The “Other OS” controversy is one of those things that, while in a way trivial, is really a proxy battle over a much larger problem. Briefly stated, Sony upset some users by removing the ability to install another OS on their PS3, an option that allowed the powerful console to be used as a PC, media center, or pretty much anything. The removal of this option and effective outlawing of the practice caused a geeky backlash that had less to do with the inability to run a Linux box on your TV than the fact that Sony was dictating what you could do with your device after the fact.
These things get resolved in all sorts of ways, but this one ended up in a class action lawsuit that said Sony was in breach of its agreement with users. Unfortunately for the class members, the suit has been dismissed on the grounds that the behavior may have been questionable but could not be shown to be illegal. Here’s U.S. District Judge Seeborg on the matter:
As a matter of providing customer satisfaction and building loyalty, it may have been questionable. As a legal matter, however, plaintiffs have failed to allege facts or articulate a theory on which Sony may be held liable.
It’s a fair judgment, in my opinion: while I think it’s a form of bullying that Sony removed the option, it’s also part of their right to secure their console environment. I wrote in my User’s Manifesto that while users are justified in employing whatever means necessary to circumvent unreasonable protections, manufacturers are free to do the same to avoid those circumventions, and part of that is withholding updates and other negative reinforcements.
The fact is, as the judge points out, the updates are quite optional, though you will miss out on certain abilities and perhaps online play, but Sony is within its rights to take those away if you are working outside the agreement. Hacking your device is a right, but what companies like Sony provide is a privilege. By exerting your rights, you sometimes lose privileges — it’s just part of the deal.
But legality doesn’t mean it’s a good idea or consumer-friendly practice. Sony needs to be more open and permissive or it risks the ire of more and more users. Random restrictions on the way you can use and share your games and hardware will only cause more people to chafe and seek relief in hacks, as they should. I’d like to say this ruling won’t embolden Sony to further restrictions, but considering they are now immune to class action lawsuits among other things, it will probably only get worse.
For those undaunted by the prospect of potential excommunication from the church of Sony, you can keep up with Other OS news here or at other fan sites.