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Sony Encourages Linux On Their Phones 212

Posted by Soulskill
from the mixed-signals dept.
neokushan writes "Sony has been in the news a lot lately — from the PSN downtime and the identity theft issue that came with it, to the numerous court cases launched to try and quell the PS3 hacking scene. It may come as a surprise to many, then, that Sony's mobile smartphone division has taken an almost polar-opposite approach — they're actively encouraging developers to create, modify and install customized Linux kernels into their latest lineup of phones, including the Xperia Play, the device that was once known as the 'PlayStation Phone.'"
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Sony Encourages Linux On Their Phones

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  • Well that's nice. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Microlith (54737) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @05:55PM (#36058770)

    Sony-Ericsson is almost completely unrelated to SCEI. They are in many ways just as clueless (though nowhere near as malicious, apparently.)

    Now if only hardware developers would start pushing their board files and drivers upstream in Linux so that porting NEW kernels to hardware wouldn't be such a bitch. Too bad Google doesn't encourage that.

    • by lennier1 (264730) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @06:36PM (#36058948)

      Sony-Ericsson is almost completely unrelated to SCEI.

      First the music section installs rootkits on the computers of paying customers, then the gaming division removes OtherOS and starts a witch-hunt on GeoHot and others who want to tinker with the products they bought legally.

      Sorry, but I don't have any desire to wait until the phone division finds a way to take an even bigger dump on the heads of their customer base.

      • Sony Ericsson is owned by both Sony and Ericsson but operates as an independent entity, much like Sony-BMG was. Would it be better if it was named Ericsson-Sony instead?
        • by causality (777677) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @06:56PM (#36059050)

          Sony Ericsson is owned by both Sony and Ericsson but operates as an independent entity, much like Sony-BMG was. Would it be better if it was named Ericsson-Sony instead?

          No, it would be better if upper management at Sony and other corporations start appreciating that once you become known for taking anti-customer actions, you're going to tarnish your name to the point that you very well may affect public perception of unrelated divisions and subsidiaries. It's exactly like the marketing concept of "branding", something the suits already understand very well. They just seem to think it only applies when they want it to.

      • by mjwx (966435)

        Sony-Ericsson is almost completely unrelated to SCEI.

        First the music section installs rootkits on the computers of paying customers, then the gaming division removes OtherOS and starts a witch-hunt on GeoHot and others who want to tinker with the products they bought legally.

        Sorry, but I don't have any desire to wait until the phone division finds a way to take an even bigger dump on the heads of their customer base.

        It's just SE's new revenue generation plan.
        1) Tell people to install Linux on their phones.
        2) Sue people for installing Linux on SE phones.
        3) ??????
        4) Profit.

    • by SETIGuy (33768)
      Don't worry, in about 6 months, the Sony part of Sony-Ericsson will find out about it, and their lawyers will put a stop to it.
  • by LikwidCirkel (1542097) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @05:55PM (#36058772)
    Will they remove this feature in a few months after the phones are selling well and then call the people who still want custom software criminals and hackers? I wouldn't get my hopes up. History often repeats.
    • But most importantly, you may void the warranty of your phone if you decide to unlock it

      That's typical, isn't it? Please hack on it, but don't blame us if you fuck up, because it's your fault. Give us your results if you are successful, because that's cheaper than doing it ourselves. Love and kisses, Sony.

      How does installing new software on a pc/phone/whatever void warranty? Oh, that's right, it doesn't if you're buying from a sensible company.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by errandum (2014454)

        Well... Rooting a phone is not just "installing new software". It goes a bit beyond that. If you ruin your motherboard flashing a new ROM, custom or not, it'll still brick it and not many companies will replace it.

        Just because you can access the bootloader in some way or another doesn't mean sony is responsible if you decide to fill it up with crap that then bricks your phone.

        I'm more of the opinion that every phone should have a backup of it's own kernel somewhere with a one way connection. If it bricked i

      • by xMrFishx (1956084)
        I'm not sure that would stick in England. I think Small Claims would just say "give him a new phone" if you ever dragged a company to it for bricking it via re-flash. Companies can't just arbitrarily say "this voids the warranty", as that's a legal requirement over here to protect the consumer. Especially if they encourage you to mod it, then they have to honour that as part of the product feature-set and therefore falls into the boundaries of things covered by warranty.
    • by drolli (522659)

      Sony is running most new consumer devices under linux. For none besides the playstation anything was revoked.

