After half the world fell asleep waiting for Valve to release the SteamOS Beta, we gave the new Debian-based OS a quick run through.
‘a new Debian-based operating system bringing better drivers and AAA game titles to Linux’
SteamOS’s release yesterday was a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s a new Debian-based operating system from a company bringing better drivers and AAA game titles to Linux. On the other hand, installation is a bit of a faff. Granted, SteamOS is in beta and was intended only for the “intrepid Linux hacker” – a claim Valve made good on when the beta release consisted of two zip files and words of caution about them wiping your system clean upon installation.
So if you’re left out by Valve’s rather specific system requirements for the initial beta or aren’t willing to risk data loss from the installers, we’ve gone hands on with the new OS to give you a safe peek at Valve’s latest work.
As we were a little impatient ourselves, we opted for the 960MB Debian installer rather than the 2.4GB system restore image. The installation itself is a rather stolid affair given the majority of it is automated.
There were questions about whether SteamOS would be a viable desktop operating system or limited to Steam’s “Big Picture” mode and other interfaces geared specifically toward gaming. Rest assured, SteamOS comes with GNOME 3, albeit the ancient 3.4.2 release available in Debian Wheezy. That means no client-side decorations for the “intrepid Linux hackers”, unfortunately.
The default set of apps is fairly small and the only desktop-orientated apps added by Valve are Steam itself and the Valve Bug Reporter – though the company has set up a community issue tracker on GitHub as well.
The SteamOS interface is simply the Big Picture mode with additional options for Steam Machines, like an option for accessing the Linux desktop from the SteamOS interface. If you’ve used Big Picture mode before, this will all look familiar to you; if not, Valve’s “10-foot user interface” is slick and accommodates mouse and keyboard in addition to the Steam Controller – useful for the vast majority of us who aren’t getting our hands on Steam Machine prototypes.
Even though a desktop mode is available, SteamOS only includes its own repository at repo.steampowered.com which excludes the vast majority of Debian packages you might otherwise wish to install. That means no Banshee, Rhythmbox, or KDE library in sight.
Valve also explicitly mentioned 64-bit processors for the beta, though i386 packages are included in the SteamOS repo, so if you were hoping for 32-bit support, it may very well come once SteamOS matures and gets a public release.
“…we expect to remain largely compatible with the Debian packaging scheme.”
For those concerned about SteamOS licensing, the “base operating system components” remain open source, but Valve’s own Steam client will stay closed source as well as any proprietary third-party drivers.
As this is a Debian-based distribution, you won’t have a hard time trying to install your own drivers either – be they updated ones from NVIDIA, missing AMD and Intel drivers, or open source equivalents – but you do so at your own risk. With that said, Valve expect to stay compatible with the “Debian packaging scheme” if end users do attempt to roll with their own drivers.