Sony has confirmed that the changes made to the new PS3 Slim SKU are not just cosmetic: additional features have been added, and OtherOS functionality has been removed.
In this press release, the company confirms that support for the Linux platform has been completely omitted in the new unit, but also reveals that perhaps more usefully, the new unit now interfaces directly with Sony's own Bravia HDTVs, allowing users to take control of the XMB via their television remotes. It also allows you to turn off both display and PS3 using just a single press of the standby button. All that is required to utilise this feature is for the new PS3 to be connected to the display using the standard HDMI connection. The new functionality essentially makes the PS3's enviable media-playback facilities that much more accessible and user-friendly to those who also buy into Sony's range of screens.
The omission of Linux is a little more puzzling, but perhaps not completely surprising. Actual take-up of Linux amongst the core audience has been slight, and perhaps some of the blame for this lies with Sony itself: installing the OS is time-consuming, the partitioning system on the internal hard disk is a bit of a pain, and access to Linux once it is installed is annoying to deal with, as there is no easy way to switch quickly between the PS3 GameOS or the installed OtherOS. The fact there is little to no meaningful access to the RSX graphics chip has also frustrated Linux users.
Sony's blurb states that the focus of the PS3 Slim is "on delivering games and other entertainment content" and that this is the reason for OtherOS omission, but the fact is that Sony's business lives and dies on its installed base buying games for their new hardware, and a PS3 bought exclusively for running Linux does the company no favours from a financial perspective. Right now, the PS3 Slim is still more expensive than buying an entry-level Dell which would perform better with the OS, but with console hardware in general and PS3 Slim in particular, the only way is down price-wise, and sooner or later PS3 would become an irresistible prospect as a cheap desktop PC, or even server... uses which sound cool but won't boost Sony's bottom line.
What the axing of Linux does mean however is that interesting projects such as the CodecSys h264 video encoder will not work on the new PS3 SKU, and any similar projects aimed at utilising the Cell CPU in a project not licensed and approved by Sony are now less likely to make it to the public. However, from Sony's perspective, the removal of OtherOS functionality also has other benefits. For example, it means that the PS3 can now no longer be used to rip Blu-ray movies to hard disk...