|Working state||Under development (Public Beta)|
|Source model||Open source base system with closed source components|
|Initial release||December 13, 2013|
|Latest release||Brewmaster release 2.148 (January 23, 2018[±])|
|Latest preview||Brewmaster_beta release 2.145 (January 16, 2018[±])|
|Marketing target||Gaming, entertainment|
|Available in||Various languages|
|Kernel type||Monolithic (Linux)|
|Default user interface||Steam|
SteamOS is a Debian-based Linux operating system by Valve Corporation and is the primary operating system for Valve's Steam Machine gaming hardware platform. It was released alongside the start of end-user beta testing of Steam Machines in December 2013.
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 use of 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 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. 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 functionality to SteamOS, however, the video content is only from Steam's store which has a small number of films, while 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
- 4 GB (or more) RAM
- 200 GB or larger 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 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 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 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 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.
|Release||Codename||Base distribution||SteamOS changes|
|SteamOS 1.0||alchemist||Debian 7 (Wheezy)|
|SteamOS 2.0||brewmaster||Debian 8 (Jessie)||
|SteamOS 3.0||clockwerk||Debian 9 (Stretch)|
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 with an AMD graphics card and a Nvidia graphics card. On the AMD graphics card, they found that Dota 2, Left 4 Dead 2 and Metro: Last Light all ran at considerably fewer frames-per-second under SteamOS. Left 4 Dead 2 also suffered from stuttering, which they attributed to a device driver problem. On the Nvidia graphics card Metro: Last Light ran at slightly higher frames per second, and Dota 2 ran at the same rate. They state that for Left 4 Dead 2 the Nvidia card actually performed better under SteamOS, but did not specify how as their chart indicated it performed at a lower frame rate. On both cards, Left 4 Dead 2 and Dota 2 both had longer load times compared to Windows.
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 were rendered between 21% and 58% slower on SteamOS compared to Windows 10. Ars Technica considered 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. Ars Technica noted that its benchmark, comprising only six games on a single computer, was far from comprehensive.
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 may 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, although he 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 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".
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 have said they will still consider shipping machines with SteamOS in the future if performance improves.
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