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Valve: The Linux Steam Engine That Could?

Valve: The Linux Steam Engine That Could?

"This is another example of Linux moving into a sector and taking over," suggested blogger Kevin O'Brien. "The proposed new Steam Box is good, but for any dedicated gamer, PCs are where the real action is. I think this can benefit all Linux users by getting Nvidia to open their drivers. Nvidia may not care about Linux users, but they won't ignore Valve."

By Katherine Noyes
09/30/13 5:00 AM PT

Valve cofounder Gabe Newell has made no secret of his disdain for Windows 8 and his newfound love for Linux as a gaming platform over the past year or so.

Linux Girl

It seems fair to say, however, that few here in the Linux community expected the colossal bear hug of support Valve gave our favorite operating system last week.

First, it announced SteamOS; then it was the hardware side. Finally, on Friday it debuted the Steam Controller.

All of Valve's gaming roads appear to lead to Linux, in other words. If this is a dream, more than a few FOSS fans are hoping they never wake up.

'This Is Fantastic News'

"Fantastic news!" enthused consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack, for example. "They have already done a lot by being the first game company to put serious work into flushing bugs and inefficiencies from the graphics drivers while those who went before simply gave up.

"Now they are pushing Linux as a serious gaming contender, and this can only be a good thing," Mack added.

Similarly, "I really think that this is fantastic news because GNU/Linux is a whole mature OS now," agreed Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. "Despite the fact it's running on different kind of servers, 98 percent of the world's supercomputers and serious desktops and its cousin Android/Linux dominates the mobile ecosystem, games were the Achilles heel (in the market sense) for some home users."

Valve's move is also "a huge statement that GNU/Linux is what fans and geeks have been saying for a while," he added. "Now not only we can have a dedicated 'Linux machine' to run top-rated games, but it will also help the development of gaming on every distribution."

'He Is Changing the Game'

SteamOS and the Steam Box was were "the best news of the week," concurred Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol. "There's no doubt GNU/Linux is ready for prime time, and, it has not yet gotten its deserved place, more because of the inertia of the market (manufacturers, OEM deals with other companies, and so on) than because of its capabilities."

With SteamOS, moreover, "even Nvidia is willing to behave nice, and AMD is hard at work to improve its FGLXR drivers," Ebersol added. "Then, it's a win-win scenario: GNU/Linux in the living room, hardware companies improving support for the GNU/Linux ecosystem, and, better and cheaper machines for the users/consumers.

"So, I see no cons, and, of course, blessed be Gabe, for he is changing the game," Ebersol concluded.

'I'll Be Buying One'

"I think it's a great idea!" echoed Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone. "This creates a game platform that any OEM that wants to can get in on."

Historically, "we've had Sony and Microsoft and Nintendo, and they've provided the game system as an all-in-one system," Stone pointed out. "Hardware and software were designed in-house and offered by no other vendor.

"We see something similar with Apple: They do well enough to keep the lights on, but the markets are always dominated by the system that's more versatile and adaptable than Apple's," he added.

"I think that Valve is attempting to position themselves as the de facto environment for a game ecosystem, all running Steam," Stone opined. "The fact that Steam is already well-established on the PC and has a great game library already gives it a good head start.

"I'll be buying one when they become available," he concluded. "I'm hoping it's a spectacular success because I think it could do some great things for gaming on Linux, not just in the living room."

'They Know What They Are Doing'

The move "makes a lot of sense," agreed Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

"They know what they are doing," Travers added. "They can control the hardware and drivers. This is almost the ideal scenario for Linux gaming."

In-flight entertainment systems also often run Linux, he pointed out -- "I even saw a kernel panic once (which makes sense due to custom hardware, etc).

"So this has been done before, and this is an ideal market for it," Travers concluded. "I have faith in them to make this successful. It will be yet another groundbreaking Linux device pushing into consumer space."

'They Won't Ignore Valve'

"This is another example of Linux moving into a sector and taking over," suggested Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien. "The proposed new Steam Box is good, but for any dedicated gamer, PCs are where the real action is.

"I think this can benefit all Linux users by getting Nvidia to open their drivers," O'Brien added. "Nvidia may not care about Linux users, but they won't ignore Valve."

If Valve "continues to handle the Steam back end and provides SteamOS with a well-defined set of hardware specs for interested OEMs or DIY types, it could work out very well indeed," offered Google+ blogger Brett Legree. "In the end, Valve's ultimate level of success will depend on how well they can woo top game titles."

As for Linux, "well, any development from SteamOS that rolls back into the mainline is good," Legree added.

'How Are They Gonna Have DRM?'

Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza wasn't so sure.

"I just can't get excited about anything that Valve does until they cease their war on our First Sale rights," Espinoza explained. "It was bad enough when publishers tried to restrict our rights with EULAs, but Valve's entire system is designed to separate you from them."

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet was even more skeptical, pointing to numerous as-yet-unanswered questions.

First, "how are they gonna have DRM in SteamOS without running afoul of the GPL?" hairyfeet asked. "After all, Google had to spend over a billion to make their GPL V2-only fork for Android and ChromeOS, and I just don't see Valve sinking a billion plus into this.

Second, "what do they intend to do about the frankly poor graphical performance in Linux?" hairyfeet wondered.

Also, "how do they intend to address the mess that is update/upgrade in Linux?" he said. "Even the most fervent FOSS supporter will have to admit that the update/upgrade cycle is a mess, especially when it comes to graphics cards."

Finally, "how are they gonna change the fact that a good 90 percent+ of AAA titles have DirectX ONLY and zero OpenGPL support?" hairyfeet told Linux Girl. "Are they gonna shell out millions to integrate Wine and make it seamless and easy, or are they gonna pretend that those 90 percent don't exist?"

'It's Good for Everyone but M$'

Blogger Robert Pogson, however, wasn't concerned.

"GNU/Linux is the right way to do IT, even gaming," Pogson told Linux Girl. "Steam knows that. By using GNU/Linux in their new gadgets, they can cut out M$'s tax, provide users with more performance at lower cost and be more profitable."

This year, in fact, "many OEMs are seeing the light, thanks to Android/Linux and Ubuntu GNU/Linux making quite a presence on retail shelves around the world," Pogson pointed out. "FLOSS gives all manufacturers a way to unbundle PCs from M$'s stuff and offer users better price/performance. It's good for everyone except M$, which is OK by me."

Looking ahead, Microsoft "will have to do much more than change CEO to remain relevant," Pogson concluded. "So far, they have done little more than raise prices for businesses while cutting prices for consumers. Neither are winning strategies.

"It's all about propping up the cash flow for the next few quarters instead of dealing with the real problem," he added, "that M$'s stuff is overpriced and underperforming."


Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered ECT News Editor by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


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