It's probably not immediately apparent to you while reading this, but this is a momentous point in Eurogamer's history. These words may seem broadly the same as others you've read on the site, but I assure you, they are not - these are special words. For many years (well, about seven), Eurogamer has written about the finest, and least fine, games available on videogame consoles - but our inherent PC bias has always been apparent from the fact that no matter the words we wrote, they were always written on PCs.
No longer! Today, dear reader, you are viewing the very first words to appear on Eurogamer which have been written on a game console!
This is probably the point at which one of my colleagues inserts a barb about how I've used a Mac for about three years anyway - and that at some point in the distant past some mentalist probably submitted a review written on a Dreamcast or something. However, the point remains - I'm writing this article on a game console. A PlayStation 3, in fact, running the extraordinarily competent OpenOffice.org 2.0 Writer application on the Linux operating system. It wasn't even that difficult to get to this point; but the question is, should you bother, and what does the availability of Linux mean to the average gamer considering a PS3 purchase?
On the next page of this article, you'll find detailed instructions and guidelines for how to get Linux running on the PS3, including download links for all the various bits you'll need. If nothing else, this should give you a good idea of how difficult it is to get running (not very, but still not recommended for entirely non-technical users) and perhaps let you decide whether you want to take the plunge yourself.
Beards and Sandals
The version of Linux which currently runs on PS3 - I used Fedora Core 5 - is extremely advanced in some ways, and utterly backwards in others. It has a text mode installer which requires significant technical know-how to operate without a detailed guide, and dumps the user - logged in as root - at an unfriendly command prompt. Worst of all, without knowing specific PS3 Linux commands, you cannot either return to the PS3 operating system, or change video resolution in Linux. It's all still very rough and ready in that regard - and in other respects, too, it's quite basic. I couldn't get it to acknowledge the existence of a wireless network adapter in the PS3, for example.
However, if you simply want a system that can run office software, browse the web and so on, PS3 Linux is more than adequate. With a keyboard and mouse plugged in, the system becomes, effectively, a PC; the GUI is straightforward, the applications available are extensive, and the whole thing, by and large, just works. It's well outside the scope of this article to actually review Linux - suffice it to say that thousands of people choose to run it as their desktop operating system, but despite my respect for what the people working on the OS have accomplished, I'd really prefer not to, given the choice.
What is much more interesting from the point of view of the average user is what Linux means to the PS3 in the somewhat longer term. You can run MAME and a number of other emulators on it, you can connect to network shares and to the Internet, and you can play any media you choose through the variety of excellent open-source media players like VLC which are available for the platform. Right now, doing all of these things is possible but somewhat awkward - perhaps best left to advanced users and hobbyists. However, it would be naive to assume that things will stay that way.
The fact is that by opening up the PS3 to other operating systems, Sony has made it clear to users that they can adapt the PS3 to their individual uses without having to chip the system. It will probably be a matter of months before someone develops an operating system, based on Linux, which installs through a simple process on the PS3 and presents the user with a nice, simple interface, controlled by the SIXAXIS pad, for playing a variety of media, streaming from servers on your network, reading webpages, playing emulated ROMs, and so on.
Sound familiar? It is, of course, exactly what the Xbox became when it was chipped, had its hard drive replaced and was updated with a piece of software called XBMC - Xbox Media Centre. The PS3 is a more powerful system, which benefits greatly from things like USB ports, built-in card readers and a wireless LAN card, all of which enhance its functionality as a media system, while a faster processor will make the playback of high-definition content, such as H.264 video, a possibility - so it will be a very valuable system as a media box, just as a chipped Xbox was in its day.
However, the fascinating part of all of this is that in the case of the PS3, no chip will be required - and Sony has, in fact, made the tools freely available to accomplish this. A few restrictions exist - you can't access the RSX graphics chip, for example, so 3D graphics won't be possible - but so far nobody has found any restriction which will prevent an XBMC style system from being developed for the PS3 which any user can install simply by downloading a DVD image and putting a small file onto a USB key.
In a sense, you could argue that this is the death of chipping. You can run your own OS and all the homebrew you want on the PS3; you can run games from any region, with region coding being explicitly forbidden by Sony's regulations for the system. The only reason remaining for chipping, arguably, is simple criminal piracy, and, unlike with other consoles, it's hard to think of any reason anyone other than a pirate would want a chip in their PS3.
More importantly, though, this is a fascinating development for the PS3 as a platform. Right now, PS3 Linux is really a toy for hobbyists - and while I've written this entire article on it, I doubt I'll be writing any more in this fashion. I'll be intrigued, though, to come back in six months time and find out what the open source community has done with Sony's new toy - because the potential here is undoubtedly incredible.
If you want to try out PS3 Linux for yourself, flick over the page for detailed install instructions!
Installing and Running PS3 Linux
One man's "not that difficult" is another man's technical nightmare, so it's worth going through exactly what I had to do to get Linux up and running on the PS3. One major difficulty I did face was the lack of any kind of guide online which is written in passable English or which goes beyond the point at the end of the install where you get a blinking cursor on screen and not a lot else, so hopefully this can fill that gap to some extent as well.
It's worth pointing out early on that unlike the Linux kit for the PlayStation 2, Linux on the PS3 is completely free - aside, obviously, from the need to have such things as a broadband connection, a few blank DVDs, a USB stick, and, er, a PlayStation 3. I guess the last item on that list might be a stumbling block for a lot of people right now.
