professors that use linux based PS3's to do research. It's a cheap alternative. Actually, as far as I know this is one of the most common uses of Linux based PS3s.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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Langdon,



It is absurd to suggest that "Install Other OS" is not a legitimate feature. It was a feature created and provided by Sony to add value and reinforce the idea of the ultimate machine that does everything. Other OS was not some workaround created by the community. It's in the manual. I agree there are probably very few people that use it, but for some of them it was a key feature that was used to sway them to buy the console. Now they are removing that feature. Imagine how you would feel if it was important to you and you paid so much for an early PS3. It would have been much better if Sony never included the feature in the first place.



This is yet another example of Sony mistreating or ignoring customers. They may think it affects too few people to matter, but I guarantee it will have lost them some future customers and to a successful company that's all that should matter.

E Zachary Knight
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@Neale,



Please explain how this is a security risk with "catastrophic damage" for the end user. How will my PS3 be effected by someone else hacking their system through the other OS feature? The answer is that it won't. The only catastrophic damage here is the collateral damage from attacking their security holes so carelessly.



I have nothing against content providers, what I have contempt for is the anti-consumer behavior of many of those providers. I am a content provider myself, but not on the same scale as those who are partners with Sony. Yet, I have nothing but respect for my consumers and wouldn't dream of attacking them directly as DRM does.



As for my "sympathy" for hackers, I have some. What I have no sympathy for are pirates. Hackers find ways to use hardware for means that the hardware providers did not intend. Pirates use those means to steal copyrighted material. I admire things such as Jailbreaking iPhones, The Twilight Hack, R4 etc, for their ability to extend the usefulness of the devices they target. I am upset that people do use them for piracy, but If I have the chance to fiddle with my electronics to extend their life and functionality, I am all for it.



If those hacks were not used for piracy and only used for homebrew software, then there would be no reason to target them so fiercely and hurt legitimate consumers at the same time.



What the other OS feature offered was a way to appease those hackers. Sony approved a method to extend the functionality of the PS3 while still remaining a self contained box on their gaming end. The People that ruined this for everyone are the pirates. So instead of finding a way to stop the pirates, Sony decided to take their ball and go home.

Roberto Alfonso
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let's see what you think when Sony removes PS2 hardware compatibility from the original PS3 because it is used by less than 1% of their users, or when you won't be able to change your HD with a bigger one because they removed support for custom hard drives as it was only used by 1% of their users.



This is more than just removing support for Linux, this is more like Nintendo coming knock on your door asking to hand over a DS or DSLite to have the GBA slot removed.



Fortunately doctors don't amputate arms because you have a suspicious mole in one of your fingers.



Oh, and once blu-ray discs are pirated, and they kill blu-ray gaming support and go pure digital download to prevent piracy, let's see what you say ;-) (They did that with PSPGo, why wouldn't they do that with newer models?).

Richard Pitul
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I find it very interesting the direction the PS3 is heading. When it first came out it had all these little luxuries in order to get early adopters of the system from a number of different markets. Some for the bluray player which at the time was easily the best value/price option, some for the ridiculous backwards compatibility of both the PS2 and PS1 library, others for the Linux functionality. As well as other features like bonus USB slots on the front and multiple memory card readers. It seemed the system had a little something for everyone. But now as the hardware price has come down, and consumers who have been reluctant to upgrade start to, the system is almost a skeleton of what it was.



I don't use this most recent feature of the system to be removed nor do I know anyone who does. However, I don't believe disabling the system's connectivity is justifiable, rather I think they should disable it on future models but allow those who have taken to using this feature continue to do so. What is ironic is that Sony just keeps taking these little things which were luxuries away; while at the same time running a campaign with the slogan it does everything.

Wyatt Epp
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What, so there's going to be another Sony/hackers arms-race? It'll be like the PSP all over again. It would be nice if I could play the latest games AND write code to run on the device I purchased...

Neale Davidson
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There's nothing stopping you from writing code for the PS3. Their hobby game kit is still available and still works. It's just not going to be the linux version, but the native version which has been around for some time.



And, sure, Roberto, if Sony removes the PS2 from my old 'fat boy' I'll be amazed at their stupidity. But then a hell of a lot more people are playing PS2 games on their old PS3s than anyone ever did for Linux. Sorry, but I'm not buying that since a [i]known security issue stemming from a tiny subset of their market[/i] closes down a feature that nearly no one uses, that that automatically means Sony will eliminate the ability to see movies, or suddenly stop their USB compatibility, etc.



It's a rather pathetic strawman attack against Sony. Honestly, if this is how you're going to make your case, why the hell SHOULD Sony listen to you?

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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Accusation of using a straw man argument is the biggest straw man argument on the internet. And now I am guilty of using it too!



