To the gods I caused oxen to be sacrificed.
December 14, 2013 9:07 AM   Subscribe

The initial beta release of SteamOS became available for download yesterday. Intended to run on Valve's emerging SteamBox platform [Prev] , you can also install it on a fairly modern desktop PC today, presuming it can match up with the adoption-limiting early hardware support requiring UEFI BIOS and Nvidia GPUs ("AMD and Intel graphics support coming soon!").

Valve explains how to install SteamOS. There's a FAQ. Ars tells you everything you need to know to install it on your PC, while PCWorld cautions the current release state is "for the brave". Others are having luck getting SteamOS running in virtual environments.
posted by laconic skeuomorph (40 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Source repository.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 9:10 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Awesome! I'm really hopeful SteamBox goes somewhere, it'd be nice to have a more open alternative to consoles that's still designed to be a TV box, not a computer desk box. I get a lot of mileage out of my Roku devices, mostly to run PLEX to play all those home videos I downloaded frmo friends. But the Roku is not gaming hardware.

The UEFI requirement is a bit surprising, historically UEFI support in Linux has been pretty poor. From the Ars Technica link here's a workaround for UEFI. I suspect this will all be irrelevant once people start building dedicated SteamBox, UEFI makes sense for a new hardware platform.
posted by Nelson at 9:19 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


This coincides beautifully with my decision to build a second computer for the TV room while being too cheap to shell out for a second Windows license. I'm very anxious for somebody to try out the stream-from-Windows feature.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:21 AM on December 14, 2013


The UEFI requirement is a bit surprising

Not really. To make a boot disk using the old BIOS method requires a lot of putzing around and software that may not immediately be at hand and is difficult to use. EFI on the other hand is bootable from EFI/BOOT/BOOTWHATEVER.EFI in a FAT32 partition so you can just copy and paste the entire Steam OS onto a USB stick and have it bootable.
posted by Talez at 9:28 AM on December 14, 2013


actually that's a good point - why not ship a bootable iso or whatever, that can just run from a usb stick and use unionfs or suchlike to save changes against the usb drive itself or whatever the built in HD is.

efi is hardly necessary, just about any modern thing will boot from arbitrary device. although this may be a way to convert apple users or something? but more likely it's simply forward-looking common sense.

I've been really curious for this to be released, although I'm kinda unwilling to try it now without a non-destructive version, not to mention the current NV-only graphics. plus, whenever they get around to supporting ATI, it's going to be binary blobs anyway - so why not just keep my current win7 setup that already satisfies: (a) non-open-source, (2) runs valve and other steam games beautifully.

also curious that, Valve's admirable effort to get most-or-all Steam games to run on all platforms aside, I still see more than a few windows-only games, even some recent fairly high metascore / popular ones.
posted by dorian at 9:39 AM on December 14, 2013


so why not just keep my current win7 setup that already satisfies: (a) non-open-source, (2) runs valve and other steam games beautifully.

I think the point is to bridge from the desktop pc to the tv.
posted by srboisvert at 9:45 AM on December 14, 2013


actually that's a good point - why not ship a bootable iso or whatever, that can just run from a usb stick and use unionfs or suchlike to save changes against the usb drive itself or whatever the built in HD is.

Still requires a utility to create the bootable drive.

I've been really curious for this to be released, although I'm kinda unwilling to try it now without a non-destructive version, not to mention the current NV-only graphics. plus, whenever they get around to supporting ATI, it's going to be binary blobs anyway - so why not just keep my current win7 setup that already satisfies: (a) non-open-source, (2) runs valve and other steam games beautifully.

Gallium3D is within striking distance of Catalyst or even past it in the case of r300g. Given a little more time it should achieve parity soon. AMD themselves have been patching radeonsi like crazy as well.
posted by Talez at 9:53 AM on December 14, 2013


I think the point is to bridge from the desktop pc to the tv.

ah, I knew I left out something - you're quite right.

yeah, Steam had been pushing the "big picture" thing for a while now. and I know everyone seems satisfied for a while now with e.g. roku/appletv.

funny thing is, a while ago I tried xbmc on the same machine I use steam on, and just couldn't get used to it.

but then recently picked up an Ouya and a smaller screen, and messed with it to the extent that the free amazon prime instant video works on it. and also xbmc works great on it. I care less than zero for the actual ouya games; but the device is inexpensive+overpowered and works famously if you take the time to make it behave like a normal-ish android.

