Sony's New Slimline PS3 Won't Be Backwards Compatible, Won't Support Linux

Sony hasn't sold a PS3 that offered a hardware-level backwards compatibility mode in several years, but with the announcement of the PS3 Slim, fans of the feature were hopeful it might reappear in the new, slimmed-down version. Ars Technica recently had the chance to sit down and talk with Sony's director of hardware marketing John Koller, and the company executive was quick to dismiss any notion that backwards compatibility would reappear.

"It's not coming back, so let me put that on the table," Koller told Ars. "It's not as big as a purchase intent driver as you may be hearing. We've got such a substantial lineup of titles on the PS3; most people are buying the PS3 for PS3 games. They've buying it for PS3 games and Blu-ray movies. That (backwards compatibility) won't be returning." Sony has ample reason not to build PS1/PS2 support into the PlayStation 3. The PS2 is still available, it's cheap ($49-$99 depending on whether you buy refurbished or new), and new games are still being developed for the platform over ten years after it debuted. PS2 owners with a massive game library they aren't willing to give up are therefore "invited" to buy a new system.

The old-style PS3 on the left, the newer, PS3 Slim on the right.

In the interview, Koller also addressed the quesetion of why Sony was removing the PS3's ability to install Linux. "There are a couple of reasons. We felt we wanted to move forward with the OS we have now. If anyone wants to use previous models and change the OS, they can do so." Koller said. "We wanted to standardize our OS."

Frankly, that doesn't make much sense. The homebrew, Linux-using PS3 market may account for just a fraction of PS3 owners, but Sony has actively encouraged the cluster computing and high performance computing (HPC) markets to consider using the PS3 (with some success.) Sony's own OS certainly isn't up to the task of running an HPC node, when the company announced the first Cell-powered rendering server, the BCU-100, the system was running Yellow Dog Linux. Documentation from Sony's website states: "Yellow Dog Enterprise Linux (YDEL) combines a minimal-interaction graphical installer with support for a wide range of Power architecture hardware...This cross-system binary support grants BCU-100 users a great deal of flexibility through compatibility with other Power architecture compute nodes and workstations."

The BCU-100—widely announced, now curiously absent

"In conjunction with the Y-HPC Cluster Construction Suite from Terra Soft...YDEL offers a complete end-to-end, server-to-compute-node solution with technical and engineering support from the industry leader in Linux solutions for the Power architecture." Pay no mind to the horrendous screech from outside, it's merely Fixstars Solutions (the developers of YDEL) being thrown under a bus. While it's possible that Sony has a pre-arranged deal to provide the older, Linux-compatible hardware to its enterprise customers and potential clients on an indefinite basis, the idea of buying a handful of PS3's and setting up a small-scale node for whatever reason is gone...

Assuming Sony has any success keeping the platform locked at all. Removing the specialized hardware and software that allowed for PS2 emulation is one thing, but the company can scarcely stop the Cell at the heart of the system from executing properly compiled PPC code. As soon as PS3 Slim's are available on store shelves, you can bet there'll be hackers dissecting system with a fine-toothed comb. Historical precedent indicates this isn't a fight Sony is going to win.