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Torvalds: SteamOS Will 'Really Help' Linux On the Desktop 304

Posted by Soulskill
from the year-of-linux-on-the-steambox dept.
nk497 writes "Linus Torvalds has welcomed the arrival of Valve's Linux-based platform, SteamOS, and said it could boost Linux on desktops. The Linux creator praised Valve's 'vision' and suggested its momentum would force other manufacturers to take Linux seriously — especially if game developers start to ditch Windows. Should SteamOS gain traction among gamers and developers, that could force more hardware manufacturers to extend driver support beyond Windows. That's a sore point for Torvalds, who slammed Nvidia last year for failing to support open-source driver development for its graphics chips. Now that SteamOS is on the way, Nvidia has opened up to the Linux community, something Torvalds predicts is a sign of things to come. 'I'm not just saying it'll help us get traction with the graphics guys,' he said. 'It'll also force different distributors to realize if this is how Steam is going, they need to do the same thing because they can't afford to be different in this respect. They want people to play games on their platform too.'"
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Torvalds: SteamOS Will 'Really Help' Linux On the Desktop

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:17PM (#45214853)

    This doesn't help GNU/Linux on the desktop. It will only lure people into using non-free programs distributed through Steam.

    • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:38PM (#45215173) Journal

      It certainly will help Linux on the desktop if more optimized graphics drivers are made available. That's the whole point of this article.

      • by CastrTroy (595695) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:52PM (#45215405) Homepage
        Drivers are probably about the biggest problem that Linux has right now. It's the main reason I'm not using it on my laptop. Last I tried, about 6 months ago (2 year old laptop), I could not get accelerated graphics working on the desktop. It still looked good enough, even without accelerated graphics but I suspect this also had the other disadvantage of greatly lowering my battery life, by running everything in software. Battery life was about half of what it was on windows. Also, because there was no accelerated graphics, I couldn't play any games. Well, that and Netflix. I don't understand why I can run Netflix on Android, but I can't run it on Linux. Personally, I don't even want to run in a browser. I'd actually rather run it as a separate application. And they can make it closed source for all I care.
        • Your right, but a surprising number of the games I enjoy run on Linux just fine, infact I have an older I really like that actually runs better on Wine. Just sayin'.
        • I could not get accelerated graphics working on the desktop. It still looked good enough, even without accelerated graphics but I suspect this also had the other disadvantage of greatly lowering my battery life, by running everything in software.

          This is something I don't understand much. If you're running a desktop without compositing and without animations when minimizing windows (e.g. Xfce, Mate, LXDE) then aren't you *saving* power? The GPU can stay in a 2D only, low powered state (hopefully).
          If you're piping the whole desktop through OpenGL for no benefit you'd be likely to waste power, since not only you draw the application contents (which had to be drawed already), but you pipe all the bitmaps through the OpenGL subsystem and GPU. If the GPU

        • Last I tried, about 6 months ago (2 year old laptop), I could not get accelerated graphics working on the desktop.

          How? Or more specifically what hardware do you have? There's only Intel, Nvidia and AMD now, and all have drivers between passable and excellent. Unless you had one of those hateful intel ones with the PowerVR core.

        • That's basically my main hope...that SteamOS brings linux netflix.

          I still run linux on a netbook, but I switched my HTPC to windows. XBMC runs about the same, but netflix works perfectly.

          Of course, now my complaint is that both the Netflix and the Amazon Prime streaming videos are still crippled on my HTPC. You cannot watch HD video content from amazon on the PC. You can watch it in HD on a roku or on some crappy blu-ray player that has the plugin, but you can't watch HD on a full power HTPC. Netfli

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The gamers are still exposed to much more open source software than they would when playing the games on Windows. This, in turn, creates more interest to the open source ecosystem which then creates more commercial incentive to improve it.
    • by blahplusplus (757119) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:45PM (#45215305)

      "This doesn't help GNU/Linux on the desktop. It will only lure people into using non-free programs distributed through Steam."

      The problem with stallman is that he doesn't grasp that anything requiring years of education and basically amounts to a time commitment of a full time job needs to get paid for. The reason many free programs suck is because no sane programmer in their right mind can produce and maintain a project of non-trivial size that doesn't have a sizable community of tinkerers and paid experts from which to draw from like linux has.

      GNU/Linux would be helped if they would allow some commercialization IMHO without any ability to make revenue, who can afford to maintain/update applications which more often then not require a serious amount of time and hard work?

      The problem becomes as problems become non-trivial (aka beyond the realm of part-timers both amateur and pro) you simply can't maintain a project of any reasonable size and complexity for any given length of time because people have lives, get old, get sick, die, etc. That is why there needs to be some kind of income coming in to maintain any project beyond the trivial.

      While I agree with many of stallman's principles, his allergies to commercialization show how naive he is. If he was serious he'd be rallying the open source community to invest in GOG.COM and get them to make an app that competes with steam that allows users to own their own games for instance. People like stallman don't get that the world doesn't work on hardcore morality, it works on time, energy, effort and what is required to maintain it.

      A better idea would be instead of going against the grain of the world, intelligently build cultures that promote at least some of your ideals. The whole gaming world is going F2P/MMO/Walled garden. I'm sure Nintendo, Sony and MS are chomping at the bit to make every game 'online only' eventually after the smashing success of diablo 3 in terms of sales (the march of gaming morons continues).

      A better idea would be to fund and protect those people who are at least selling products to have a compelling reason to use software you own. Steam won because it added a huge tonne of features sits like GOG.COM lack (Friends list, etc). It has all you gaming in one place, you can see when you friends are online, what game they are playing, can message them, etc.

