Thursday, 21 February 2013

PS4, Linux, Steam-Box?

By now anyone who is interested knows the PlayStation 4 hardware specifications have been announced.

The speculation that PlayStation was switching CPU again, from Cell (POWER based architecture) to a custom 8-core x86-64 architecture manufactured by AMD was proved to be correct.

However nothing has been announced regarding the OS. According to Wikipedia the PS3 system software is believed to based an on a branch of FreeBSD will the situation be the same for the PS4?

Currently the PS3 can use Valve's Steam content distribution platform, and recently Value have released an official Steam client for Linux. Now this is just a guess but...

What if the underlying system software on the PS4 was a custom Linux distribution? This would mean:

  • The Steam Linux client would be available from day 1
  • AMD would have a huge user base using Radeon on Linux - would this lead to rapid improvements in the closed source Linux Radeon Drivers?
  • The OS source would be have to be made available - I'm not sure Sony would want this as they locked users out of alternative OS's on the PS3.
It is more likely, that if the PS3 system software was a branch of FreeBSD then the PS4 will also be based on FreeBSD (meaning the source can stay private). What does this mean for the FreeBSD community?
  • AMD would have a huge user base using Radeon on FreeBSD - would this lead to rapid improvements in the closed source FreeBSD Radeon drivers?
  • Valve would likely want Steam to be available to PS4 owners. That could mean the development of a FreeBSD Steam client.
Given that Valve has committed to creating a 'Steam-Box' based on Linux either of the above are potentially possible.

In the event the PS4 is based on Linux, Valve have a Steam client ready to go, and the PS4 is not only a PS4 but it could be 'Steam-Box Compliant/Compatible'. That could be a big win for Sony when customers are making purchasing decisions.

If on the other hand the PS4 is based on FreeBSD, I'm sure Valve could port Steam to FreeBSD, but would the PS4 still be a 'Steam-Box Compliant/Compatible' device?

The biggest question is, would Sony allow another content distribution service to run alongside the PSN? It seems the industry as whole is moving to a 'walled-garden' approach, when it is apparent that consumers would benefit from being able use whichever content providers they prefer.

All of the above is just conjecture, but possibly exciting times ahead...


  1. Very unlikely, as Sony's console business model relies on the licensing fees charged to third party publishers for publishing on their platforms, as well as digital purchases through PSN.

    The consoles themselves make little to no profit.

    The only way PS4 games could be bought through Steam was if Valve and Sony had a partnership deal where Sony got a share of the sales from every PS4 Steam software.

    Sounds very unlikely.

    Also, that is why Sony doesn't like the sound of a fully-functional Other OS, as it would allow others to compete with them using Sony's own hardware.

    1. Hi João,

      I too believe it's a long shot. Especially as Steam on the PS3 has not really gone anywhere.

      I'm not convinced that Sony's social gaming is a 'killer' feature. It will be interesting to see what Microsoft announce about Durango.