Steam is ready to move past Windows with an in house Linux distro. Does it have the right stuff to make the PC relevant in this next gen climate?
Based on other stories I've written recently, I wanted to comment on Steam's announcement today. SteamOS is the next phase of their plan to take over the world. On the website created just for this announcement they tell us only a few real pieces on info. It will be open source, derived from the Linux kernel. Linux in the simplest description is this small piece of software that can be thought of as the brain of the computer, that has the know how to control the computer's hardware and offers the tools required to access and operate them by the user or other software. You put layers of software (a user interface and apps) on top of that kernel, they can be open source, proprietary or a combination of both to give the box all the features you want it to do.
Steam is doing all this to divorce Microsoft. Gabe Newell, CEO at Steam, is of the opinion that they are at the mercy of their competitor when it comes to getting changes committed to Windows or even new features added that allow PC gaming to grow. Microsoft is in the business of selling Xbox One's and an OS that is tailored to general computer usage, not gaming. They are going so far as to end their Games for Windows program, albeit unsuccessful, is conveniently anticompetitive to end at the beginning of this console cycle. So now steam will be free to tune this OS as if it were embedded and maximize performance on a console-like level and add or remove features as they please.
Along with performance they can now build this cohesive and hopefully appealing platform. For years they have been touting if you build your game on their in house engine, Source, your game can easily move across platforms. That vision is clear now, that if you not only had been taking advantage of selling your games on Windows, Linux and MacOS, now you can sell it on SteamOS with no effort. If you didn't make your game in their ecosystem then you can stream the games across your home network to the SteamOS computer, from another Steam client. This says SteamOS will not use wine or such technology to emulate the Windows API, they will use network streaming to support playing non-Source Engine games. The only other notable features they covered are Netflix-like, multi-user options, so you don't have to see your wives Bejeweled in your library. Family Sharing of Steam Accounts was also mentioned, which will be in beta soon, allowing one to share their entire library with a friend, with the hook that only one of you can be logged in at a time. They will have Pandora, Netflix, blah blah blah on SteamOS... Who cares...
Less overhead than Windows, means console level performance and you lose the cost of having Windows includedin the cost of your PC build, if all you're really doing on it is gaming (that applies to me!). There will be a real chance for another player in the game to do something different or special is very exciting. The big dogs need to be shaken out of their complacency. Competition is great for the consumer. You should all embrace this platform. I believe that SteamOS will be offered as a free download for users to build gaming PCs. Sure they may sell their own hardware for those who don't want to roll their own. The SteamOS is just a way to sell more games, which is where they make most of their money. I have no idea what their other announcements could possibly be besides the SteamBox everyone has been going on about. So the third one is a real mystery to me. If I had to speculate, I will guess it will be a new API for the community to build apps for SteamOS. The only problem with that is I could only see this hurting gaming performance, having stuff running in the background on your gaming box, which is a real perk of moving past Windows. We will all see soon enough.