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Fresh eyes on Linux



On July 16, game publisher Valve created Steam’d Penguins and formally announced their entry into development and promotion of the gaming scene for Linux.

For years there have been feverish rumours of such a move based on job postings which explicitly asked for Linux experience in the job description.

Without trying to play down the importance of the announcement and the excitement generated in the Linux community, there are still many unanswered questions about whether the games will be native ports or bundling of emulators, how open source friendly the underlying distribution platform Steam will be and which flagship titles will make the Linux leap.

As a long-time Linux user but not really much of a gamer, I applauded Valve for looking at my operating system of choice more seriously and building a Linux capability even if I am not in their intended audience.

Linux has lately had a flurry of indie games released for it which has made the community richer and widened the audience which in turn helps break some of our more insular perceptions.

My curiosity was raised again by last week’s comments by Valve co-founder Gabe Newell at an interview at Casual Connect held in Seattle. According to several reports from the event, Gabe Newell is not just getting into Linux to open up new markets (the Linux gaming market is not currently a juicy target) but as a hedging strategy.

In Newell’s reported words: "It’s a hedging strategy. I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. I think we’ll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality."

That is some pretty strong reaction to Windows 8. Unfortunately we don’t know what he means about what top-tier PC/OEMs that Microsoft might lose or if this is just speculation.

Windows 8 is certainly targeting non-traditional form factors which may put certain desktop making incumbents, which is Windows heartland, out in the cold.

It may be concerns about Windows 8 having its own software distribution platform which will no doubt include games. Newell has been known to criticise Windows 8 publicly before. This may be some form of tit-for-tat (if Microsoft is going to get into game distribution then they’ll get into OS territory?)

What excites me about a company like Valve developing for Linux is the fresh set of eyes on the underlying technologies. Valve could use its expertise to strengthen X Windows contender Wayland, improve OpenGL performance (NVidia/ATI would have more reason in creating better native drivers) and to push standards across the various sound server subsystems.

It is not that the Linux community isn’t capable of achieving these goals, but it helps to create high-profile projects that generate interest and rally points, especially in technologies that are traditionally not the focus of Linux desktops, like games.

If the next generation of operating systems aims to monetise transactions of software and taking their clip of the publisher’s ticket then it makes complete sense that the publishers would look to platforms where they have the upper hand in the relationship. While Valve is targeting Ubuntu for its desktop user base currently, the open source nature of Linux means that once platform expertise is gained, Steam can be ported relatively easily to other Linux variants thereby keeping Valve’s options open.

In the past, threatening to adopt Linux has been a tactical strategy used by governments and institutions to squeeze better deals from big vendors such as Microsoft. I hope that Valve is genuinely looking at Linux as a sustainable platform, with a unique user base who will enjoy Steam content on their preferred OS.

My choice of operating system is not validated by Steam’s presence but if Valve succeeds and thrives on Linux then it opens the door for other entities (Adobe?) to take a fresh look at the Linux ecosystem.

Valve is a smart company at the top of its  industry. I welcome them and their talent to the Linux community and wish them all success. I do hope this is a relationship based on mutual benefit and collaboration and not gamesmanship.

Will Steam help grow Linux acceptance and adoption? Who is next to join the penguin party?

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45 comments so far

  • Linux is still going to be a niche product. OK for undemanding home users who don't play games but not for power users or gamers. Good on Valve for trying, but I reckon they'd be better putting their efforts into improving Wine or similar emulator because then you can use the important software, like Office, Photoshop, Crysis, Skyrim and really make the OS irrelevant. BTW, Valve might be top of the pops for some people, but where is Half Life 2 episode 3? or even Half Life 3? not much new stuff coming out of Valve in the last couple of years

    John Holmes
    On Windows 7
    Date and time
    July 30, 2012, 10:09AM
    • Andriod is a Linux based system, yes it has a updated bootloader, Kernel to run on ARM processors and supports apk appliaction packages, but it is still a Linux OS, not bad for a system for "undemanding home users who don't play games"

      A Linux OS and App Engineer!
      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 11:33AM
    • Linux not for power users .. thats funny.

      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 11:36AM
    • Valve has had plenty in the works: CS:GO launches soon, DOTA2 in the works - two releases that are definitely going to have a great uptake.

      I believe one of the execs at Blizzard have also denounced Windows 8 - if they're willing to invest in Linux as well, it's enough for me to finally swap over for good. Games was the only reason I hadn't - ubuntu has always proved to be a very powerful OS, certainly more than Windows, once you know how to use it. Luckily the gaming community is quite computer literate, or else this wouldn't be a worthwhile investment for them.

      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 11:46AM
    • "Linux is still going to be a niche product. OK for undemanding home users who don't play games but not for power users"

      not for power users? you must be new to computers

      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 12:48PM
    • "Linux isn't for Power users". Yeah, 419 of the Top500 supercomputers of the world run Linux, producing 145million gigaflops of compute power. Just two of the Top 500 run Windows HPC 2008, producing 0.2 million gigaflops (as of June 2012).

      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 1:37PM
    • First of all, WINE Is Not an Emulator. While it is a really good project and useful for running abandonware and other applications in the short to medium term, nothing beats a native application for integration with the OS. The only thing holding back Linux (and Mac) is intertia.

      The developers who don't have their applications on platforms other than Windows have essentially put all their eggs in one basket -- big mistake. It doesn't take too much extra effort to make software portable from the beginning. It takes a lot of effort to move to other platforms after the fact.

      As another reader pointed out, the Free should be understood to mean Libre as opposed to Gratis. No one is prevented from trying to making a profit, but the freedom of users is protected. People who claim that this is somehow bad (aside from those vested interests) are shooting themselves in the foot. A lot like the group that rally against universal healthcare, since they would be the ones to benefit from it. Illogical.

      For the ignorant people who claim Linux user's don't pay for software, you only need to look at the success of the Humble Indie Bundle(s). You're also delusional if you think copyright infringement isn't a problem on Windows. Regardless of the platform, it's an issue that's often overstated.

      Games are really ony of the last remaining areas where Linux lags behind and I applaud Valve for making a commitment to port Steam. Hopefully a lot of other developers sit up and take notice (EA, I'm looking at you!). It's the only thing preventing me from completely uninstalling Windows.

      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 2:06PM
    • I find it amusing that nobody flaming John's "not for power users" comment seems to know what a power user is. Here's a hint for richo: "power users" are not people running supercomputers. A power user is a category of user - i.e., not programmers, not sysadmins. Users. The most demanding category of users, but still users who expect to spend their time working on their machines, not administering them.

      The Claw
      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 4:25PM
    • @The Claw July 30, 2012, 4:25PM

      That all depends on how you define "power users" doesn't it? You're not using a variant of the "No true Scotsman" fallacy are you? Do you honestly think admins, programmers and scientists spend all of their time "administering" outside of any work requirements? They are somehow excluded from the power user category?

      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 5:53PM
    • "Linux is still going to be a niche product. OK for undemanding home users who don't play games but not for power users or gamers"

      Wow, My parents will be stoked to here that they're classified as power users!

      To be honest, in regards to Wine, for Photoshop, we have GIMP, for Office, we have Libreoffice (to which I have a whole of people who seem to prefer the latter)

      Whilst we do have Wine, don't underestimate some of the more "open" options.

      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 11:52PM

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