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SteamOS is out – based on Debian, not Ubuntu


The release of SteamOS was right on time, as promised by Valve. SteamOS is an Operating System designed to play your (Steam) games on a TV. The accompanying “Steam Box“, which will be running the SteamOS and which is supposed to be a hardware platform as open as the Operating System designed for it, is still in Beta but 300 prototype devices (running the SteamOS) have been sent to eager testers together with a purpose-built Steam Controller.

Apparently the Steam Box will also allow you to play your games on your regular (Windows?) computer and “stream” the game’s display to the TV connected to the Steam Box (or any homebrew computer running SteamOS). I don’t know if that will deliver a perfect gaming experience (PC and TV must be close to each other) but I guess that this is how Windows users can still profit from the Steam Box (since it runs a Linux OS, Windows games are out of the question).

You can already download the slightly less than one gigabyte large archive of the OS. It is still a beta release, so not advised for “inexperienced Linux users”. Well, we Slackers do not fall into that category.

From the SteamOS FAQ:

Q: What is SteamOS?
SteamOS is a fork (derivative) of Debian GNU/Linux. The first version (SteamOS 1.0) is called ‘alchemist’ and it is based on the Debian ‘wheezy’ (stable 7.1) distribution.

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

I think it is a positive message to all Open Source fans that Debian has been chosen as the base for SteamOS and not Ubuntu, which was the initial target for the Linux Steam Client. I have been watching the threads discussing issues with Steam on Ubuntu and was always glad that running Steam on Slackware was so much easier 🙂

I downloaded the OS image and despite online warnings that the download server was overloaded, it arrived at  6.5 MB/sec which is the maximum bandwith of my own Internet link. I have not yet tried it, but somewhere this week I will certainly dress up a Virtual Machine to see what it looks like. I wonder what will happen, as SteamOS expects Nvidia graphics hardware to be present, although the FAQ mentions “(AMD and Intel graphics support coming soon)“.

Exciting times for Linux gamers.  Ever since Gabe Newell’s public statement at LinuxCon 2013 that the future of gaming was on Linux, not on Windows, his company has been porting Steam games to Linux at a frantic pace, with other Open Source software profiting from their efforts (LLVM, X.Org drivers are examples). A year before that speech, Gabe Newell already called Windows 8 “a catastrophe” at a videogame conference in Seattle. Valve, a big thumbs up!



Comment from Ryan McQuen
Posted: December 14, 2013 at 20:20

Good choice of Debian over Ubuntu (not as good of a choice as Slackware though).


Comment from Mike Langdon (mlangdn)
Posted: December 15, 2013 at 00:37

I’m downloading it now – at ~2mb a second. Should have it in ~8 minutes. Won’t be able to put it in a VM until Monday, my next day off. I’m just really curious and looking forward to this! I’m not a giant gamer, but if I can make this work my grandkids will be excited! 🙂

Comment from slacker
Posted: December 15, 2013 at 04:20

Well, Ubuntu is great as an idiot-proof desktop system, but its’ lack of flexibility makes it a really bad choice to base a forked distro on. Especially something as specialized as a gaming/HTPC set-top box system. So the choice of Debian was fully expected, just as the choice of Ubuntu was as the main supported “desktop” Steam platform.

Slackware would be an even worse choice, since it lacks all those hideous and preposterous pieces of automatic system management (like automatic updates and dependency resolution) which we geeks run away screaming from, and which are needed to make things “just work™” for average Joe. 😉

Comment from ozone
Posted: December 15, 2013 at 12:19

looks like the OS wants 1TB of disk space O_O

Comment from alienbob
Posted: December 15, 2013 at 14:53

Hi ozone

Yeah the idea of course being that there’s a lot of game data which is going to be installed later on.

There’s an article on Ars Technica where they installed SteamOS using the USB installer which I also linked to (there is a bigger CloneZilla image which you can download which does require a 1 TB disk iirc).
The team from Ars noticed that they still had ample space on their 500 GB disk after the “post-install” script had completed.


Comment from ozone
Posted: December 16, 2013 at 11:36

ok, of course, but what if somebody wants to do a quick and dirt test on a vm?

even 500GB is a huge requirement for a VM, if mandatory!

Comment from alienbob
Posted: December 16, 2013 at 11:43

Not just huge storage requirements, but you will probably also run into the requirement for a NVIDIA graphics card. A Virtual Machine may not be the way to test this SteamOS eventually.


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