Linux on PlayStation 4 Highlights Open Source War with Closed Hardware

Linux on PlayStation 4 Highlights Open Source War with Closed Hardware

Open source programmers have found a way to install Linux on Sony's PlayStation 4 in order to customize a hardware platform that is otherwise closed.

A group of open source hackers called fail0verflow has made the PlayStation 4 game console the latest hardware platform capable of running Linux. They've also touched off a cat-and-mouse game between Sony and the open source community over keeping the device Linux-friendly, which could be indicative of struggles to come during the IoT revolution.

Thefail0verflow hackers used a bug in WebKit, the Web browsing engine on PlayStation consoles, to gain access to the parts of the system necessary to install Linux. Their work expanded upon earlier efforts to "jailbreak" PlayStations in order to install software other than what Sony ships by default.

The hack is interesting because it's the latest example of open source developers finding ways to circumvent the restrictions that vendors attempt to place on their devices by shipping them with embedded code that cannot be easily modified. Similar feats have been achieved on wireless routers, among other devices.

Going forward, as the IoT revolution places ever more smart devices into homes and offices, the impetus for finding ways to install custom operating systems on them -- with or without the permission of manufacturers -- to make the devices perform the way users want is likely to increase.

Of course, getting a device like the PlayStation 4 to boot to Linux is only the first step in making it truly customizable. Programmers would also have to write or adapt the drivers necessary to make all of the hardware usable.

They have to contend as well with Sony, which does not want to make life easy for open source hackers who want to run Linux on the PlayStation. The company has already patched WebKit to close the loop that made it possible to install Linux. But the fail0verflow hackers think they can find a way around that newest barrier.

All of this is also a reminder of why calls for open hardware (sometimes also called open source hardware) are likely to increase. Open hardware means the information programmers need to make components work in the way they wish is publicly accessible -- which is decidedly not the case in situations like the one now playing out between Sony and fail0verflow.

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