The main screen of SteamOS
|Company / developer||Valve Corporation|
|Working state||Under development|
|Source model||Free and open source software with proprietary components|
|Initial release||December 13, 2013|
|Marketing target||Gamers, entertainment|
|Available in||Various languages|
|Kernel type||Monolithic (Linux)|
|Default user interface||Steam
SteamOS is a Debian Linux kernel-based operating system in development by Valve Corporation designed to be the primary operating system for the Steam Machine game consoles. It was initially released on December 13, 2013, alongside the start of end-user beta testing of Steam Machines.
SteamOS is designed primarily for playing video games. Users will be able to stream games from their Windows or Mac computers to one running SteamOS, and it will incorporate the same family sharing and restrictions as Steam on the desktop. Valve claims that it has "achieved significant performance increases in graphics processing" through SteamOS. The operating system is open source allowing anyone to build on or adapt the source code.
Since SteamOS is designed for playing games it does not have many built-in functions beyond web browsing and playing games; for example there is no file manager or image viewer installed by default. Users can, however, access the available GNOME desktop environment and perform tasks like installing other software. Though the OS does not, in its current form, support streaming services, Valve is in talks with streaming companies such as Spotify and Netflix to bring their features to SteamOS. The OS natively supports Nvidia, Intel, and AMD graphics processors.
Valve stated that they plan to add support for movies, television, and music functionality prior to the consumer release of SteamOS.
The current system requirements for SteamOS include:
- Intel or AMD 64-bit capable processor
- 4 GB or more main memory
- Nvidia, AMD, or Intel graphics card
- 500 GB hard drive space
During a panel at LinuxCon in 2013, Valve co-founder and executive director Gabe Newell stated that he believed "Linux and open source are the future of gaming", going on to say that the company is aiding game developers who want to make games compatible with Linux, and that they would be making an announcement the following week related to introducing Linux into the living room. On September 20, 2013, Valve posted a statement on its website titled The Steam Universe is Expanding in 2014 which teased three new announcements from them related to "even more ways to connect the dots for customers who want Steam in the living-room." The first announcement was revealed on September 23 as SteamOS, with Valve saying they had "come to the conclusion that the environment best suited to delivering value to customers is an operating system built around Steam itself." A large focus of the reveal was the openness of the operating system, with it being announced that users would be able to alter or replace any part of the software, and that it would be free.
In October 2013, Valve announced Steam Dev Days; a two day developer conference where video game developers will be able to test and provide feedback on SteamOS and Steam Machines. In October 2013, Nvidia also announced their collaboration with Valve to aid in developing Steam Machines with the help of a developing library called GameWorks which incorporates PhysX, OptiX, VisualFX and other Nvidia-proprietary APIs and implementations there off.
In November 2013 Valve confirmed that they would not be making any exclusive games for SteamOS, and were also encouraging other developers not to as it goes against their philosophy of selling games wherever customers are. In December Valve announced that a beta version of SteamOS would be released for download on December 13, 2013. When this beta version released, Valve suggested waiting until 2014 to use it unless the user was confident using Linux operating systems.
In December 2013, Phoronix compared three Nvidia graphics cards on SteamOS and Windows 8.1. Overall, the Nvidia's proprietary Linux graphics driver can deliver comparable performance to that of the Windows drivers due to the largely shared code-base between the platforms.
In January 2014, GameSpot compared the performance to games running on Windows using identical hardware and settings. On an AMD graphics card, they found that Dota 2, Left 4 Dead 2 and Metro: Last Light all ran at considerably fewer frames-per-second. Left 4 Dead 2 also suffered from stuttering, which they attributed to a device driver problem. On an Nvidia graphics card, Left 4 Dead 2 and Metro: Last Light ran at slightly higher frames per second, and Dota 2 ran at the same rate. On both cards, Left 4 Dead 2 and Dota 2 both had longer load times compared to Windows.
On the gaming front, following the initial announcement many video game developers have shared their thoughts on SteamOS. Minecraft creator Markus Persson described it as "amazing news", and Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell called it "encouraging" for indie games. Other developers such as DICE, creators of the Battlefield series, and The Creative Assembly, developers of the Total War series, have stated that they plan to support their games on Linux and SteamOS.
On the operating system front, Gearbox Software head Randy Pitchford commented that he believed the operating system needed a unique application to attract developers, saying "without that must-buy product driving us all towards this stuff, I expect that the industry at large will watch curiously, but remain largely unaffected." Richard Stallman, head of the Free Software Foundation, is cautiously supportive.
The SteamOS beta release received mixed reviews. In TechRadar's review Henry Winchester praised the easy to navigate interface and future potential, but criticised the hard installation and lack of extra features compared to the Steam software. Eurogamer's Thomas Morgan did not incur installation problems however commented negatively on the lack of options available for detecting monitor resolutions and audio output and the lack of games available natively on the operating system. He did, however, also respond positively to the user interface and called it "a positive start."
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- Bhartiya, Swapnil. "Richard M Stallman: Steam Is Good For GNU/Linux". Muktware web magazine. Muktware. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
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