      • by HiThere (15173)

        Given the *way* they revoked the PlayStation capability, once is more than enough. Of course, that wasn't once. That came after the rootkits that they released on CDs. That came after the official comment (paraphrase)"Most users don't know what a rootkit is, so it doesn't matter.". That came after SONY tried to pass the blame onto another company that they hired specifically to do that job. That came after the repairs to the rootkit that left you vulnerable to any web site you visited. There were seve

        • by drolli (522659)

          I am not hurt. I did not buy a PS3 as a Linux system and gaming machine at the same time. Whoever did so is stupid. One thing i have learned in my life: If you are the smaller customer group affecting the larger customer group in any way, you lose if your interests collide. Never rely on a technical solution under these circumstances, and if you do, reserve the resources to dedicate duplicate resources in some way. Thats it. Don't buy consumer lines if you want to use something professionally unless you hav

  • I tried that once... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Delgul (515042) <gerardNO@SPAMonlinespamfilter.nl> on Saturday May 07, 2011 @05:55PM (#36058774) Homepage

    It was called OtherOS. Never again...

    • Sony's divisions are semi-independent, even within divisions such as SCE. It was SCE's hardware people that wanted OtherOS, and SCE's software people (the ones that sell and market PS3 games) that killed it. Heck, one part of Sony didn't like the fact that the PSP plays MP3's!, but SCE insisted on the feature, though they threw that part of Sony a bone by having it play ATRAC as well. Also SCE made MP3 the default ripping format of the PS3, not ATRAC.

      Sony is paranoid about piracy because they also make p

      • by Mysteray (713473)

        Sony's divisions are semi-independent...So lay off of SCE, okay.

        No, actually this makes me adverse to things with just Ericsson's name on it too.

  • ...for buying an Xperia X10a. Although maybe I will after I RTFA.

    Then again, maybe this is all a clever strategy to get Android hackers [xda-developers.com] to develop updated OSs for their phones, since they can't seem to manage it in a timely fashion.

  • Not that this needs to be said, but it should be said anyway:

    For now.

    It's Sony. I'm not sure how they'll take away the ability to boot Linux on phones that are running it, but they'll find a way. At the very least, one of the firmware updates to the existing software will remove the ability to install Linux, you can guarantee that.

    • The blog just explains how to do something that people have been doing for years - rooting/reflashing your phone with 3rd party tools. I've done this on several phones. They can't stop it happening. They also point out that it "may" invalidate your warranty.

      • by Microlith (54737)

        The blog just explains how to do something that people have been doing for years - rooting/reflashing your phone with 3rd party tools. I've done this on several phones. They can't stop it happening.

        Sure they can. All they have to do is what Motorola did, and while they can't stop you from rooting your phone, they can make real upgrades impossible. All it requires is for Android to be dependent on some new kernel feature, and suddenly you're forced to either do nasty workarounds or do without.

        • I'm not aware of what situation you're talking about. I'm guessing you're talking about not releasing drivers for new versions of an OS, but that doesn't stop custom versions of the old OS. You can't expect the hardware manufacturer to provide support forever. You should only buy a device if you're happy with it as it is, and treat the upgrades as a bonus. With some manufacturers/devices you can be more confident of upgrades being made available though. I bought a Xoom over any other honeycomb tablet precis

          • by Microlith (54737)

            I'm guessing you're talking about not releasing drivers for new versions of an OS, but that doesn't stop custom versions of the old OS.

            No. I'm talking about the fact that Android requires changes to the kernel that aren't the same between every revision, and if a newer version of Android requires that kernel then you either have to hack around that dependency or you have to do without whatever required it.

            You can't expect the hardware manufacturer to provide support forever.

            Which is totally irrelevant to th

          • by JayAEU (33022)

            The trouble with Motorola is that they hardly offer updates for their recent devices and prevent the owners from updating themselves by encrypting the bootloader so that it only accepts kernels cryptographically signed by Motorola.

            Nobody expects Motorola to offer infinite support for outdated devices, but they should at least acknoledge that not everyone wants to follow their idea of product life cycle and thus might be interested in an open device that allows for 3rd party firmware images to be installed.

            • Thanks for explaining. The other guy seemed a bit cranky that I'd dare to buy a consumer device.

