PS3 Loses Linux: Consumers and Software “Upgrades”

Disguised as a “software upgrade” manufacturers of consumer electronics equipment routinely change the functionality of devices that have already been bought.

By Cliff Roth

Page 1 of 1
Video/Imaging DesignWire
(4/2/2010 4:07:58 PM)

In the old days — like twenty years ago — when you bought something that did something you could have the reasonable expectation that it would continue doing whatever it did until it either breaks or somehow becomes outdated or obsolete. No more. Disguised as a “software upgrade” manufacturers of consumer electronics equipment routinely change the functionality of devices that have already been bought. While the majority of these upgrades add capabilities, that’s not always the case. The latest case in point is Sony’s PS3 videogame console.

Until this past week, many PS3 units had the ability to boot up with an “alternate operating system” — Linux — allowing advanced users and hobbyists to gain access to some of the capabilities of its powerful Cell processor. That ended with PS3 firmware upgrade 3.21, issued ironically on April’s Fool Day.

As noted in numerous online accounts, including on C-NET and  ECN, Sony has decided to remove this capability. With no warning to consumers other than asking them to approve the latest firmware upgrade, Sony is eliminating this capability. And if you don’t accept the “upgrade” you’ll lose access to the PlayStation Network, which means you’ll lose even more functionality.

Consumers should not be treated like this, and a class-action lawsuit might be in the works (if you Google “PS3″ and “Linux” you’ll find some lively discussion.)

Previously I wrote in this space about Time-Warner wiping out my cable-TV DVR’s recordings with a “software upgrade,” but there’s a significant legal difference: With cable-TV in the U.S., the set top box is leased, not purchased. Though I’m not a lawyer (but I play one in my blog) I would imagine the liability of a company that changes functionality on a leased piece of equipment would be limited to the monthly lease fee. Here with PS3, however, you have a product that consumers paid hundreds of dollars for (as I recall, PS3 launched initially at a retail price of $600) and which actually advertised the later-removed feature on the box and in promotional materials.

What’s needed is a consumer electronics “bill of rights.” Short of that, however, in the current anything-goes CE marketplace, consumers must rely on the good will and decency of the engineers and management of companies like Sony to keep the faith and keep products doing what they initially did through the lifecycle of software upgrades. Unfortunately in this case, Sony has broken that bond of consumer trust.



MOST POPULAR ARTICLES