The full list of things you'll need, then: a PlayStation 3, a blank DVD, a blank CD, a USB key, and a USB keyboard and mouse.
Then you'll need to download some things. First, grab a copy of the latest version of Fedora Core 5 Linux - you want the PowerPC version of the operating system, which is free to download from the Fedora Project. You want "bordeaux-DVD-ppc.torrent" on that page - it's about 3.4Gb so be prepared for a heavy night's downloading! Burn that to a DVD, and while you're doing that, grab the PS3 Linux Add-On Packages CD, which is another free download - available by FTP from the Linux.org site. Burn that to a CD.
You're almost done downloading. The last file you need is called "otheros.self" and can be found on Sony's website - it's only a few megabytes. Grab that and put it onto your USB stick - you want to create a folder called "PS3" in the root of the USB drive, then a sub-folder of that called "otheros", and place the "otheros.self" file in there.
One last thing before you start - pop the PS3 Linux Add-On CD that you burned earlier into your PC, and go into the "kboot" folder. There'll be a file in there called "otheros.bld" - copy that off the CD and drop it into the same folder on the USB drive, where you put "otheros.self" just a moment ago.
Right, you're ready to go. Now for the frightening bit.
Boot up your PS3. First, you want to make sure you've backed up as much as possible from your hard drive - be warned that when I installed Linux on our prototype PS3, it wiped the user profiles and save games during the format process, so you could be in for a nasty shock on that front if you're not prepared for it. Once you're satisfied that you've copied everything of value, go to the Format utility (it's under Settings, in the System menu) and go through the menus to create a partition for another operating system on the drive. It will quickly format the drive, and when it finishes, a section will be set aside for Linux.
Now plug your USB key into the PS3 - and select "Install Other OS" on the system menu. It will find the "otheros.self" file, and ask you if you want to proceed - give it permission, and it'll put a loader on your system that will let you start the install process. The final thing you need to do in the PS3 menus is here - go to the Default OS setting, and switch it from "PS3" to "Other OS".
Say goodbye to the PS3 dashboard - you won't be seeing it again for a while. Reboot.
When the system comes back up, it'll just give you a command prompt. Pop your install DVD in the drive (the Fedora Core DVD - not the Add-On CD), and at the command prompt, type:
You'll be asked if you want a full or minimum install - unless you really know what you're doing, select a full install, as this will give you all the various applications you'll need to actually get some use out of your Linux system. Next, you'll get a few questions, ranging from the inane to the very technical - just type "y" and hit enter in response to all of them. They're basically just checking that it's okay to wipe the Linux partition and install over the top. The one question you do need to be concerned about is the root password - make sure you set this to something you can remember, or your entire install will be useless!
At this point, I hope you own another game console, or a handheld, or a really good book, because the install process from here until the next time human interaction is required will take about two hours. There's not a lot of point watching it - it's not even particularly hypnotic. Just leave it be for a couple of hours, and when you come back the system will be asking for the Add-On Packages CD you burned earlier. Pop it into the drive, and you're on the home stretch.
A few minutes more, and the install process will - finally - finish. Helpfully, you'll be dumped right back to a command prompt. To shut down the machine at this point, you'd type halt, but obviously you'll want to play with your new toy! Instead, type reboot and the machine will do exactly that.
After the lengthy boot process - which is terribly verbose and spits text around the place like there's no tomorrow, none of which you actually have to bother yourself with - you'll be at a login prompt. Log in as root with the password you set yourself.
Command prompt. Bit like DOS, this? However, before you head off into the pleasures of the windowed environment, there are a few things to fix. For a start, you'll want to get out of that nasty 480i resolution...
The crucial command here is one called "ps3videomode". Basically, this is a custom command that sets the mode on the PS3. If you're hooked up using a component cable, the commands are as follows:
ps3videomode -v [number]
Replace [number] with 2 for 480p, 3 for 720p, 4 for 1080i and 5 for 1080p. Alternatively, if you're using RGB rather than YUV component video, use 34 for 480p, 35 for 720p, 36 for 1080i and 37 for 1080p. Those are all for 60Hz displays - there is a different set of numbers for 50Hz displays. A full set of the numbers is available in the documentation on Sony's site.
If you're using a HDMI cable, you have the option of using VESA resolutions, like those used by PCs. For WXGA, use 11; for SXGA, use 12; and for WUXGA, the highest resolution supported by the console, use 13. However, a quick word of warning - my own experimentation with the console suggests that when running Linux, the PS3 insists on outputting HDCP signals, which basically means that the signal is copy-protected and will only work on monitors that support HDCP. The more recent Dell 2407 monitor supports HDCP on the DVI port, for example, so you can plug in a HDMI to DVI cable and it'll work - the older Dell 2405 doesn't, and nor do the majority of computer monitors. There may be a way around this, but I have yet to find it if so.
Next, you'll probably also want a way to return to the PS3's normal operating system. To do so, type the following at the command prompt:
This command shuts down Linux and boots into the PS3 OS, which will be the default boot OS from now on. To get back into Linux, go to the system menu and set the default OS back to "Other OS", like you did at the start of the install process.
Last, but by no means least, once you've set a video resolution you're happy with - it's time to get into the nice graphical operating system. To do this, at the console, type:
From here, you can explore to your heart's content. This is a very typical Linux install, and there's loads of information out there to get you started on using Linux - all of which is beyond the scope of this article. Enjoy!