Why is Sony the New Microsoft?
Over the last year Sony's Computer Entertainment division has taken a severe beating in the media and on internet forums. Some of the negative press was surely deserved, the launch of the Playstation 3 was delayed by 6 months after all -- even more for Europeans -- and when it did finally arrive it was with an almost unprecendented price tag. Disappointed consumers aside, the ridiculous magnitude of Sony's PR nightmare really strikes me as irrational, a groupthink wagon train of a scale that could never have existed in the pre-Web 2.0 era. Why does everyone suddenly hate Sony? When did Sony become the new Microsoft?
Part of the explanation lies with the old Microsoft, Microsoft itself. It launched its next gen console about a year ahead of the Ps3. In the zero-sum wargrounds for console supremacy, several million of Time Magazine's person of the year quickly found a reason to pick a side. And a substantial number did just that, once again demonstrating the ugly gremlin in the gearbox of human civilization.
Sony, as a company, has a recent history blighted with arrogance and consumer-directed antagonism, including ridiculous claims about the computational power of the Ps2, attempts to force consumers into proprietary Sony formats(mini disc, memory stick, UMD), experiments with copy-protected CDs, etc., etc. This is the rational part of the explanation.
The facts on the PS3 however, tell a different story when viewed objectively. The PS3 is probably the least proprietary game console in history. Let us catalog all the ways that the PS3 exceeds Micorsofts's Xbox 360 in terms of openness:
1) The big one: Sony has endorsed 3rd party operating systems on Ps3. A full suite of Linux media center apps is just a matter of time. The Xbox 360's media functionality is hamstrung by Microsoft's desire to sell PCs with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 -- a good portion of the media functionality is centered around a PC in the home running the OS. The PS3 also supports the DLNA standard as a compatible client.
2) Storage devices. For once, Sony actually got this one right. PS3 supports all generic usb storage devices, standard 2.5" hard drives(which can be easily swapped out by almost anyone), and the 60GB version also includes built-in support for a plethora of flash memory formats(compaq flash, memory stick, SD memory cards, etc). Microsoft requires the purchase of official memory cards($49.99 for 512MB) and hard disks(a 20 giger will set you back $99.99). If you buy the $300 Xbox 360 you are forced to pay another $49.99 if you want the ability to save games!
3) Free online service. The Playstation Network is entirely free, unlike Microsoft's Xbox Live service. Furthermore, Microsoft is attempting to leverage Xbox Live to introduce non-free proprietary online play to PCs via their new Windows Live initiative. So far, PC gamers have shunned the service. The only game I know of which requires Windows Live for online play is Microsoft's Shadowrun.
4) Less restrictive region encoding. All Ps3 games are region free, only some 360 games are. Microsoft does not require any form of region encoding, but does allow publishers the option to use region encoding. Blu-ray movies, although still region encoded on the publisher's option, are divided into only three regions.
I expect that part of the reason for Sony's relative good behavior is the increasing importance of software, and Sony, unlike Microsoft, doesn't have its fingers in that pie. Sony wants to sell you Blu-ray. In order to do that they are going to sell you an open platform. Microsoft wants to sell you Windows Media Center, an online service, memory cards, hard drives, probably IPTV, and on top of all that they're throwing their support behind HD-DVD just to spite Sony.
It is time to stop reviling the PS3 and get back to hating Microsoft! I grew to love the Internet that hated Microsoft; has the composition of the Net changed so much in the last 5 years that a Microsoft-hating Net is now impossible? The Microsoft haters weren't always right, but at least they had legitimate grounds for complaint. The Playstation 3, in contrast, has done nothing but arrive later and more expensive than it's competitor.