PlayStation 3 to run OS X? Oh, please!

I’m really disappointed with some of the stuff I’ve been reading on Mac sites about Sony’s PlayStation 3 console, and I’d like to clear the air.

Sony Magazine, an official Sony public relations outlet in the U.K., has posted details about the PlayStation 3, Sony’s next generation video game console that the company is expected to debut some time in 2006. None of what’s in there is particularly noteworthy, at least if you’ve been following the coverage here in Macworld’s Game Room and elsewhere. but several Mac news and rumor sites have grabbed hold of one tantalizing tidbit at the end of the article and let their imaginations run amuck.

“The integrated Cell processor will be able to support a variety of operating systems (such as Linux or Apple’s Tiger),” said Sony magazine.

In the past day, I’ve seen this reported as “PlayStation 3 to support OS X Tiger?” and more resolutely, “PlayStation 3 supports Mac OS X Tiger.” I’ve also seen “PS3 OS still undecided: Linux? OS X?”

It’s clear that there’s a lot of interest in the PlayStation 3 from Mac users, and it’s little wonder. Many Mac users who like to play games in their spare time prefer to do them on consoles, and have already invested in systems made by Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft — there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’ve done the same thing, though I still love to play games on my Mac too.

Some of the crossover interest from Mac users may have also been spurred by Sony’s use of the Cell processor — a CPU developed by Sony, Toshiba and IBM. At the time of the PlayStation 3’s announcement at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this past May, some Mac users were thinking the Cell processor might at some point appear in a Mac model, since it has a common heritage with IBM’s own Power architecture. That seems unlikely now that Apple has announced plans to migrate the design of its Macintosh CPUs to IBM rival Intel, instead.

But while the Cell processor certainly shares a common heritage with IBM’s hardware, that doesn’t mean the Cell processor itself is a plug-and-play replacement for a PowerPC processor.

Apple has never indicated or even intimated that the Cell processor can run Mac OS X, or that the Cell will be suited any better for Mac OS X than any other processor is. In fact, Apple’s notoriously secretive about its future hardware development, and for it to make any comment about the Cell would be extremely out of character.

Absent of any hard evidence to support the idea that the Cell processor is a good fit for Mac OS X, it’s sheer speculation to assume that the Cell processor can even run Mac OS X. And while it’s conceivable that whoever wrote that copy for Sony magazine may be privy to some knowledge about the Cell processor that the public isn’t — it is a Sony publication, after all — I think it’s very unlikely that they can speak unequivocally for the CPU’s ability to run Mac OS X.

The Cell processor’s abilities aside, it absolutely exceeds the limits of rational thought to presume that just because the Cell could , theoretically, run Mac OS X, that this somehow means the Playstation 3 itself could or will run Mac OS X. It’s putting 1 and 1 together and getting 3.

The PlayStation 3 is not a Macintosh. And even in a world populated by Intel-based Macs, Apple has made it clear that unless it’s an Apple Mac, it won’t run Mac OS X, no matter what’s under the hood.

As to the operating system that drives the PlayStation 3 itself, it will, in all likelihood, be a proprietary creation of Sony. But Ken Kutagari, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. President and CEO, has revealed plans to offer a separate hard disk drive peripheral for the PlayStation 3 — one that would have some kind of proper operating system on it.

Kutagari participated in an interview with Japanese PC magazine Impress PC Watch earlier this year and talked a bit about the PlayStation 3. It was widely reported thereafter — based on that interview — that the PS3 hard drive would run Linux. But Sony magazine itself says “the operating system [on the hard drive] has also yet to be clarified.”

The bottom line is this: Don’t believe everything that you read. And no, I don’t exclude myself from that axiom, either.

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