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Why Are Computer Hardware Vendors Such Snoopy Control-Freak Weirdos?

More Restrictions, Less Fun!

  • August 19, 2009
  • By Carla Schroder

Here we go again: the new Sony PS3 is smaller, sleeker, consumes less power, and looks like a nice little machine. Linux users have been hacking the PS3 in all kinds of ingenious ways:

But it seems that happy customers doing fun things with their own property that they purchased is too much of a cross for Sony to bear, so the new PS3 will not support other operating systems. Their reason?

"The new PS3 system will focus on delivering games and other entertainment content, and users will not be able to install other Operating Systems to the new PS3 system."

And yet with a perfectly straight face the same announcement also says:

"SCE will build on the momentum and further accelerate the expansion of the PS3 platform."

Gotta love the spin game, where removing functionality translates to expansion of the platform. Presumably they're planning on getting rid of those nasty Linux freeloaders who buy the PS3 and then do fun things with it, instead of beelining to the Sony software store and pouring money into it. I feel so sad and ashamed for doing what I want with my own property. It's reminiscent of Microsoft CEO Ballmer's Australia tantrum over mod chips for the Xbox:

""If there are aspects that are not allowed, it would encourage us to require a change in the legal framework. Otherwise, it wouldn't make economic sense."

Translation: Make everything that threatens our business model illegal, or we're outa here. No, we cannot possibly try to make attractive, fairly-priced products that people want to buy because we never knew how and aren't going to learn now.

Actually I think I would characterize that as weenie, rather than weirdo.

Using Linux Against Us

The blue ribbon goes to the Palm Pre for most creative customer and community abuse. Joey Hess did a bit of snooping of his own and discovered that his Palm Pre was sending all kinds of data home to the mother ship:

"The first thing sent is intended to be my GPS location...Here they can tell every WebOS app I use, and for how long...Each tarball contains a kernel dmesg, syslog, a manifest.txt listing all installed ipkg packages (including third-party apps)..."

Palm's response was, unfortunately, typical:

"Palm takes privacy very seriously, and offers users ways to turn data collecting services on and off...

However, out here in these parts of the woods we call that a "lie", because both Mr. Hess and Wired magazine report that there is no WebOS feature to turn off the data collection and reporting, nor does Palm give any instructions. Nor do they disclose who they share the data they collect with.

Customer rights have taken a terrible beating over the last 30 years with no end in sight. If it weren't for Linux and FOSS we wouldn't have the few meager rights that still remain. Industry wants to make it simple and give us only one right: the right to pay, and pay, and pay, and never actually own anything. Please folks, vote with your wallets-- don't support vendors who treat you so shabbily. Support open software, open standards, open Internet, open government, and open hardware. There is far more at stake here than a few shiny toys.

Carla Schroder is the author of the Linux Cookbook and the Linux Networking Cookbook (O'Reilly Media), the upcoming "Building a Digital Sound Studio with Audacity" (NoStarch Press), a lifelong book lover, and the managing editor of LinuxPlanet and Linux Today.

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