    • It's Sony. I'm not sure how they'll take away the ability to boot Linux on phones that are running it, but they'll find a way. At the very least, one of the firmware updates to the existing software will remove the ability to install Linux, you can guarantee that.

      And it's also a large company, with many divisions, many management layers, and the left hand often doesn't know what the right hand is doing.

      So it doesn't surprise me when you see actions that are almost the polar opposite of another division
  • by jimicus (737525) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @06:03PM (#36058806)

    It is absolutely commonplace to find that in companies the size of Sony, different divisions are effectively operated as wholly separate companies and about the only thing they share is the company name and logo.

    Separate directors, separate budgets, in some cases even separate legal entities. It shouldn't be too surprising to find they have different attitudes to things like this.

    • Don't try to talk sense, they'll just flame you.. :p even in the small business where I work, the depts are vastly different, with different directors and budgets like you say, as well as different cultures/morality.

    • Yes but ultimately they are still the same company and you have to worry about the company deciding that the VP who did such a great job at maximizing profits in division X should take a shot at division Y. It's not the guys implementing the features that make the decision to remove them.

      That said this is a different situation, being a joint venture and all.

    • by JanneM (7445)

      different divisions are effectively operated as wholly separate companies

      And in this case, of course, it really is a wholly separate company, owned 50-50 by Sony and Ericsson, and based out of Sweden, one continent away from Sony headquarters.

    • Absolutely. Plus the fact that for Android smartphones SE is the underdog and need something to catch up. Typically the underdog is the one having the most incentive to open the platform to differentiate themselves. See Sprint, pushing more openness compared to Verizon/AT&T (no cap, Google Voice...). It's just the same thing here for handsets. And it's important that these underdogs have some amount of success, as in the end this is how a platform move toward more and more openness. The leaders typicall
  • In a year or two when these start showing up cheap at flea markets I will pick one up for the hack potential. Thanks, Sony! I will enjoy buying your castoffs! Please bring out lots of these with high resolution touch displays! kthxbye!

  • track record (Score:5, Interesting)

    by marcello_dl (667940) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @06:14PM (#36058870) Homepage Journal

    I do not think sony will pull another stunt with the phones. They made enough trouble for their users already.

    But I am not gonna buy stuff from them, they showed no respect, I show no interest.
    Or I should say "they show no respect" because blaming anonymous for a stolen data case without no solid proof sounds like a tactic to deflect attention from the lousy way they lost data or push the equation hacking=bad, which has many more counterexamples than the equation corporation=bunch of psychos.

  • by the linux geek (799780) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @06:16PM (#36058878)
    Android barely qualifies as a form of "Linux." Yes, it uses a Linux kernel, but the fact is largely incidental - there's no real technical reason that Android couldn't be built on BSD or even WinCE if Google or an OEM wanted it. It isn't close to POSIX-compatible, it only runs "managed" (VM-based) apps, and it isn't even open-source as of 3.0.

    Of course, this will result in a wave of posts about how Google loves open-source, about how Linux is Linux, and how Google has assured us that the 3.0 source is coming Real Soon Now...
    • Android barely qualifies as a form of "Linux." Yes, it uses a Linux kernel, but the fact is largely incidental - there's no real technical reason that Android couldn't be built on BSD or even WinCE if Google or an OEM wanted it. It isn't close to POSIX-compatible, it only runs "managed" (VM-based) apps, and it isn't even open-source as of 3.0.

      What are you even talking about? Here's the problem when referring to "Linux" as the system rather than using the term to refer to the kernel. Take Debian for example. Is it "Linux"? What if you replace the kernel with the FreeBSD kernel, does that still qualify or not? A much better way to describe these systems is by the distribution name, and the second best way is to describe them by the core system itself. So, for example, Debian 6.0, Slackware, and Gentoo are GNU systems that is usually running on top

      • by drb226 (1938360)
        Therefore, we should call them GNU/Linux. Thanks, RMS.
        • The problem with "GNU/Linux" is that it's just too cumbersome a term to use. The OS should really be called by its distribution name (eg. Debian, Slackware, gNewSense, etc.).

          Consider that OS from Apple that most people who buy Macs use. Do you call it XNU? Darwin? Darwin/XNU? No. It's called Mac OS X.

          Or how about that new OS from Microsoft that's run on the majority of computers. Is it called Windows NT Executive? MinWin?MinWin/Windows NT Executive? No. It's called Windows 7.

