I’m pretty much flipping out right now, you guys. It’s an exciting time for Linux, and it’s largely thanks to Gabe Newell and the geniuses at Valve. Other thanks go to Windows 8 and basically all major console developers for successfully unlocking the all-too-easy “Piss Off Gabe” achievement. Seriously though, even though Linux has been plugging along for over 20 years, it has taken the embrace of the largest game distribution platform to pull it into what one might call “the mainstream.” Here’s are the basics:
The four major features Valve is pushing on the SteamOS homepage are, in their (paraphrased) words:
- In-Home Streaming – The ability to play all your Windows and Mac games on your SteamOS device by streaming them over your home network. I’m really interested to see how they do this, particularly on the control side. What if my PC is across the house? Am I using a wireless controller with latency to the host computer, which then talks to SteamOS over a WiFi connection with its own latency? Could be a recipe for disaster on low-quality connections, but at this early phase I’ll give Valve the benefit of the doubt that they’ve figured something out.
- Music, TV, Movies – In a nutshell, Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora, etc. Whoever they can get to agree to work with them, which is hopefully all of the above.
- Family Sharing – This is my favorite concept. Share your games with your family the old school way, by playing them one at a time. While this could be frustrating for people who play all the blockbusters as soon as they come out, for people like me who stick to Humble Bundles and long overdue console ports, it sounds fantastic! One question I have is whether they want to lock it down to actual family, or if “family” will do. Coming soon: Genetic DRM, only on Steam!
- Family Options – This looks like comprehensive control of which family members see what content across the board. Very vague at the moment, but I’m interested to see how they implement it so it’s both powerful and user-friendly.
That’s the window dressing, now for the good stuff, because Valve isn’t stopping with SteamOS. Their second announcement is “Steam Machines,” a line of living-room-ready boxes pre-loaded with SteamOS and specced out to run your games at different price points, probably based on some maximum or best-case graphics scenario. With an initial batch of 300 boxes given for free to a group of beta testers, they’ve got a lot of hype to live up to, but a lot of potential goodwill to generate if it goes well.
There’s a third step on its way, 37 hours from this writing. What could it be???
I love that Valve releasing an open source gaming OS. I love that they’re getting all this media coverage. And I love that Linux is getting its biggest moment in a long, long time. If you want more on this saga, The Verge has a fantastic write-up of the entire life cycle of this project, from the initial “Steam Box” rumors to this announcement and on to their final reveal tomorrow. It’s even filled with helpful illustrations and cake metaphors, because no one’s tired of those…