(also yeah the ouya is hardly a massive gaming hardware. I'm just happy to have it as a side-loaded media center)

((also also the ouya controller is some unholy offspring of a steambox controller and a 360 controller - it mostly works and I don't hate it))

I qualified for the steambox beta, but it's doubtful I'm one of the lucky 300. definitely interested to see what prices are like next year for the various boxen, though.
posted by dorian at 10:01 AM on December 14, 2013


Debian with real games support? It's like I ran apt-get install christmas-present.
posted by jaduncan at 10:02 AM on December 14, 2013 [20 favorites]


Still requires a utility to create the bootable drive.

unetbootin?

Gallium3D is within striking distance of Catalyst or even past it in the case of r300g

thank! you! I had stopped paying attention for such a long time, what with most friends using ati/amd for linux gaming going over to fglrx/catalyst, that I just gave up. (not to mention earlier disappointments with nouveau)
posted by dorian at 10:06 AM on December 14, 2013


so why not just keep my current win7 setup that already satisfies: (a) non-open-source, (2) runs valve and other steam games beautifully.

There's zero reason for you not to do that. Valve isn't proposing this as the end-all, be-all, everybody-uses-it OS; it's a Steam OS. If I ever built a gaming PC, I'd definitely prefer a lighterweight, faster, not-Windows-virus-prone OS to run on it if I had that option - never mind dodging the licensing fee for Windows.

This isn't an OS for everyone to run today; it's an OS for many but not all people to run tomorrow.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:14 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why is a games firm making an OS? Somebody has way too much money and doesn't know what to do with it. "I know what the world needs is another new linux distro"?
Amazeballs.
posted by PaddyJames at 10:52 AM on December 14, 2013


Why is a games firm making an OS? Somebody has way too much money and doesn't know what to do with it. "I know what the world needs is another new linux distro"?
Amazeballs.


You should mention to Sony and Nintendo that it's a really bad idea to have open source based consoles that link up to one's store. I think they are both having an AGM at some point.
posted by jaduncan at 10:57 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why is a games firm making an OS? Somebody has way too much money and doesn't know what to do with it.

Because only a gaming company that sells games that work on linux would be properly incentivized to maintain one. Plus, the relative cost of rolling your own linux distro is quite low. They will have to pay developers to maintain drivers for the gaming-specific hardware they use, but it's also plausible that "SteamOS-compatible" hardware becomes a thing in a few years due to this increased level of support. (Plus, I've heard the Year of Linux on the Desktop is juuuust around the corner!)
posted by antonymous at 11:35 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


They will have to pay developers to maintain drivers for the gaming-specific hardware they use

I doubt even that. If the Steam Boxes do well then it's well worth AMD/Nvidia/Intel's time to ensure that the drivers they already write for 3d rendering farms and other *nix workstations also work effectively on the SBs. Nvidia has a largely unified driver model across OSes in any case.
posted by jaduncan at 11:42 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not much of a gamer. Can someone explain why this is happening now? Are consoles being leapfrogged by PC technology? It seemed like for a long time the consoles leapfrogged PCs for speed and price (for gaming). Is that trend reversing and why?
posted by stbalbach at 11:47 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


2013 has certainly been the year of buying games to play on Linux (somehow I'm up to 94 linux titles in my steam acocunt). If SteamOS / the Steam Box keep this trend going, I'll be happy.

The existence of Steam on Linux influenced the spec of the last laptop I bought too; I probably wouldn't have gotten nvidia graphics otherwise.
posted by jepler at 11:58 AM on December 14, 2013


Can someone explain why this is happening now?

MS are attempting to own Windows game retail via the Windows Store, much as Google and Apple do on their own OSes. That (at least potentially) doesn't leave much air in the room for Steam. This way Valve gets to control some of their own future rather than being an uneasy tenant of someone else's platform.

Are consoles being leapfrogged by PC technology?

Very much so. The PS4 is essentially a mid-range PC gaming box at the point of release, and the XBox One is less powerful than that. By this time next year, even mid range PCs will be absolutely thrashing them on graphics and processor power in particular.
posted by jaduncan at 12:04 PM on December 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


stbalbach, Valve worries that soon they will not be able to sell software via the Steam application on Windows and Mac systems, since Microsoft and Apple are both moving towards walled-garden stores for their desktop systems (or at least that would be a big fear at Valve HQ).

On the other hand, Valve probably does not have the hardware budget to develop their own locked-down system (a traditional dedicated game console).

