A Linux Based Console. Coming Soon.
Well that title is not entirely true. But wouldn’t it be great if it were. There’s a keen market just waiting to be flooded by keen Linux programmers and hackers alike. Those little black or white boxes that make a small appearance in almost any gamers lounge room. Yes that’s right. I am referring to the Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox.
If you are interested in all things hardware and have been following the developments of both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox 720 (or Xbox Infinity, Xbox 8 or simply Xbox or whatever other name you can find that refers to the upcoming Xbox console), then you will see that the reported hardware that the two little power boxes are going to house inside is some seriously high-end hardware.
Let’s take a quick look at what has been confirmed by Sony to be inside the upcoming Playstation 4:
CPU: 8 core x86_64 AMD ‘Jaguar’
Memory: 8GB GDDR5
GPU: 1.84 TFLOPS AMD next generation Radeon chipset
Other components: Blu-Ray optical drive, internal hard drive, IEEE 802.11b/g/n, Gigabit ethernet and USB 3.0
The full specifications for the next Microsoft console seem to shrouded in a little more secrecy as there has been no official confirmation to date. But this is what is currently rumored to be inside the upcoming Xbox 720:
CPU: x86_64 AMD ‘Jaguar’ based chip @ 1.6GHz
System memory: 8GB of system RAM
Graphics memory: Integrated in to the GPU
GPU: AMD Radeon 7790 based chipset
Other components: Blu-Ray optical drive, internal hard drive, speech recognition1080p 3D support and DVR functionality
Obviously, the hardware in question (on both platforms) is intended for gaming purposes and HD media playback, but as both platform will be based on x86 specifications, there really is no technical reason that would prevent Linux from running on such devices and use them for alternate purposes. Possibly a general use desktop PC for the power-user or even a home server of some form. Hardware of this capability is so powerful and so capable, given the chance you could use it for just about any purpose. And my guess is Linux would run just great on the aforementioned little power boxes which are so often under-used and under-appreciated.
Whilst we sit here taking in the thought of such a chance we might ever be given for such an opportunity, we have to understand there is one huge proprietary barrier that we have to contend with to even get such systems to recognize our Linux boot media in the first place. Let alone get it to boot and install to the hard drive. Both Sony and Microsoft put a lot of effort and development time to enforce strict defenses to prevent the geeks from getting as far as booting such media.
Of course throughout the history of both present and previous iterations and versions of the Playstation and Xbox, we have seen hackers make many attempts to get Linux to boot and install correctly. Some claim to have succeeded. But it’s usually quickly prevented by any updates forced out by Sony and Microsoft. And don’t expect the next generation of gaming consoles to be any different. They will also contain those strong defenses that have prevented us from succeeding before. But don’t think that it won’t stop the Linux hackers and enthusiasts from trying. I certainly hope they try and wish them good luck in their quest for success.
If only Sony and Microsoft would allow for ease of access to boot external media and implement a choice for operating system boot at startup. It would ease a lot of the pain for both parties. Linux enthusiasts would no longer have to force their way on to the platform. And both Sony and Microsoft would probably sell many more of the devices than what they originally anticipated. But that is just where the problem lies. These little powerful consoles are extremely affordable when taking in to consideration the high-end hardware they are shipped with. Building an equivalent desktop system to the relative specifications would cost you probably 5-6 times the amount of the price of a console. To be honest, if Sony and Microsoft were to charge full price for the consoles and actually make a profit, they really would not sell many of them. It’s much the same story for printer manufacturers who make their profit from ink and toner media and not from the sale of the printer hardware. Game consoles manufacturers make their profits from additional add-on hardware sales, peripherals and games. This gives them the opportunity to take a loss on the initial sale of the console. If Sony and Microsoft were to open up the platform and allow other operating systems to be installed on the consoles ie. Linux, then there would be an influx of geeks purchasing their devices for many other purposes other than gaming. But the loss in revenue from this would be so massive that it would be simply unsustainable. I know I would purchase either console or possibly one of each for the hardware they contained. But only if I were able to install Linux on them!