My thoughts on Slackware, life and everything

Commercial games and Linux

Almost two years ago I wrote an article about how the Open Source ecosystem can interact with commercial game developers.

I decided it was time to write an addendum to that post. Why?

Last month, Valve Software finally revealed that they are in the final stages of porting their Steam client to Linux, news that was highly anticipated after Phoronix mentioned this for the first time. This Steam client for Linux will be accompanied by the port of a tripe-A game: Left 4 Dead 2. Valve opened a dedicated Linux blog which was so swamped with enthousisast comments that they had to define a new comment policy. Great news and it deserves a great deal of respect.

Commercial enterprises getting themselves invoved with the Linux platform… that was bound to provoke reactions. And indeed , Richard Stallman wrote a post where he critizizes Valve’s effort. The core sentence there is “Nonfree game programs (like other nonfree programs) are unethical because they deny freedom to their users“. I beg your pardon?

I really wished he would have been able to distinguish between the GNU/Linux ecosystem and the applications which can be used on top of that. The two are separate, Richard!

I am of course well aware of the philosophy behind the GNU project. It has given us a wealth of first-class software and I agree that without GNU, we would not be free to choose the OS we want to run on our machines. I work for IBM, and I realize all to well how a total vendor lock-in can not only smother your clients, breed arrogance, but also cause that vendor to buckle as a result of its arrogance. Read for instance – where you also find how IBM managed to re-invent itself and start committing itself wholesale to Linux by multi-billion dollar investments into the Linux developer scene.

But I am straying off the path here.

I have never been comfortable with zealots who claim that they alone hold the truth. Therefore, Stallman’s article made me sigh rather than angry – it was all so predictable. There is nothing unethical about earning money. There is also nothing unethical about earning money on the Linux platform. Look at Redhat, they made a billion dollars on Linux! People can be driven to great achievements but everyone’s motives are different. I am glad there is diversity. Valve is driven by a desire to produce a first-class game playing environment and create the games to match. That they want to earn money from their efforts is good. Triple-A games require a tremendous monetary multi-year investment. Too many well-respected game studios are closed these days because the financial returns are not making up for the investments. I want Valve to flourish, so that they give me the freedom to buy games that I like! Suppose for a second, that they would go bankrupt – that would take away a large potential for cool games. It would take away some of my freedom of choice.

Suppose they would cease their Linux involvement as a result of the opinions of people like Stallman. That would limit my freedom to play games on a platform of my choice. I do not want to have to install Windows to play my games.  I use Wine currently and that works well enough for Steam, Valve games, Diablo III and such block busters, but it would really help if we had native releases for Linux! It is a bit unfortunate that idsoftware’s John Carmack does not share Valve’s view on the viability of Linux as a gaming market, but really this is all about getting momentum. Someone had to decide to take the plunge. Nothing against John’s opinion, I respect him for all he does (in particular for opensourcing most of idsoftware’s previous game engines and games and doing great speeches) but I hope he will come back on his view sometime. We need these games to prove to people that Linux is not just for geeks. We need more game developers to take Linux seriously.

Oh… I am straying again.

I have different ideas of what defines “freedom” than Stallman has. I hope that the disaster called “Windows 8” will actually do Linux distros a favour by further diminishing the MS Windows market share, thus allowing growth of the Linux market share. Remember again why Windows 8 is bad? Or rather, what evil can result from Microsoft’s plans for Windows 8 on the ARM market? Read a bit about Secure Boot, you can start here: . Dual-booting Windows and Linux? No can do! Now there is a real example of limiting my freedom!

You see, the word “freedom” is not all there is to it. It can and will be used out of context in a zillion ways. What really matters, is freedom of choice. If you are really concerned about freedom, you should sign up for the news letters of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and support them in their cause.

I can’t wait to package, install and use the Linux Steam client on Slackware. In the meantime, I think I’ll watch a video about freedom from choice… come on, join me:

Cheers, Eric


  1. weput

    once people understand that even “free” has a cost; that eventually someone has to pay for; things will change.

    back in the day where soundcards and winmodems kicked me in the nuts i had to pay the price imposed by the learning courve… (sure i made my point)

    it took me time to understand and accept for example, the reason of ubuntu even if i dont like apt-get and hate unity; the option still there.
    if we pretend to have a fair amount of relevance, things like that need to happen; after all we are not mainstream and the vast mayority of users doesnt even understand what we talk about.

    it’s a matter of common sense

  2. tim

    well said. Lets hope that attempts to tie hardware to an operating system are squashed, and encourage more companies to write linux versions of their software, so that linux is not marginalised.

