Valve's SteamOS Not a Replacement for Windows 8

Although this was touched lightly on Monday, Engadget's hands-on report regarding Valve's Steam Machine prototype revealed an interesting tidbit about SteamOS itself; it's not a replacement for Windows 8. This is likely bad news for PC gamers looking for an alternative operating system that not only plays Linux-based Steam games, but allows them to manage files, work on documents and use the Steam Machine as a typical desktop.

As previously reported, SteamOS is similar to Steam's Big Picture Mode except that this interface is the basis for the entire hardware system. Engadget reports that the same Steam splash page washes across the screen when it launches, and the same tile-based layout of games and the Steam store are visible at launch. The platform is also built on pure Linux, not Canonical's Ubuntu, making it a custom platform instead of a spinoff.

The report goes on to state that SteamOS is not a replacement for Windows 8, that it offers little functionality outside what's described above. "Beyond basics like browsing the web, there's little in the way of standard OS functions," Engadget reports. "While Valve reps showed off slides of the box's vanity shots using a Windows PC, I asked how I'd view such shots from within SteamOS -- the answer is that there's no real way to do so, as there's no file browsing system or image viewing application."

The report points out that customers of Valve's Steam Machine initiative aren't really shopping for a desktop PC, but essentially a game console that focuses on PC games rather than the typical Xbox/PlayStation envelopes. These machines will ship with a game controller and the SteamOS platform, thus allowing Valve to say that the device is capable of playing the entire Linux-based Steam library. However, the report puts an emphasis on what a Steam Machine really is: PCs posing as game consoles.

What's surprising is that, based on the report, there won't even be base level support for media playback, or streaming options like Netflix, Hulu Plus and so on that are offered on the current console crops. That will likely change, as Valve already indicated that movies and TV shows were coming to Steam; Linux-based software is also likely on the horizon. Unfortunately, the game streaming aspect wasn't available at the time of the report.

"We're working with many of the media services you know and love," reads the SteamOS page. "Soon we will begin bringing them online, allowing you to access your favorite music and video with Steam and SteamOS. With SteamOS, 'openness' means that the hardware industry can iterate in the living room at a much faster pace than they've been able to. Content creators can connect directly to their customers. Users can alter or replace any part of the software or hardware they want."

We're probably just scratching the surface of what's going to be possible with SteamOS. We're also betting even more juicy details will be provided during CES 2014, and we'll be right there front-and-center!

Check out all our SteamOS coverage below:

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  • Pinhedd
    Anonymous said:
    As expected, and mostly as hoped for. The real question about SteamOS is how much better performance is than with Windows. Windows has an awful lot of needless overhead, SteamOS theoretically won't. But games are not optimized for Linux, so it's hard to say if there will be any performance gains over Windows at all.

    That's the big problem with SteamOS, really. If it doesn't run DirectX (or incorporate something like Wine), it can't play most of the games on the market anyway.

    Windows really doesn't have a lot of overhead. There's a lot of stuff loaded in memory which isn't strictly necessary for a gaming console, but this manifests itself mostly in the form of a fixed memory footprint rather than as a relative impact on some other performance metric.

    Windows 8 has a memory footprint of around 300MiB, about a quarter less than Windows 7 which weighs in at around 400MiB.

    Even if all the stuff unrelated to gaming were to be stripped away, the total memory footprint would be reduced to around 200MiB; this is negligible on systems that are sporting 8GiB-16GiB on average if not more. Stuff that is sitting in memory as part of a service or some other operating system component is doing just that, sitting there until it's needed.

    That said, there's very little difference between an OpenGL game running on Windows and an OpenGL game running on Linux. Benchmarks have shown that there's almost no difference between them and that's to be expected. A properly coded application won't care what platform it's running on as long as the libraries that it needs are present and the APIs/ABIs remain the same. As long as the libraries and OS are reasonably efficient (and they are) the microprocessor will spend the bulk of its time inside of the OS neutral application code, as it should.

    So how will SteamOS perform compared to Windows? Exactly the same
  • Other Comments
  • xaephod
    Makes no sense to not have basic command line access which gives access to an alternative desktop, wine, Windows apps, and everything else linux does.
  • Anonymous
    Well, that's a bit of a letdown, but no big deal. I was considering using SteamOS as my main OS once it comes out, but I guess I'll have to go with Arch or Manjaro after all.
  • Stimpack
    I'm not entirely surprised, but it certainly is a disappointment. I figured I would dual boot to test it out, and perhaps make an HTCP later on down the road. I doubt it would have replaced Windows one way or another, and obviously that's not their goal.