|OS family||Linux (Unix-like)|
|Working state||Not under development|
|Source model||Open source base system with closed source components|
|Initial release||December 13, 2013|
|Latest release||Brewmaster release 2.195 (July 18, 2019)|
|Latest preview||Brewmaster_beta release 2.195 (July 18, 2019)|
|Marketing target||Gaming, entertainment|
|Available in||Various languages|
|Kernel type||Monolithic (Linux)|
|Default user interface||Steam|
SteamOS is the primary operating system for the Steam Machine gaming platform by Valve. It is based on the Debian distribution of Linux. It is mainly used in remote connections to a different display running off your PC Hardware. However, it can function as a standalone operating system with reduced features of a standard operating system, despite not having some basic features such as streaming services. The OS is very limited due to the media restrictions on the store. The founder of Valve, Gabe Newell, had wanted to allow users and game developers to be able to add Linux compatibility to their games, and with the release many people showed positive interest and adding support for the system.
SteamOS is designed primarily for playing video games away from a PC (such as from the couch in one's living room) by providing a console-like experience using generic PC hardware that can connect directly to a television. It can run games natively that have been developed for Linux and purchased from the Steam store. Users are also able to stream games from their Windows, Mac or Linux computers to one running SteamOS, and it incorporates 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 users to build on or adapt the source code, though the actual Steam client is closed.
Since SteamOS is solely for playing games without a mouse or keyboard, 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 GNOME desktop environment and perform tasks such as installing other software. Though the OS does not currently support streaming services, Valve historically considered integration with Spotify and Netflix. However, Steam does have full-length films from indie movie makers available from their store. The OS natively supports Nvidia, Intel, and AMD graphics processors.
Valve stated that it has added support for movies, television, and music to SteamOS. However, video content is only available from Steam's store, which has a small number of films. Music playback only supports local music collections. In October 2015, an update allowed Netflix and other DRM protected content to function in the native built-in browser.
The current system hardware requirements for default SteamOS installations include:
- Intel or AMD 64-bit capable processor
- At least 4 GB of RAM
- At least 200 GB on one’s hard disk
- NVIDIA (Fermi graphics cards or newer), Intel, or AMD graphics card (RADEON 8500 or newer)
- USB port for installation
- UEFI boot support
A custom installer method is also available, which can require additional configuration steps. This method allows for smaller hard-disk sizes. There is also an ISO image installer that supports legacy BIOS motherboard. The installers can be sourced through Valve's repository.
During a panel at LinuxCon on September 16, 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 was 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 related to "even more ways to connect the dots for customers who want Steam in the living-room". The first announcement was made 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 could test and provide feedback on SteamOS and Steam Machines. In October 2013, Nvidia also announced their collaboration with Valve to support SteamOS with the help of a development suite called Nvidia GameWorks which incorporates PhysX, OptiX, VisualFX and other Nvidia-proprietary APIs and implementations thereof.
In November 2013, Valve confirmed that they would not be making any exclusive games for SteamOS, and discouraged other developers from doing so, 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 on December 13, 2013. When this beta version released, Valve encouraged customers unfamiliar with Linux to wait until 2014.
In mid-October 2015, preorders of the Steam Controller, Steam Link, and Alienware branded Steam Machines became available. The official release date for Steam Machines was on November 10, 2015.
The following games were advertised as coming to SteamOS, but were cancelled, or remain unreleased as of 2017:
|SteamOS 1.0||alchemist||Debian 7 (Wheezy) (2013-05-04)|
|SteamOS 2.0||brewmaster||Debian 8 (Jessie) (2015-04-25)||Major changes compared to SteamOS 1.0
|SteamOS 3.0||clockwerk||Debian 9 (Stretch) (2017-06-17)||Not published as of 2019|
In December 2013, Phoronix compared three Nvidia graphics cards on SteamOS and Windows 8.1. Overall, Nvidia's proprietary Linux graphics driver delivered performance comparable to that of the Windows drivers due to the platforms’ largely shared codebase.
In January 2014, GameSpot compared the performance three games (Dota 2, Left 4 Dead 2 and Metro: Last Light) running on Windows and SteamOS. With AMD graphics cards, they found that all ran at considerably fewer frames per second on SteamOS, and Left 4 Dead 2 stuttered, which they attributed to a device driver problem. With Nvidia graphics card, they found that Metro: Last Light ran at a slightly higher frame rate, Dota 2 broke even.[a] With both video cards cards, Left 4 Dead 2 and Dota 2 had longer load times on SteamOS.
On the official release of Steam Machines in November 2015, Ars Technica compared the rendering performance of cross-platform games on SteamOS and Windows 10 running on the same machine, using average frame-per-second measurements, and found that games rendered between 21% and 58% slower on SteamOS. Ars Technica suggested this might be due to the inexperience of developers optimizing on OpenGL in contrast to DirectX, and believed that the performance might improve with future titles. They noted that their benchmark test, using six games on a single computer, was far from comprehensive.
Following SteamOS’ initial announcement, many video game developers expressed enthusiasm. 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, stated that they may add Linux support for their games following SteamOS’ release.
On the operating system front, Gearbox Software head Randy Pitchford expressed a belief that 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, former president of the Free Software Foundation, expressed cautious support, but does not condone the use of non-free games or DRM.
The SteamOS beta release received mixed reviews. In TechRadar's review Henry Winchester praised the easy to navigate interface and future potential but criticized the hard installation and lack of extra features compared to the Steam software. Eurogamer's Thomas Morgan did not experience installation problems, but commented negatively on the lack of options available for detecting monitor resolutions and audio output, in addition to the lack of games available natively on the operating system. However, he responded well to the user interface, calling it "a positive start".
Since then, outlets such as Ars Technica have revisited the SteamOS since its initial debut, offering observations on the platform's growth, pros, and cons. Both Falcon Northwest and Origin PC, computer manufacturers that were planning on offering Steam Machine hardware, opted to not ship a SteamOS-enabled machine in 2015 due to limitations of SteamOS over Windows; Falcon Northwest said they would still consider shipping machines with SteamOS in the future if performance improves.
- GameSpot published contradictory findings regarding Left 4 Dead 2.
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