SteamOS / Steam Box? Yes / No / Maybe / Both

August 18, 2012 in Editorial

A what-if piece over at Rock Paper Shotgun suggested the idea of Valve making a SteamOS. While a nice idea, I’m going to go with no. Some words from Gabe Newell in an interview with GT.TV lead me to think that my earlier speculation is closer to the truth, but not quite right either. Valve is not making a SteamOS, nor is it making a SteamBox. All they’re doing is enabling hardware manufacturers to build Steam-enabled custom hardware, whether it be “Steam Certified” desktop PCs or settop boxes.
It’s not even speculation at this point any more. Newell said that they basically show the stuff to hardware manufacturers, and will let them do whatever they want with it. In some way, Valve is just making themselves a part of the ecosystem, and seeing if the wave will carry them along. He did mention that it  really does not matter  which operating system hardware manufacturers choose to run it on. But realistically, no OEM will be able to get away with building a Windows-based device like this. Microsoft’s goon-squad would be batting away at their knee-caps before they even exit the first brainstorming meeting.
Linux is not encumbered in this way, but there is the issue of content.  It has most other areas covered. There are more than enough media centers to choose from, productivity software, etc. Just, yaknow, needs more games!
Now the  big question. Who’s going to take a risk and build custom Steam hardware? I have one candidate for you: Acer. Acer has been publicly negative about the potential adoption of Windows 8, and recently lashed out at Microsoft about Surface, saying “It will create a huge negative impact for the ecosystem and other brands may take a negative reaction. It is not something you are good at so please think twice”.
It’d be a risk for any such company, but Valve seems to be making a compelling case for it.  With any luck, the pitch will sit positively with game developers too, and Valve’s efforts to help make game development for Linux/Steam as easy as possible will have the desired outcome. I don’t expect big AAA titles to hop on board any time soon, but the upside there is the massive amount of interesting stuff in gaming over the past few years have not been from AAA studios.
Generally it would seem like Valve is doing everything right. It does have issues to resolve, but Linuxers are loud enough to nudge them in the right direction. And of course, Valve is doing this for the survival of their company, so are counting on making money from the Linux community to carry this forward.