The main choice that remains is to target Linux running on commodity hardware. It's a modest (compared to developing a whole new platform) software porting effort to make the Steam UI and a subset of Steam games run on Linux. A customized distribution and branded hardware are the next steps in making sure that Microsoft and Apple don't have the option to just shut them down by setting App Store guidelines.
posted by jepler at 12:07 PM on December 14, 2013


Unlike previous generations, PS4 and XBox One are based on a standard Intel/AMD PC architecture, but with a non-open/accessible OS (though PS4 is built on BSD Unix, and XBox One has some form of Windows inside it).

So why not make a gaming console that is a PC? As mentioned, it will constantly be getting faster and faster as PCs improve, rather than waiting every 8 years for a new console.

My understanding is that Valve worked with one of the GPU manufacturers and were able to tune the performance to get faster run times than when running under Windows. When you control the OS you can make your own low-level tweaks.

But if it is true that Windows 8+ is moving away from the walled garden Windows store on the desktop, then Valve may lose their incentive for Steam OS.
posted by eye of newt at 12:19 PM on December 14, 2013


At $DAY_JOB we may have over 99.9% of software sales for one operating system (and I doubt sales even mentions the second OS these days without being asked), but for various reasons, including the potential "curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal" of the OS vendor, we always have a viable other-OS port. That attitude is what I have in mind when I think about Valve's actions. Just because Microsoft may keep their garden gate unlocked for now, Valve is not likely to stop SteamOS / Steam Box development after so much publicity. And even if they did, it's bound to live on somewhere in a back room.
posted by jepler at 12:27 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


So why not make a gaming console that is a PC? As mentioned, it will constantly be getting faster and faster as PCs improve, rather than waiting every 8 years for a new console.

A gaming PC is still going to cost a bit more than either of the new consoles. And one of the key features of a console from a developer standpoint is that you know exactly what hardware you're targeting. When you release a XBox 360/PS3 game, you know that there's 100 million+ consoles that will all run the game just fine. That baseline uniformity is also part of what Valve's going for with the whole SteamPC standards thing.
posted by kmz at 12:29 PM on December 14, 2013


A gaming PC is still going to cost a bit more than either of the new consoles.

Ish. TCO balances up quite a lot at the next Steam $REASON sale.
posted by jaduncan at 12:37 PM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Fun fact: the original author of the Windows "Blue Screen of Death" is now working on SteamOS.
posted by Slothrup at 1:35 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


But I thought Linux/PCs were dead/dying/on their way out!

This fills some surprising niches and might -- might -- turn out to be big. Being able to just take your Steam library directly into a console, and basically ensure backward compatibility, something both Sony and Microsoft have abandoned, until the next processor sea-change, is great. The only drawback there is that Steam OS games have the same run requirements as Steam on Linux, meaning many non-Valve games just won't work.
posted by JHarris at 2:16 PM on December 14, 2013


What I'd love to see is Valve or someone else taking a crack at a Steam OS handheld console if this thing takes off. Nintendo and Sony have the portables market locked down outside of Android/iOS with their touchscreen controls limiting game types - there should be another option.
posted by jason_steakums at 3:06 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, with just anybody being able to put together a Steam machine out of consumer hardware, the custom case mod business is gonna get real interesting.
posted by jason_steakums at 3:08 PM on December 14, 2013


jason_steakums, have you seen the Nvidia Shield?
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 3:17 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The ugly part of this is very little of the Steam catalog supports Linux and SteamOS. It's not just porting to Linux, it's also games that work well with a game controller instead of keyboard and mouse. Valve's making a serious effort to make Linux a viable gaming platform and the SteamOS release is a central part of this, but it's a long road ahead for them.

I'm hopeful someone will start selling PC hardware with reasonable configurations that's not total shit. I've pretty much given up trying to help people buy Windows machines, I encourage them to buy Macs now and half the reason is that the shopping experience is so much better. A simple "Buy this SteamBox, you have 1 configuration option" would be a big step forward.
posted by Nelson at 3:42 PM on December 14, 2013


This isn't an OS for everyone to run today; it's an OS for many but not all people to run tomorrow.

it's not like I want to run windows. just that the catalyst drivers are slightly less of a nightmare than the fglrx ones. and again that Valve hasn't gotten every game on every platform, but mostly seem to have them on windows (esp older ones, not surprising) but not always mac or linux.

given the proposed specs required to run steamos, it's a pretty hefty device. and yet still not terribly expensive. that is a machine that can play the games, its "OS" is basically also designed to run as a media center, switch to do all your standard desktop stuff easily, right? for the usd500-600 3rd parties are currently claiming, that's not bad at all.

