Game Over for Sony


I've never really liked the company Sony. On the computer side, it's hardly been a friend of GNU/Linux, while the music division gave us the Sony rootkit, which was pretty much as bad as a bad thing can be:

Sony BMG Music Entertainment distributed a copy-protection scheme with music CDs that secretly installed a rootkit on computers. This software tool is run without your knowledge or consent -- if it's loaded on your computer with a CD, a hacker can gain and maintain access to your system and you wouldn't know it.

The Sony code modifies Windows so you can't tell it's there, a process called "cloaking" in the hacker world. It acts as spyware, surreptitiously sending information about you to Sony. And it can't be removed; trying to get rid of it damages Windows.

The one glimmer of hope for the company was the PS3. Now, that might seem relevant to business users, but Sony's decision to allow other operating systems – like GNU/Linux – to be installed on the PS3 turned what seems a rather specialised piece of kit into something rather splendid: a really low-cost supercomputer. Indeed, if you needed really high-end computing, the PS3+GNU/Linux combination was probably the cheapest way to achieve this.

No more:

The announcement earlier this month for the new Playstation 3 (PS3) Slim model caused some consternation for Linux users, as it revealed that PS3-maker Sony would no longer support the "Install Other OS" feature that currently operates on existing PS3 machines.


It's easy to assume that the only users affected by Sony's decision are the ever-present tinkerers who try (and typically succeed) to install Linux on every new device that comes out. Hence, Linux on iPhone and the like. It's a challenge that seems to range from ardent hobby to mild obsession.

In the case of the PS3, however, the benefits of Linux on the CellBE-processor device were immediate. In 2007, the researchers at North Carolina State University clustered eight PS3 machines that ran Fedora Core 5 Linux (ppc64). That same year a University of Massachusetts team found that putting together an eight-node PS3 cluster together (for a cost of about US$4000) would perform with the same processing power as a 200-processor supercomputer.

This latest move is incredibly short sighted. By providing this “Install Other OS” option Sony not only gained a huge amount of goodwill from an influential community, but it also allowed it to learn about the open source community – something that is vital for its long-term survival. By cutting off that dialogue, Sony has effectively cut itself off from the future. It's certainly removed itself from my list of companies with even the slightest relevance to free software.

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