When Sony announced it was terminating the PlayStation 3's ability to run Linux operating systems about a month ago, we knew it was a decision that could send ripples through the small community of users that relied upon the function. It also struck a nasty chord with gamers who might not utilize the feature, but were wary of Sony's ability to alter the core functionality of a system with a unilateral declaration. Sony has just been sued over its actions by a California man, Anthony Ventura, who claims to have purchased the system for its "Other OS" functionality and alleges that the electronic giant has broken its sales contract, breached good faith, and engaged in false/deceptive marketing practices.
The lawsuit claims that Other OS support has been a key feature of PS3 marketing since the console launched in 2006, and quotes numerous statements from various top-level executives that emphasize that fact. Until recently, Playstation.com stated that: "it was fully intended that you, a PS3 owner, could play games, watch movies, view photos, listen to music, and run a full-featured Linux operating system that transforms your PS3 into a home computer." Over the past four years, Sony has released Linux Distributor Starter Kits (2006-2009); one-time president Phil Harrison (2005-2008) is on record saying: "We believe the PS3 will be the place where our users play games, watch films, browse the Web, and use other computer functions. The Playstation 3 is a computer. We do not need the PC."
Statements like this could come back to haunt Sony in the months ahead. Sony has always rejected the idea that its Playstation products are mere consoles; the company is on record insisting that the PS2 was a computer and should be taxed as such as far back as 2000. Pages 3-5 of the PDF detail a number of statements to this effect, including a rather damning one from Geoffrey Levand, Principle Software Engineer at Sony. Speaking in August 2009, Levand said: "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."
Did Sony's Updates Legally Break The PS3?
Technically, PS3 owners don't have to update to the 3.21 firmware that removes Other OS—but if they don't, they lose access to virtually any other reason to buy one. Gamers who don't upgrade lose the ability to sign into the PlayStation Network, are denied access to any game or features that requires PSN connectivity, and will not be able to play PS3 titles or Blu-ray movies that require the 3.21 firmware. Downloaded copy-protected videos that use DTCP-IP will no longer play, and improvements that require the 3.21 firmware are not available.
The case will likely hinge on whether or not the court rules that Sony's actions materially impaired the functionality of the PS3. While the number of people and institutions negatively impacted is an exceedingly small percentage of the PS3's overall sales, as of February 2010, Sony had sold some 33.71 million units. If just one-half of one percent of those systems use the Other OS capability, that's over 165,000 PS3 owners shafted with choosing between Linux and everything else.
The entire reason Sony made all these changes was in response to news that exactly one person had hacked the PS3. In a beautiful twist of irony, the company's knee-jerk decision to yank Linux support annoyed said hacker enough that he vowed to put it back. As of April 7, he's reported moderate success and has demonstrated Other OS functionality while running 3.21.