I'd be more than happy to have that instead of my win7 gaming/semi-htpc! and I love the ouya for doing 2 out of the 3 above tasks, at a cost of literally like 80 bucks, but it hardly has the storage or the guts for the 3rd task.

huh, looks like if you already have debian installed, you can theoretically tack on the steam bits. that would seem to get around the efi and destructive install requirements. I wonder if that means it could already work with ati/amd cards too?
posted by dorian at 3:46 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not just porting to Linux, it's also games that work well with a game controller instead of keyboard and mouse.

this.

in late 2007, a friend traded me a wired 360 controller for a 2gb mmc (hey we were all getting cheap nokia 770s from woot). and I started using it and now simply can't go back. I have only recently been buying wired 360 controllers as backups, because this original one is finally wearing out after 6 years of abuse (microsoft, in this you have much respect from me). and this after many, many years of UT/quake/etc. spent sniping with a mouse.

nearly all games can work just fine with a controller, dual analog is a fairly brilliant common-sensical thing; although in a lot of cases Valve and/or the developer or publisher may have substantial work to do. the only thing I can think of that was an infuriating problem for me, was the Asteroid Cannon in Dead Space 1 - controller simply could not keep up. (ok also I seem to have bizarre issues with ladders in Borderlands 1 and 2, but that could be more pilot error than input device)
((also also, I love how I could get out of the meteor cannon chair and run around the ship for hours and hours, and none of the asteroids would damage/destroy the ship. total shades of FF))

er, what I mean to say was, good on them for letting the kbd/mouse people continue to use kbd/mouse, letting us ps/xbox controller people continue to use our controllers, and letting newcomers to use the new unholy steam controller gone wrong thing.
posted by dorian at 4:05 PM on December 14, 2013


jason_steakums, have you seen the Nvidia Shield?

I was kind of vaguely aware of it as an Android handheld, but I didn't know about the PC game streaming thing - very nice. Definitely going to take a look at that. The thing that makes me hesitant is that with every Android device I've ever owned, once new hardware hits the market, even the simplest apps seem to start targeting the new hardware capabilities, so old Android hardware starts choking and ends up worse than it was when you first bought it - but maybe the Shield would avoid that, not really needing to ever install any apps other than gaming-related ones.
posted by jason_steakums at 4:13 PM on December 14, 2013


Via Reddit, a photoset of unboxing a Steam Machine. "Intel cpu with 3.20 ghz 4 cores. 15.6 gigs of ram, gtx 780 gpu with 3 gigs video mem"
posted by Nelson at 8:03 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


What's interesting to me about these Steam Boxes is that they seem to be using custom hardware to fit all the components in, despite initial rumors that it was all off-the-shelf parts. When I was trying to build a Micro-ATX-sized gaming PC a few years ago, the smallest I could make it was 2-2.5x the size of these cases, since the gigantic graphics card had to be perpendicular to the motherboard. (And it still ran really, really hot!) Wonder how they're solving that problem here? Is there an angular PCI-X connector that I'm not aware of?
posted by archagon at 9:38 PM on December 14, 2013


Here's a picture of the insides of a Steam Box prototype. You can see that the one piece missing is a right angle PCI-X adaptor connecting the graphics card to the motherboard. Here's a picture of this type of connector adaptor.
posted by eye of newt at 10:06 PM on December 14, 2013


These things.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 10:07 PM on December 14, 2013


Steam boxes are going to likely turn into the oculus machine for most people next year. Apparently, valve and oculus have joined their VR R&D budgets and are sharing technology with each other. I'd expect the premier oculus experience to be on steamos, if not immediately then fairly soon after release.
posted by empath at 12:05 AM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


empath: yeah, their hardware beta programs are looking suspiciously close to each other.
posted by jaduncan at 5:33 AM on December 16, 2013


so, once wheezy was installed, it really wasn't a deal to drop the steam repos on there. apt install and a reboot later, and I am logged into big picture. woo. still trying to convince the kernel to use r600g rather than radeon, but that's on me.

(note to the less-wise: use the debian 7.3 netboot/businesscard iso, but tell it to also install the super-crappy gnome3/unity desktop. somehow this just fails less than usual. otherwise follow about half of these rules. I would recommend skipping step 2 entirely, but following step 3 and also the other step 3 as well.)

'cept of course half my games won't install since they are NOT-LUNIX lol.

I know, Valve is going to make some effort to get more stuff working on linux. but still.
posted by dorian at 8:05 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


(oh also also I used alchemist_beta in my repository lists, rather than alchemist. this likely makes a big difference. at least for non-nvidia peoples.)
posted by dorian at 8:11 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


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