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Review: Running Linux on the PS3 - A detailed view of what's out there

by Jo Shields on 31 October 2007, 12:30

Tags: Linux on PS3, Sony Computers Entertainment Europe (NYSE:SNE), Linux, PS3

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The PS3: great, but will it run Linux?

Sometimes, doing what you're told or permitted to do isn't enough. For decades, the geeks of the world have looked at common conventional items of consumer electronics, and wondered "could I do something else with this?" As Free operating systems such as GNU/Linux or NetBSD (which is famously quoted as running on anything, up to and including a toaster) increased in popularity, so did the number of people hacking away at getting their favourite OS running on strange devices for no reason other than the technical challenge. Pretty much everything these days from ADSL routers to Apple iPods is capable of running Linux. I even have a CD lying around somewhere with a bootable Debian GNU/Linux for Sega Dreamcast. It doesn't do much other than run Doom slowly, but it's pretty cool that it exists at all.

It's not often that an actual company encourages this kind of thing, but on rare occasions, it happens. One example would be copy-protection-happy homebrew-hating Sony. Since 2002, they have made and sold a "Linux Kit" for their PlayStation 2 console, which enables you to run the OS on the (admittedly rather feeble) PS2 hardware. And, more recently, the PLAYSTATION 3 has come supplied with everything you need, out of the box - such as an integrated hard disk, and the ability to run a monitor as a sensible resolution. As a result, a number of Linux distributions have been working on making the PLAYSTATION 3 a first-class system, as easy to use and install as a "regular" PC-based version.

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Why would the average reader want to do it though, beyond the "because I can" factor? Well, look at it this way - one of the major complaints given by people is that whilst Linux is fine, they can't play any of their games - a PS3 can run Linux or PS3 games! There are complaints that consoles are expensive - with Linux on there, a PS3 becomes both a console and a desktop PC! In fact, for £300, you get an extremely powerful device capable of not only playing games, but watching Blu-Ray or DVD movies, watching media shared off a network, playing PS3 games and Free cross-platform Linux games, and more!

So, we're going to take a look at a selection of specially tailored GNU/Linux distributions for PS3, looking at ease of installation and use - at the very least as a word processing and web browsing machine, if not more. Please forgive the quality of photographs, but it's remarkably difficult to capture a decent picture of white-on-black from my HDTV!