My Thoughts on SteamOS

SteamOS is here. Let’s expand on some of the features Valve announced. What are they actually saying?

In-home Streaming

You can play all your Windows and Mac games on your SteamOS machine, too. Just turn on your existing computer and run Steam as you always have – then your SteamOS machine can stream those games over your home network straight to your TV!

Let’s be honest here, both the biggest feature and the biggest problem SteamOS has is that it’s based on Linux. More on Linux later this post. This brings a lot of good things to the gaming spectrum, however it also means a rather limited catalog at this point. Valve has definitely been planning this ever since they started working on Steam for Linux and Big Picture.

Streaming games over LAN works pretty damn well for the Nvidia SHIELD, but Valve will definitely be pushing developers to develop their games for Linux (if they aren’t already). Developers would be pretty stupid if they don’t support Linux now.

Music, TV, Movies

We’re working with many of the media services you know and love. Soon we will begin bringing them online, allowing you to access your favorite music and video with Steam and SteamOS.

What does this really mean? Here are two things that have already been spotted in the current Steam Beta client, but are currently disabled.

  • Playing local music, making playlists, all from Steam. Import your iTunes music, or play music from a network share.
  • Built-in Spotify support. Already mostly implemented in Steam beta, but disabled.

We haven’t seen the next bit in the Steam client yet, but we can pretty much assume this is a given. Netflix. What’s the best way to get TV and Movies on a PC? Netflix? Maybe Hulu.

Linux

SteamOS will primarily be based off Ubuntu, as it has been Valve’s focus ever since they started testing Steam for Linux. They already have a repository for Ubuntu 12.04 LTS users designated “hometest”, which is obviously short for SteamOS being tested in people’s homes. This hometest repository has been around since April. Check out our previous blog post for more on that repository.

I’m secretly hoping Valve will ship with a lighter version of Ubuntu (or not Ubuntu at all), but seeing all their testing has been done on Ubuntu so far, and they only have a repository for Ubuntu at the moment it’s looking like Ubuntu will be the thing they ship SteamOS with. Please prove me wrong, Valve.

A problem with Linux is that not a lot of games are supported right now. Valve obviously “fixed” this by introducing in-home streaming, but this is only a temporary solution for developers that want their games played on SteamOS/the SteamBox. Valve WILL be pushing developers to develop for Linux, and will help them out in doing this. How, you ask?

Last week, Gabe mentioned in his LinuxCon keynote that Valve is working with another company on developing a Linux debugger. In previous talks, Valve has shown that debugging and improving graphics performance is much much easier on Linux, since you have deeper access into the operating system and the hardware. With Valve’s ‘debugger’ coming up, developers will have a much easier time developing for Linux than they are having now on Windows.

In-home streaming is basically Valve’s answer to people wanting to play games that are not on Linux yet. It won’t be optimal, there will be latency and quality issues (it is Steam after all) but in the end it’ll push more and more developers to develop natively for Linux as their games aren’t being played the way they want them to be played if they’re being streamed.

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