EXCLUSIVE: PlayStation 3 to run Yellow Dog Linux

Sony's PlayStation 3 set to move in on personal computers with the release of the Linux operating system for the device.

Linux developer Terra Soft Solutions will today announce the launch of its Yellow Dog Linux operating system for the PlayStation 3 games console.

"We have worked closely with the energetic, determined E17 team to bring this advanced graphical user interface to a state of interface euphoria. It's not about eye candy and unnecessary special effects, it's about finding balance between a lean, uncluttered desktop and a personal environment that is both familiar and powerful. E17 is simply the most incredible thing I have ever used – with any operating system," states Cesar Delgado of Terra Soft.

Terra Soft's chief executive officer, Kai Staats, said that Linux will be available immediately from the company's online store and from selected resellers and that the company would like to see its Linux distribution bundled with the PlayStation 3 at some point in the future.

Yellow Dog and PS3 logo

Staats has clearly indicated that he sees the combination of Linux and the PlayStation 3 as the development of a significant post-PC computing platform: "From our standpoint, what better way to enjoy games, movies, music, and Linux than on a single, low cost, highly integrated, small system. It is in essence, from our point of view, a 'Linux appliance' with an incredible feature list," he said.

The question now is, whether Sony will officially support Terra Soft's Linux efforts. At the E3 gaming conference and expo in May 2006 Sony indicated that it had plans to bring the Linux operating system to the console and Sony's Izumi Kawanishi has been quoted in the Japanese press supporting the proposal of running Linux on the machine.

One one level, expanding the PlayStation brand beyond 'mere' gaming makes sense: Apple's success with the iPod and recent move into interactive television points to an ever-clearer convergence of the personal computing and home entertainment spheres.

Moreover, Sony is no longer the solid gold brand it once was. In the games world, the company is under attack from Microsoft's Xbox 360 and a resurgent Nintendo.

On top of this, the company has faced sharp criticism in recent years for its invasive copy protection on music CDs, manufacturing problems with laptop batteries for customers such as Apple and Dell and perceived over-pricing and potential supply chain problems with the forthcoming PlayStation 3.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle group highlights Sony's schizophrenic internal structure: "The PC division and PlayStation division have always been at cross purposes," he said.

Nevertheless, Enderle feels there is a potential market for Sony to capture: "Back when things were starting out Commodore was the biggest PC in the home. There is still an opportunity for a 'PC appliance' in the home and the belief is that Microsoft is vulnerable there."

Indeed, Nobuyuki Idei, Sony's former chief executive, who was succeeded in June 2005 by the company's first non-Japanese chief executive in the Welsh-American Howard Stringer, has previously spoken on the record criticising the complexity of personal computers. In 1999, Idei was reported by Wired magazine as saying that PCs are "unsatifactory" and "unessential for many things".

The question remains, however: just how seriously is Sony taking the PlayStation as a computing platform?

Technologically the device is more than up to the task. Terra Soft Solutions announced on October 10 that it was building two supercomputers based on clusters of the machine for bioinformatics and life sciences research.

However, whether Sony will put enough resources into Linux or even whether the famously complex Linux can be suitably tamed for home user remain to be seen.

Enderel points to Apple, arguing that complexity can be dealt with: "The Mac OS is Unix these days – Apple has done a good job of hiding the complexity of Unix and making it easy to use. The big problem [for Sony] is [that] the third party applications are also very complex because the audience has traditionally been developers and not end-users. Sony is not, and has never been, a good software company."

Terra Soft will demonstrate its Yellow Dog Linux for PlayStation 3 at the SC2006 tradeshow in Florida in November.

Terra Soft, www.terrasoftsolutions.com/products/ydl/

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