PS3 loses Linux support after hack: Three people (and a penguin) cry

Sony will remove the ability to install Linux and other operating systems on the PS3 in the system's next firmware update, due to security threats

Patrick Steen Special to CNET News
2 min read

Sony will remove the ability to install other operating systems, such as Linux, on the PlayStation 3 in an update on 1 April. The widely unused feature was most recently exploited by computer hacker George Hotz, distressing Sony with the risk of pirated PS3 games. Argh.

Prior to its slim redesign, 'fat' PS3 systems offered the ability to install operating systems other than the console's own, including Yellow Dog Linux, Fedora and Ubuntu (they drink it in the Congo). The feature let users turn their PS3 into a middle-of-the-road desktop computer -- an option that was rarely used due to system's graphics processor being blocked off.

Firmware update v3.21 will eliminate the feature from all PS3 models, Sony Computer Entertainment today announced on the Official PlayStation Blog. It's explained that the removal is "due to security reasons" and will make the console a "more secure system" for both gamers and developers.

The platform holder warns users to backup any data stored within the other OS' hard-drive partition, since this will not be accessible following the update. Users can choose not to update their PS3, but at the expense of not being able to go online or play games that require software v3.21 or later. This means researchers who have built supercomputers out of PS3 clusters shouldn't be affected, unless they're mad for MAG.

Unlike the removal of PS2 backwards compatibility from latter PS3 models, this is the first PS3 software update to remove a previously available feature across all systems -- a feature that appears in the console's user manual. Moreover, following the disappointment that Slim models would not support another OS, a Sony representative promised the capability would not be removed from older models:

"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," Sony Computer Entertainment America's principal software engineer Geoff Levand reassured in August 2009.

Blame for the latest culling has been pinned on computer hacker George Hotz, who was originally infamous for unlocking Apple's iPhone. In January of this year Hotz claimed that he had successfully hacked Sony's PS3 by exploiting Linux, gaining "read/write access to the entire system memory, and HV [hyper-visor] level access to the processor".

Hotz released this to the public on 26 January, boasting, "Sony may have difficulty patching the exploit". He may well have been right, since Sony's latest response has been to completely lock off the required 'Install Other OS' feature. Shame on pirates, shame on Sony.