No one said that this means Sony will remove PS2 support. It's just an example of a feature that is added value and not part of the system's primary purpose, yet very important to some people, that is removable by a firmware update. Most people mentioned it to help others see this feature removal from their point of view, as if it was a feature that they cherished that was being dumped. Valid.

Roberto Alfonso
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Oh, I am not going after Sony, someone at Slashdot is going to start a class action suit :-P



I guess you were surprised of their stupidity when giving up on UMD? Or after losing PS2 backwards compatibility from the Slim? I don't buy this "there could be an exploit in the future, so we are closing this feature" speech. For God' sake, you allow using Linux in your system, an operative system created by hackers. Were they naive enough to think nobody would use it to slide into the core?



These possible future attacks are also strawmen since they didn't happen. The hardware attack used can be applied anywhere. Note that the hackers won't update and will keep on using the 2.30 firmware, so again, the only ones who will be affected by this are the users who need both to run Linux and play games (those would be legal users too).

Neale Davidson
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Prash, Roberto explicitly said that.. and he was to whom I was replying...



If Sony were to do that, the proper response would be 'this sucks' followed by 'Dear Sony, this idea sucks', followed by me not keeping my PS3 or not. Declaring this an unfair 'woe is me' tirade about how evil Sony won't undermine itself for criminal liability because some Linux hackers want to keep a barely-used feature is NOT an appropriate response.

Matt Ross
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its a shame, heaven forbid they actually FIX the problem rather than lazily removing a feature. but as long as people can still use linux as long as they don't get the latest firmware, it should be ok, people using it for scientific reasons ect wouldn't care about being able to sign into psn...



also, maybe this points to an app store in development? reducing the need for linux?? please???

Sean Currie
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@ Neale



If by "some Linux hackers" you mean these guys:



http://www.ps3grid.net/PS3GRID/



http://www.simbiosys.ca/ehits/index.html



Damn them Linux pirates hacking my Internets and stealing my Warez.

Neale Davidson
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Yeah, well, sucks to be them. I know, sounds callous - but since the exploit was PUBLICALLY POSTED, Sony had to immediately take action. No, this wasn't the best solution, but, in the end, it doesn't affect a significant amount of their customers to do it, and it's just pulling the plug for good on a service that they've already discontinued.

Michael Smith
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This is exactly the same problem many DRM solutions create. It's hurting a minority group of customers in the fight against piracy. How is this any more legitimate than harmful DRM? I don't want to support companies that think collateral damage against customers is acceptable in a fight they can't win. (edit: incidentally, I already don't support Sony for their copy protection schemes in the past... so, no change for me)



Thankfully, it's optional. This will allow many of those Linux uses to still be viable. Though I doubt anybody will pursue it for future projects.

John Mawhorter
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Hopefully this lawsuit sets the precedence that firmware updates to products which disable features on threat of loss of other features are illegal (or at least punishable).

Benjamin Hathaway
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So it comes down to "significant amount of customers" being the deciding factor, huh?

How about your "significant customers" Mr Sony?



The only people who really use this feature are the ones you sold the machine to as a cell-based super computer... do you remember that? (I hope it legally binding!)



I've been programming this little box since it was a 4 foot metal crate locked in a bunker and have personally use the Linux installation for SPU research & programming. This is the only machine capable of this, short of some $20K dollar IBM blade system and the only way I have been able to study the architecture outside of work hours.



This is such a betrayal! If this happens, you can shove your console - and any future development support that I may have wished to give, I just won’t be interested anymore.

E Zachary Knight
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@Neale,



Sorry that you couldn't explain what the catastrophic damage was for end users of the PS3.

Neville Boudreaux
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I honestly don't see the issue here unless you're looking under every rock for an issue to complain about, or decide to toss on your tinfoil hat.



If you use the PS3 Linux for research and such (such as the people Sean linked to, classrooms, etc.), then I'm going to assume you never touch the PSN anyway so no harm there - nothing changes. If you want the PS3 to strictly be a Linux test box, more power to you - you simply can't login to the PSN. The only people this affects are the ones who installed linux and want to access the PSN - which I imagine is a very small percentage of an already very small percentage.



BTW, did everyone already forget that the PS3 Slim never had the Install Other OS feature at all? No one seemed to complain about that.

Bob Stevens
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Neville, it's a very small yet very vocal percentage of an already small percentage. There was some outcry when the slim released without OtherOS support too but most people who cared already had fat PS3s. Anyway looking at the numbers for commercial Linux game sales from a few years ago I'd say we're dealing with 2000-3000 people here who actually want to use OtherOS and PSN.

Chase Beadles
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I'm not a developer myself, but I've been under the impression that heavy piracy on a console can be quite a deterrent. Assuming there really is a hole in the OtherOS feature that could eventually lead to piracy, how would this affect game releases on the PS3?



