The Linux Rain Linux General/Gaming News, Reviews and Tutorials

SteamOS Now Available!

By Andrew Powell, published 14/12/2013 in News

Plus: Steam Machines beta units shipped!

Unless you have lived under a very large rock for the last few months, you would surely know of Valve's "Steam Machines" and it's operating system, SteamOS, Valve's own new Linux distribution.

We have heard bits and pieces about both the hardware (Steam Machines and Steam Controller) and software (SteamOS) but finally, as of today, the betas of Valve's new venture has shipped! Sadly, if you're not in the USA (as this writer isn't), there's no chance of you being a part of the Steam Machines beta and getting some shiny kit to play/test with, however the rest of us can still play around with SteamOS.

First of all, it has to be stressed that the SteamOS beta is indeed a BETA and therefore may crash and burn everything on your hard drive and kill your cat (okay perhaps not the last bit). It's purely intended for the experienced Linux user.

Now, details. We knew for some time now that SteamOS was a custom flavour and NOT Ubuntu, as some first expected (most likely as Ubuntu is typically and understandably the target Linux distribution for game developers).
It has now been revealed that SteamOS is in fact a heavily modified version of Debian 7 (Codenamed Wheezy), which is sure to please you Debian fans out there. See below quote from the SteamOS FAQ:

The major changes made in SteamOS are:

  • Backported eglibc 2.17 from Debian testing
  • Added various third-party drivers and updated graphics stack (Intel and AMD graphics support still being worked on)
  • Updated kernel tracking the 3.10 longterm branch (currently 3.10.11)
  • Custom graphics compositor designed to provide a seamless transition between Steam, its games and the SteamOS system overlay
  • Configured to auto-update from the Valve SteamOS repositories

Of particular interest here is the updated graphics drivers and graphics stack, a fairly modern (and heavily modified/patched) kernel and a custom graphics compositor. Michael Larabel from "Phoronix" has dug deep into the SteamOS sources and discovered that the custom graphics compositor in fact seems to be a modified "xcompmgr", a popular lightweight compositing manager, although largely superceded by the forked and more active Compton.

Why Valve chose xcompmgr over it's forked child in Compton is unclear, but that's the direction they took.
It will be interesting to see how just how smooth and performant the SteamOS Compositor actually is, taking into account it's a beta of course.

For those developers that have been targeting Ubuntu, fear not, Valve have also made it clear that the compatibility layer nature of Steam Runtime means that "as long as your development environment targets Ubuntu 12.04 LTS with the Steam Runtime, it will run without change on SteamOS".
This is generally true for other distributions as well; so long as the distro in question is compatible to run Steam itself, Steam's internal Steam Runtime layer ensures most if not all games run without issue.

It's exciting times to be a Linux gamer, especially as we have already seen AAA-title games such as "Metro: Last Light" and others that are on the way, because of Valve's contribution on the Linux platform and the incoming SteamOS.

If you are interested in more information or want to try SteamOS beta, head over to the main SteamOS page. Just please bear in mind that Valve themselves state that SteamOS is not intended to replace your desktop operating system, as it's designed and optimized for a more console gaming experience. However on the other hand, you're free to do what you please with it and CAN use it as your desktop if you wish (there is full access to the APT package manager and Valve have not locked anything down at all), but expect breakages for now.

We should hopefully have more SteamOS related news to report soon and perhaps even a review/first look at the beta.

UPDATE: Please be aware that the SteamOS installer actually ERASES YOUR ENTIRE HARD DRIVE and is currently not dual-bootable. If you test it out please ensure you either have a spare machine or drive you're willing to wipe or try out SteamOS in VirtualBox

About the author

Andrew Powell is the editor and owner of The Linux Rain who loves all things Linux, gaming and everything in between.

Tags: steam valve gaming steamos distros
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