  3. Niki Kovacs

    Thanks for that refreshing read, Eric. I fully agree with you on your views of proprietary software running atop our favourite free OS.

    A new client of mine is a swiss company for geophysical research, based in Lausanne. The software they use for their calculations is only edited by Halliburton, and the licence costs 50.000 dollars per workstation (no, this is not a typo). Until recently, the program (ProMAX Landmarks) was edited for various platforms, but the latest versions come exclusively for 64-bit RHEL. I can hardly imagine myself becoming the indignated purist refusing to install proprietary software. Instead, I was glad to offer my expertise, and I admit that after the job was successfully completed and the client was satisfied, I couldn’t help feeling something in the line of “that’s one in the eye for Microsoft”.

  4. Caribe

    Because there will be something to package, right?

  5. alienbob


    When Steam for Linux is released, it will be for Ubuntu 12.04 or 12.10. Since this is closed-source development I erxpect I have to re-package the .deb binaries for Slackware. There will be only one game in Steam for Linux, and that is something you’ll have to buy.


  6. Mike Langdon (mlangdn)

    Well I’m going to buy it – and I’m not even a gamer. But I have grandkids and sons-in-law that are. I do play a bit of urban terror here and there, and I watch my son-in-law play all the COD varieties on his Xbox. But there is no way I will ever buy an Xbox, but i am going to spring for a Wii here soon.

  7. Ellendhel

    “but also cause that vendor to to buckle”

    The vendor buckle the client twice? How smart 🙂

    But I agree with you: I like to play from time to time and I like to have more choice than Quake [1-4] and others. Some free games are very good (Battle for Wesnoth for instance) but there is still more cool games on the “Dark Side”.

    And I hope a fiasco for MS Windows 8!

  8. Hannibal


    I doubt that will be only one game to buy on Linux Steam. There are quite many indie games for Linux, ie all sold in Humble bundle actions ( You probably can also count on Loki ports.

    Maybe there are not be too many “top” games in Steam when it starts, but for sure i will be not empty. I count on hundreds, or at least dozens, of games at the beginning.

    I is also chance to have shortly after Linux Steam success, games ported to MacOSX. They have already OpenGL and porting further to Linux should be relative cheap and easy.

  9. BlackRider

    I like to see that GNU/Linux is receiving some love from big software vendors.

    Truth to be told, I tend to be very Stallman-like with what I install in my computer, even when I am not the kind of guy who frowns on closed source stuff. You know, I take non-free things away and cleanse my kernel from blobs but I don’t press people to do it. However, I find that having the code of a game GPLed or BSDed is not really important, because games are not essential tools or protocols.

    On the other hand, Steam, with its DRM policies and “must have Internet” approach is going to have a hard time in Linux. Linux users have been using free application for long and have got used to not entering activation codes and such. In addition, I keep a zero-tolerance stance against DRM and “must have Internet products”: past events in other software projects have shown these can bring serious issues to the user, like unintended service interruption. I understand why vendors try to protect themselves, but I am not falling in that pit.

    Linux has lots of console emulators. In some countries, you can use them to legally play your old games. I have lots of old games and I could replay them 100 times before getting bored, and I can play them under Linux *now*. I *could* decide to give Steam a try if it wasn’t for the need of Internet for game activation.

    In conclusion: it is good to have Steam and its games ported to Linux, but don’t expect me to use it. I vote with my dollars, and my dollars don’t want DRM.

  10. Joshua

    We do not really have to install windows in order to play games. The consumer should be allowed to make a choice and his choices should not be controlled. Linux should do something about this.

  11. toudi

    i think people like stallman are necessary, as extreme as they are they counterbalance the corporate greed, what they are really reflects on corporations they wouldn’t exist otherwise.
    i believe we all should make a good living and be rewarded for our work but on the other hand if company x accumulates trillions of dollars while children in africa starve to death that is evil..

  12. ammo42

    (RMS) “Nonfree game programs (like other nonfree programs) are unethical because they deny freedom to their users“

    The real freedom privator is the Imaginary Property laws.

  13. linuxxr

    THANK YOU BOB ,, an thank u VALVE

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