I know the 360 has been pirate-friendly practically from the gate, but obviously the hits keep coming. Had the PSP never been hacked, would we have seen more/better games as end users?



After what we've seen with the PSP I don't really blame Sony for reacting this way to publicized exploits. It is tragic for those who have really loved running Linux for whatever reasons, but if removing the feature can close the door on piracy (for a while anyway) it seems like a smart move. I've had Linux installed on my PS3 for a while and have really enjoyed it, but it is far from the reason I made the purchase. Playing online is much more valuable to me.



I guess my question for the devs would be: If the OtherOS feature was left in and PS3 piracy resulted because of it, how would this affect the vast majority of users who primarily use their PS3 for gaming(if at all)?

Mark Raymond
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I can see why they did it, but it's also unethical and anti-consumer. When you get down to it, they are removing a feature which they previously advertised as being included in with the product. I don't know if it's illegal, but it really should be.

Thomas Hughes
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Its not a small percentage of people that use Linux on the PS3. Since they disabled Hulu, I have installed linux and have been using it as a media center. Now that they disabled that feature, I lost everything on that partition.



I've been told by the Sony help center (really nice old guy) that the data on that partition was deleted with the update install. Which really sucks because I used the PS3 to backup my media to it.



I also used it as a media center, as the Linux on it had better support for formats the PS3 didn't natively play (not to mention Linux supported Hulu) Now I have a brick that doesn't play any of the video's I had or allow me to watch Hulu.

Thomas Hughes
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Ugh, I edited my comment like three times and it still came out sounding like crap.



There needs to be a class action lawsuit against Sony. They keep saying its for their OS security. But what of us that hardly used their OS?

Anthony Gluck
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What about school's and places like Stanford which use the linux base for there folding programs. They have to be connected to the psn in order to recieve data from the other consoles logged into the program. Since Sony is involved with F@H they probably will allow stanford to keep linux

Aaron Lanterman
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I am a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Tech. My colleague Sean Lee and teach a class called "Multicore and GPU Programming for Video Games," and we are planning to run it the fourth time this Fall. Most of the class is taught using XNA, as an example 3-D API, a convenient platform to teach shader programming, and to get experience with the triple PowerPC core on the Xbox 360. The final part of the course has historically covered the Cell processor.



I am now uncertain of whether to leave the Cell material in the course.



Think back to when the PS3 first came out; most gamers legitimately balked at the $600 price. Many early adopters were attracted to the OtherOS feature, which was not a "hack" by any means; it was an advertised feature of the PS3:



http://www.playstation.com/ps3-openplatform/index.html



Because of the lack of a Linux driver for the RSX, a PS3 running Linux makes a poor replacement for a standard desktop PC; the system stutters when you move a window, since the processor needs to handle the redraw. (I, along with other researchers and educators have been begging Sony for a Linux driver for the RSX for years; the lack of graphics support on the PS3 lead me to make my class primarily Xbox 360-focused. I guess that it is a moot point now.)



What the PS3 provided - and what IBM, Toshiba, and Sony pushed - was an ideal platform for programmers to learn Cell processor. (The fact that all the "other" operating systems that have historically been installed have been Linux flavors is incidental.) MIT's 6.189 was probably the first and most well known example of this. Several of my students have completed their Cell programming assignments on their own Playstation 3s.



With this move, Sony is essentially announcing that they don't care about education and development; they don't care about people learning the extremely challenging Cell platform. This is on top of the more troubling issue of whether consumers can trust future announcements Sony makes. When it was announced that the PS3 Slim models would not have the OtherOS feature, Sony's Geoff Levand stated: "Please be assured that SCE is committed to continue the support for previously sold models that have the "Install Other OS" feature and that this feature will not be disabled in future firmware releases."

What other statements by Sony will later prove false? What can consumers believe?



Releasing a firmware update that does nothing but remove a previously advertised (and trumpeted) feature is a disturbing precedent, and goes beyond issues like "what percent of customers are affected." It's like when Amazon wirelessly recalled works by George Orwell from people's Kindles.

Benjamin Hathaway
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Ahh, I see...



http://www.ps3news.com/PlayStation-3/ibm-announces-cell-processor
-development-to-be-phased-out/



So it's looking like "So long SPU and thanks for all the fish"...!?! My son will be pleased (as he's been missing his COD fix) I can now format my Linux partition knowing I'll never need this knowledge again.



Hmm, I suppose Sony feels it must have all the coding talent it needs for the remaining PS3 life span.



Mr Sony, after this kind of behaviour ask you're self why the bloody hell potential developers would ever want to risk investing so much time and effort in your systems again, only to perhaps have the rug-pulled ?



My 2 pence - Get in league with Microsoft and come up with one core flavour that works for you both ...

And the rest of us. :(

Jerome Noll
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Contact me at (914) 517-5000, extension 221, if you would like to join the class action lawsuit against Sony.


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