Some of you may have heard the news that Steam is coming to Linux. Valve have ported Left 4 Dead 2, with more games to follow. Right now they’re focusing on Ubuntu, but other distributions may be supported later.
Combine this news with the development of Steam’s Big Picture Mode and it shows that Valve are really branching out from their original Windows PC keyboard and mouse user base.
My thoughts: the Linux port of Steam may a step towards a Steam box for the living room - a Steam console. It wouldn’t make sense to run Windows on a Steam console since they would have to pay for licenses; Linux, on the other hand, seems an ideal choice. Once they have a significant amount of Linux games on Steam, there would be more point in building a dedicated Steam box since they would have a lineup of supported games.
I don’t think it hints at a possible Steam console, it’s just nice, like Mac OS support. Big picture mode is there for the home theater setups. As you say, the majority of the Steam library is going to be unavailable on anything but Windows for the foreseeable future. They could always just sell Steam branded PCs in various OS versions in collaboration with whatever company if they seriously wanted some hardware sales money in addition to their software revenue. PCs are getting smaller and smaller too, maybe iPads are all the rage right now but in the future you could potentially have just as small and stylish computers that don’t cost a fortune leading to another surge in popularity for that platform as well, being used both as portables and easily connected to a monitor / keyboard / the works or HDTV. There are already going to be some pretty sweet Windows 8 based tablet PCs, even if cost and capabilities won’t be ideal for a while.
There’s a significantly large market that Valve hasn’t tapped into because Steam is limited to PCs and Macs which are typically more expensive and less easy to use in the living room as consoles. I think consumers who buy only consoles would be all over a Steam console if it was simple to set up, relatively cheap (360 and PS3 price range), and worked completely with a controller when plugged into a TV (no navigating Windows first). Valve are building the pieces for such a device with Big Picture mode and moving away from being Windows exclusive; it would seemingly be rational for them to go all the way given how large the console market is.
Tablets are going to get more and more powerful, but I’m not sure how commonplace they’ll become as living room devices. My understanding is that the lower end Windows 8 tablets run Windows RT which is closed off like iOS (apps can only be purchased through Microsoft’s store), which seems to rule them out as a strategy for Valve. The higher end tablets run the full Windows desktop, but to what extent they would allow Steam games to be played easily though the TV remains to be seen.
I am especially excited about this due to the direction Windows 8 is taking. I want to be able to still have a desktop and not have to deal with a touchscreen interface. Windows 7 is great and I am not sure why they have to force a tablet OS on the desktop community. I am also a big supporter of opensource software. I only use LibreOffice and Firefox. I exclusively use only open source programs. The only thing really tying me to Windows are all the games I own. I am surprised they chose Left 4 Dead 2 as the first game to port. Maybe it had the most updated version of the Source engine? I really hope they port Counterstrike. If you want gamers to switch en mass, that would be how you would get them to do it. Port games like CS or MW to Linux and the platform would explode with new gamers and content.
My understanding is that in Windows 8 you can switch between the Metro touch screen interface and the regular mouse-driven desktop.
However, I do share your concern about the direction Windows in general is taking. Maybe Windows 8 will still play all of Steam games without trouble, but in Windows 9 or 10 there’s less certainty. If we consider the two desktops approach similar to the DOS/Windows transition, there could come a point where Microsoft no longer supports non Metro applications. This could be especially bad for Steam if they require apps to be purchased through the Microsoft store like on iOS. Keep in mind that this is already the case for tablets running Windows RT and the lower end Surface tablets, with Microsoft controlling both the hardware and software like the iPad. Even if they don’t go all the way for desktop versions of Windows it’s going to limit the user-base if many users opt to get a Surface rather than a full PC.
I think they’ll port the games that are available on OSX. Half-Life 2, Portal 1 and 2, Counterstrike Source, all seem likely. You might be interested in this article where Gabe Newell says “We want to make it as easy as possible for the 2,500 games on Steam to run on Linux as well.”
I am also concerned about the Windows Marketplace. The only good thing about Windows was the open software environment. If MS goes the way of Apple with a closed system, you are not only killing off anything Legacy, you are restricting the ability to develop software to your standards vs Microsoft’s. They could look at something like Libreoffice and decide that it doesn’t meet their standards just because it competes with office. Bleh. Linux development can’t happen fast enough.