    • by Superken7 (893292)
      What do you mean, it just happens to run a linux kernel? Linux is a kernel! (and nothing more)

      "Android barely qualifies as a form of "Linux." Yes, it uses a Linux kernel, but the fact is largely incidental - there's no real technical reason that Android couldn't be built on BSD or even WinCE if Google or an OEM wanted it."

      Debian barely qualifies as a form of "Linux." Yes, it uses a Linux kernel, but the fact is largely incidental - there's no real technical reason that Debian couldn't be built on BS
    • by ndogg (158021)

      What is Linux?

      No, seriously, what is Linux?

      In spite of all his craziness, RMS and the FSF are right about one thing, Linux is just a kernel. Ubuntu, Red Hat, Suse, etc. could all be built on a different kernel. In fact, just to prove the point, Debian built a port of their OS to a version using the FreeBSD kernel [debian.org].

      So, IMO, anything using the Linux kernel, POSIX-compatible or not, is a Linux OS. Otherwise, you're playing pedantics.

      • What is Linux?

        No, seriously, what is Linux?

        Look at Maemo or Meego for a definitive example of a phone OS that is "full Linux".

    • Android barely qualifies as a form of "Linux." Yes, it uses a Linux kernel, but the fact is largely incidental - there's no real technical reason that Android couldn't be built on BSD or even WinCE if Google or an OEM wanted it. It isn't close to POSIX-compatible, it only runs "managed" (VM-based) apps, and it isn't even open-source as of 3.0.

      So install MeeGo [meego.com]. MeeGo is quite strongly aligned with the upstream projects it makes use of. It really is a desktop Linux distribution for mobile devices.

      • by Microlith (54737)

        Easier said than done. First you need to port the kernel forward to 2.6.37 (reference base) and then you need to beg S-E to recompile the video drivers against glibc and make sure they're compatible with Xorg 1.9.

        The joys of closed source blobs and utter contempt for pushing drivers and board files upstream.

    • by chrb (1083577)
      Nice troll.. Android uses the Linux kernel.Arguing that it could use another kernel is like arguing that ios could use another kernel - possible, but not easy or likely. Apps do not need to be vm based, the web browser etc are not, and you can compile whatever code you want with gcc ... Even market apps can use the ndk... And regardless of whatever you think, it's more "open source" than any other mobile os..
      • by Microlith (54737)

        Android uses the Linux kernel much in the same way TiVO does. The reason Android picked Linux before Google bought them was because it's an active kernel with lots of ARM support already in place. But due to how Google uses it the kernel (and due to Android as a whole, the greater open source community) doesn't really benefit.

        And regardless of whatever you think, it's more "open source" than any other mobile os.

        Shipping, yes. I'd rather see devices running MeeGo, which is a much more standard distribution a

  • The Sony part will soon remedy the error with a firmware 'update'.
  • but on the other hand, it's Ericsson [wikipedia.org].

  • by gmuslera (3436) *
    That is not even shadow of what Nokia did with the N900 and pushing the development of Meego (ok, pre-Elop era, at least). But they will get extra points if they publish drivers or specs to do them for fully installing other linux, not just android, on their phones.
    • Re:Nokia (Score:5, Informative)

      by Microlith (54737) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @07:12PM (#36059126)

      Most vendors publish (some) of the necessary drivers. However in truly incompetent fashion, they do so by dropping the kernel sources they used for the device. No history, no upstream contribution, just a tarball.

      This attitude is heavily encouraged by Google forking permanently from the mainline and not maintaining an upstream of its own, resulting in tons of dead-end drivers for these devices that have to be reworked between Android versions. On top of that, you have the problem that userspace drivers for most video chips are built against Bionic, rendering them unusable on non-Android platforms. This leaves you stuck with software-only for video and no 3D at all.

      Sadly there's no guarantee that MeeGo will free us from that, but at least using glibc/Xorg (and eventually Wayland) means that ports of other OSes with full hardware support (including 3D) is more likely, as opposed to now where it's either second-rate via chroot+vnc or software rendering only.

  • Interestingly enough Sony-Ericson will also allow you to unlock the bootloader [sonyericsson.com] on many of their phones. This naturally voids the warranty and they say in the process some DRM features will be removed from the phone, but this is quite surprising given they are the biggest arseholes in the current technological world. It's a complete opposite approach to Motorola.

