Open Source

Steam Box will bring Linux to the masses

Find out why Jack Wallen believes that Valve's Steam Box will help get Linux into the living rooms of the world. Do you agree?

Steam Box

In case you haven't heard, Valve Corporation has released nearly everything about the Steam Box but the box itself. We now know that the Steam Box is a Linux-powered gaming console to run Steam games, and it even has its own Steam Controller. Furthermore, the Steam OS will be available to use on a desktop PC to turn your living room into a Linux-based nirvana.

My how things have changed.

Just a few short years ago, I would have insisted that Canonical and Ubuntu would push Linux to household-name status. I also stood firm that gamers weren't average users, nor would they drive Linux into the hearts and minds of the masses.

It seems that I may have been wrong, and I have never been too big to admit my mistakes.

What I overlooked was simple. Gamers are one of those select few groups still willing to shell out their hard-earned coin for software. They wait with bated breath for the latest release of a title and — when it arrives — they buy, buy, buy.

Steam knows this. Steam also knows that Linux is a perfect platform to hitch their wagon to. It's cheap to use, can be bent and twisted to fit their needs, and it isn't Windows 8. To that end, Steam is banking fairly heavily on getting their Steam Boxes into the homes of gamers across the globe. Their goal is to create the perfect gaming environment for the big screen. Hence the Steam Box and the SteamOS.  Anyone who enjoys Steam should be excited about this, and anyone who enjoys and supports Linux should be thrilled.

The SteamOS and Steam Client will be able to:

  • Stream your Windows and Mac games
  • Stream music, TV, and movies
  • Share games
  • Offer family controls

And of course, the Steam Box will focus on playing all the games you want. But wait.. it's more than that. Imagine, if you will, an open gaming console that allows you to install your own software, change the hardware, run another OS, and more! That's what the Steam Box is all about — and only Linux can make this all possible.

From my perspective, this is only the tip of what should prove to be a very large and exciting iceberg. Why? The gaming industry has always helped push technology forward. When the Steam Box is released (sometime in the beginning of 2014), other companies will see how well Valve has managed to leverage the Linux OS. Those companies will immediately want to hop onto what could possibly be a very lucrative bandwagon.

Of course, this all depends on a lot of very large factors. One of the biggest is if Valve can manage to  get OpenGL to perform better than DirectX. Valve has already released documentation claiming that Left 4 Dead 2 is faster on Linux/OpenGL than Windows/DirectX. However, on that front, Valve doesn't have to get Linux to perform faster than Windows. If the performance is comparable, the reliability and flexibility offered up by Linux will be enough to push Linux into the limelight as a gaming platform.

The next big issue is that of video support. Linux has long lagged behind Windows in video support. Both AMD and Nvidia have had plenty of problems getting their proprietary drivers to work well on Linux. The Steam Box could really give Linux a push forward into the land of support from all the major video players. This would certainly trickle down to the Linux desktop, which is something that it has sorely needed for a very long time.

Should the Steam Box be met with open arms (and wallets) by the public, this could easily translate into the land of DVRs and more. Imagine having a DVR to replace that horrible Motorola box given to you by Time Warner Cable — one that you could actually work with (and even modify to meet your needs). That would be a huge boon to not only Linux, but to the masses.

What most people don't realize is how much their day-to-day lives could benefit from the use of Linux. That veil of ignorance could soon be lifted, thanks to Valve and the Steam Box. Other attempts to push Linux forward have failed. While Canonical has done an admirable job, it's frequently come up short (where are those Linux-based tablets?). Sure, Android has wowed much of the world with a Linux-based mobile platform, but now it's time for a company like Valve to up the stakes and get Linux into the living rooms of the world. Once that's accomplished, the keys to the kingdom will be handed over to herald a new age of Linux for the masses.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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