Last July, Valve announced their intention to port their games to Linux and create a Linux Steam client. Since then, an Ubuntu Beta has opened up and is currently sitting with around 100 games. To celebrate this early success, this past week there was a week-long Steam sale on a majority of those games now available on a new operating system.
Why would Valve do such a thing, you ask? Isn’t this a terrible business decision, with Linux accounting for 1% of the market and all? Well, it’s apparently all part of a bigger plan on their part. We’ve all been discussing the reveal of the specs of the newest PlayStation, and will no doubt do the same for the next Xbox. But there may be a new contender for your living room entertainment. The first sign came with big picture mode, a version of Steam that works well with a controller. Now the Steam-box, originally a discounted rumor, is a real thing, and it will be running Linux.
We got a first look at what the box might look like in January at the consumer electronics show, when Valve’s investment in Xi3 was unveiled. They have been working on a prototype based on the company’s modular computer, by the name of Piston. The piston has some pretty impressive specs and is quite capable of running both Linux and Windows. In an interview with The Verge, Gabe Newell said he wants both Valve-model and 3rd party Steam-boxes on the market. While that may not be the official name in the end, what it could be is a third, big next-generation console—a console that’s a little more open, yet still quite powerful, and possibly even upgradeable.
So, back to your most excellent question. Why Linux, from a company led by a previous Microsoft employee? Well, Gabe has explicitly expressed his displeasure with the direction Microsoft is heading with Windows 8. “Windows 8 was like this giant sadness,” he said, in his interview with The Verge. “It just hurts everybody in the PC business.” Microsoft’s newest operating system has experienced a wide range of criticism, from its apparent focus on tablet devices to its extremely closed-nature store. That hate, combined with some business factors that I’m sure we’ll never be privy to, has led to the decision to make the new Linux Box. It’ll still be a PC, you can still put Windows or any compatible operating system on it, but history has shown the default is what the majority will use.
So that’s why it’s so important for Valve to turn Linux, or one distribution of it, into a viable gaming platform. Let’s wish them luck, as competition is rarely a bad thing. Maybe it’ll force Microsoft and Sony to compete a little more. Whether or not long-term success is to be had depends largely on whether the mainstream market likes the new box, and that depends largely on pricing and marketing. A couple of years from now, Valve could be in living rooms across the world. We’ll have to wait and see.