    Mind you there's enough skepticism on the internet that thinks this is a grand scheme to build a database of phones with voided warranties. After a

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Interestingly enough Sony-Ericson will also allow you to unlock the bootloader on many of their phones. This naturally voids the warranty

      It is illegal for Sony to deny you warranty support simply because you have used an alternate, compatible replacement, as per the Magnuson-Moss warranty act. It is probably illegal for the contract to even contain such a clause, as you (the user) are not receiving anything in exchange for giving up warranty protection. You could erroneously say you are receiving an unlocked bootloader, but in actuality you are having a restriction removed and not gaining additional functionality.

      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        If only US laws applied everywhere. But then I guess we'd have a Patriot Act and a DMCA too so I'm kinda happy they don't. Would rather void the warranty of my phone :-)

        Also I'd like to see that phrase "compatible replacement" stand up in court, especially since the fundamental reason for doing what we're proposing is outside the realm of normal use of the device.

        I mean under that wording you'd also be entitled to a warranty claim if you installed a modchip in your Xbox which then fried it.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Yeah, I forgot my "in the USA"

          Under that wording you still wouldn't be entitled to a fucking thing, because the modchip isn't replacing anything, it's an aftermarket addon which alters the behavior of the system. It's not an OE-spec replacement. Nice try, though.

  • Nothing from Sony matters anymore. Their elitist attitude towards customers telling them what they can or cant do with the PS3, the root kit issues, the hacking, I'm done. The problem is no matter how much real information people with actual knowledge try to release, it is covered by the haze of fanboism. I'll admit it, I ply GT5 on my PS3 and I am amazed by the attitudes. I go to GTplanet and if I mention it, I'm censored and get 3000 replies saying Sony is doing their best and even offer a free months ps+
  • ... shame on you. Fool me again, shame on me.

    Put the play station 'Other OS' option back, apologize profusely and then maybe we'll bite.

    Maybe.

  • by lanner (107308) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @11:43PM (#36060114)

    Just go over to the xda-devellopers website and see how great Sony's Android phones are. They are crap. The first gen was released on Android 1.6 when 2.1 was already out (or at least 2.0), and Sony never offered an update. The phone hardware is substandard. Sony support of their phones is junk.

    Wait about two years, look back to now and see if they were telling to truth. If you want a preview, go back two years and look at what Sony was saying then, and then look at now. Get the idea? Yea.

  • It's quite possible that the gaming division is playing the retarded cousin dealing meth out the the back of the station wagon for the mobile division. Scared straight.

    Then again, I wouldn't trust them not to yank this at any time. It's Sony, FFS. Gaming division used to brag how much more open the PS3 was than the XBox 360 and now look at it. Okay, so it's open now, but not the way they wanted.

  • Sony received a lot of flak for their Xperia X10 Android devices - with a poor Android release upgrade cycle (very slow updates and stopping updates after Android 2.1), unfriendly attitude to devs, etc. But they've done a complete 180 recently; they reversed the decision of the Xperia X10 phones only getting Android 2.1 and said they'd release Gingerbread on them, as well as unveil the bootloader/unlocking website.

    Side Note: I'm currently testing the Xperia PLAY out as a sort-of competition for SE, and t
  • by zmooc (33175)

    Sony started making phones again?? No? Too bad, I really liked their scrollwheel-enabled phones and if Sony came out with an Android running Sony Clie that also happened to be a phone, I'd be the first to race to the store. Man, that would be so awesome...

    Or, in other words: this is not about Sony. It's about Sony-Ericsson. A 50/50 joint venture between Sony and Ericsson. It's ridiculous to call it Sony, it's ridiculous to call it a Sony division and it's especially ridiculous to make a comparison with the

  • Today. Then they will change the EULA terms and yank it, leaving you with 1/2 of what you bought.

  • come with Android 1.6 pre-installed, they are not exactly the leaders of the pack currently.
    Encouraging development and use of alternative OSS/FOSS firmware (Linux distributions) on SE phones would be a very nice move, though.

    A serious commitment by SE to this might be, to some degree, a compensation for the dwindling efforts at Nokia (Maemo, MeeGo, and successors to the N900, pity).
    So I'm looking forward to some very interesting - even impressive - results here, some day.

  • Rebuilding the kernel enables end users to make modifications to their devices that are normally not intended by the device manufacturer, such as theming the device by changing system icons

    WTF?

  • They will alter the deal. Pray they do not alter it further.

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