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Valve's SteamOS FAQ, detailing hardware, software, and dev issues
Valve's SteamOS FAQ, detailing hardware, software, and dev issues
December 13, 2013 | By Gamasutra Community

December 13, 2013 | By Gamasutra Community
More: Console/PC, Indie, Programming, Production

Alongside shipments of the first beta Steam Machines to users, Valve has released a FAQ with info on how SteamOS functions for users and developers.

While it's pointless to recopy the entire FAQ in a news post when you can go and read it now, here are a few interesting and relevant facts for the game development community:

SteamOS is open source

"All of the base operating system components are open source. The Steam client itself is proprietary, as are some proprietary third party drivers."

Though it's built on Debian Linux, you'll be OK developing on Ubuntu, Valve's recommended desktop distribution

"All Steam applications execute using the Steam Runtime which is a fixed binary-compatibility layer for Linux applications. This enables any application to run on any Linux distribution that supports the Steam Runtime without recompiling. As long as your development environment targets Ubuntu 12.04 LTS with the Steam Runtime, it will run without change on SteamOS. If you are a Steam partner, see the Linux development page for more details on creating Steam applications for Linux and SteamOS."

Hardware support should "largely" mirror vanilla Debian

"The drivers for SteamOS are provided as part of the system image and integrated by Valve. Valve will be integrating new and updated drivers over time. The process for installing new drivers should not be different from any other distribution in that the Debian community or Valve will re-package new driver releases and re-distribute them. If an end-user wants to install a new driver package on top of their existing SteamOS installation we expect to remain largely compatible with the Debian packaging scheme."

You can easily get access to a regular Linux desktop on SteamOS, even though it boots directly into Steam

"SteamOS is designed to run Steam and Steam games. It also provides a desktop mode which can run regular Linux applications... To access the SteamOS desktop, it must be enabled from the Steam Settings menu."

For the rest of the details, read Valve's full FAQ.

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David Rico
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I'm very interested to see where Valve goes as far as making Steam machines "part of the living room". I think one of the biggest threats to Steam Machine adoption is lack of support/awareness from the mainstream market who buys MS and Sony consoles.

I'm very eager to see what they come up with in terms of marketing, as I'm hoping they won't just leave it up to the third party hardware manufacturers to try sell the platform.

PC gamers make up a big market, to be sure, but to truly see it take off they'll need to take the fight to mainstream, eventually.

Me, I'm just happy Valve will be in my living room. Much <3 to them as a company really, as a developer and a consumer, they have yet to do me any wrongs.

SD Marlow
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OK, so I guess I'm a little slow for just figuring this out, but their focus is on having THE gaming version of Linux (ie, the one devs will target because AMD/Nvidia will be sure to have driver support.. because it's "backed" by Valve). I can see games on Mint (or Ubuntu + Cinnamon) bringing some gamers away from Windows, but I've always believed that "open source gaming platform" was an oxymoron.

Stavros Dimou
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@SD Marlow: That right there that you said "open source gaming platform" is what I dream of actually.
I vision a world where people would just visit a store and buy a game from a game shelf and put it at any 'game machine' they have on their house,without caring who is its manufacturer,pretty much how the dvds market works. Imagine if there was a single open standard that all manufacturers adopted and was widespread.
As the game industry works now,its like having Warner Bros make a movie only for Philips dvd players,and thus someone who has a dvd player made by SONY can't watch his 300 movie dvd,and has to buy 5-6 different devices to be able to enjoy all movies.
If there was an open standard for game platforms it would benefit everyone except the current platform holders:
# Developing costs would become less,as a developer would only have to develop for a single platform.
# Publishing costs would become less,because the publisher would only have to market for one platform.
#It would open the hardware manufacturing business and bring companies that make hardware more money.
# The costumer wouldn't have to buy multiple machines,so he wouldn't have to spend more to play anything he likes.
# Everyone would get benefit by knowing that there will always be an installed user base,on a single platform.

Sean Francis-Lyon
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Its worth noting that DVD is a closed standard, not open source like linux.

Kujel s
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If the current state of steam os is anything to go by this os isn't going to be any more successful then the other distrubtions of linux.

Mike Griffin
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However, the SteamOS distro will presumably maintain a razor sharp focus on optimization/drivers etc. tailored to gaming and media, in console fashion.

It's not exactly aiming to be a successful traditional distribution of Linux, despite including settings to enable a desktop mode to run other Linux apps.

Valve is using Linux as a vessel, yet attempting to carve out its own new market. Well, 'new' market in the sense of new platform. Anchored by Steam, that platform will boot into one hell of a solid backbone out of the gate.

Duvelle Jones
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As of right now, Steam OS is just another distribution. And as it stands, Steam itself on linux is a very limited affair....

It will take some time to hammer out all the details to make SteamOS into something special. And time is something that most gamers have in limited quantity...

I wonder if this pushes some things in linux's development, but we'll have to see. I do think that Valve is ready for the changing world in linux, having based on Debian instead of Ubuntu. The biggest concern that I would have, as a linux desktop user, is... how does Valve engage with the larger communities found in linux. They have joined The Linux Foundation, which itself it good... but are they a part of the Wayland/X11 community, do they engage with Gnome and Mesa, do they continue to engage with and built upon Webkit or move to Blink, etc.

That is something that Valve will have to answer itself, in time. And again, Time is something that most gamers have in limited quantity...

Leszek Szczepanski
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I might not be getting a SteamBox, but once I get a new rig, it will definitely boot to SteamOS.

Bob Johnson
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I'd just welcome a free gaming OS to put on the computers I build instead of paying $100+ for Windows which is overkill for my purposes in more ways than one.

I think if Valve wants wide adoption though they need to build one console. I say this even though I like to build the occasional pc. The mainstream just doesn't want to monkey with pcs and their problems. I suppose tight control could make this better, but....not holding my breath.

I see a market here for those that want to be king. First a digital distribution only console. Second turn the thing into a pc appliance too. MS doesn't want that. They also want to sell you Windows. But what a selling point to families if the kid's console is also a pc that they can do their homework on.

Ok granted the console might be in the living room not in the kid's bedroom. And MS and Sony can drop retailers like a bad habit once they can show proof they are getting killed by digital distribution. And everyone has portable computing resources nowadays.

Still it sounds like another selling point.