      The moral crusaders never got the message that they need to act more rationally and intelligently if they want any of their values to survive the onslaught of greed.

      • by DuckDodgers (541817) <`keeper_of_the_wolf' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:03PM (#45215597)
        The counter-argument to your point about The reason many free programs suck is because no sane programmer in their right mind can produce and maintain a project of non-trivial size that doesn't have a sizable community of tinkerers and paid experts from which to draw from like linux has. is that many people - in fact, most of humanity - can't afford the technologically superior or more user-friendly proprietary alternatives.

        The GIMP doesn't match up in features or usability to Adobe Photoshop. But if you don't have the money for Photoshop, GIMP is much better than nothing. Developing software for Windows on Visual Studio beats using Mingw - but that only makes sense if you're a professional developer planning to make a living by writing software for Windows. If you're trying to teach yourself software development, or you're a kid, or you just don't have $500 or $800 or whatever the hell it costs, then Mingw is the only thing that lets you even try. Most of our planet, most of humanity, are poor people. The successful IT professional can buy any proprietary program he or she needs - but we are not the typical human being. If they're going to reach our level, they have to do it through extremely cheap tools.

        In the realm of encryption, it is increasingly difficult to trust proprietary products. With the Linux kernel, or Truecrypt, or any of the OpenPGP implementations, you can read the code yourself or hope that someone else trustworthy and skilled enough to detect backdoors has read it. With proprietary security products, how do you know?

        But maybe most important of all, the competition against open source products continually forces the proprietary vendors to compete on features and price. If Linux didn't exist, maybe a copy of Windows 7 would be $600 instead of $200 and a cohttp://linux.slashdot.org/story/13/10/23/184236/torvalds-steamos-will-really-help-linux-on-the-desktop#py of Windows 2012 Server Standard Edition would be $8000 instead of $800 and Solaris or AIX would be $100,000 per core instead of whatever it is now. They keep the prices where they are for fear that people will decide an inferior free alternative and the extra work it involves is more cost-effective than their closed alternative.

        Even if you only ever use proprietary software, you benefit tremendously from the existence of free software and its moral crusaders.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          If you're trying to teach yourself software development, or you're a kid, or you just don't have $500 or $800 or whatever the hell it costs, then Mingw is the only thing that lets you even try. .

          Visual Studio Express is free.

          • by stooo (2202012)

            >> Visual Studio Express is free.

            not exactly.
            it comes with the cost of being tied to an aeging-soon-to-be-obsoleted platform.

            • by murdocj (543661)

              You mean the platform that owns 90% of the desktop market? Wow, yeah, that's a problem.

        • "Even if you only ever use proprietary software, you benefit tremendously from the existence of free software and its moral crusaders."

          There's nothing wrong with being a moral crusader. But if you want you values to proliferate, you have to offer something better then the alternatives. Let's be honest, Free software movement hasn't been a success for the average gamer. Steam is totally closed platform and so are all the big console players.

          I have no problem with free software advocates principles. The p

      • RedHat's done pretty well for itself selling little more than support contracts, as have many other server distro vendors. A sticker price isn't the only way to make money from providing software. And given that Ubuntu embraced advertising a long time ago, it's a bit of a strawman (or at least quaintly archaic) to argue with the GNU Foundation's core principles.
      • by twocows (1216842) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:08PM (#45215693)

        The problem with stallman is that he doesn't grasp that anything requiring years of education and basically amounts to a time commitment of a full time job needs to get paid for.

        I hear this myth perpetuated a lot and it's not really true. Stallman has said on several occasions he believes developers can and should be compensated for their work and he believes this is perfectly feasible within a free software ecosystem. The problem is that many traditional methods of monetization don't hold up in a free software world and it would require people to rethink how they plan to monetize. That said, I don't think a lot of large scale development (especially from big devs who have been doing things with the normal model for years) can switch over without a lot of effort (and effort means money), especially when the end result may very likely lead to less income. Businesses don't work that way.

        Stallman (and the FSF in general) also believes that any proprietary software is immoral and it should be shunned and not used ever. I agree that this is the right ideal, but I think the long road to it may require some sacrifices along the way. If SteamOS leads to a significant trend away from current ingrained non-free systems (like Windows), that in turn makes devs (like Nvidia's) play nicer with free software devs and creates a positive feedback loop. I believe that's a good thing, even if the fact that SteamOS is closed is not. I think the correct course of action is to urge Valve to try and free the software or to develop a fully free alternative rather than simply urging people not to use it at all, and I think this applies to other parts of a mixed-freedom environment. For instance, the FSF encourages the use of what it deems fully free GNU/Linux distributions, which are often just forks of popular distributions with any non-free software removed. I don't like this approach; I think a better one would be to make it transparent what parts are non-free and simply make it a top priority to free or rewrite these portions.

        Stallman and the FSF are very interesting and make a lot of good points (if you read the literature they put out, it really does make a lot of sense), but it's always best to think for yourself and not blindly adhere to any ideology. What Stallman thinks and says is often interesting and insightful, but it shouldn't be the only metric you use to make a decision. I don't disagree with the FSF very often, but in this case, I do think SteamOS is good for the long-term prospects of GNU/Linux and free software primarily because of the politics involved.

        • by Kjella (173770)

          I hear this myth perpetuated a lot and it's not really true. Stallman has said on several occasions he believes developers can and should be compensated for their work and he believes this is perfectly feasible within a free software ecosystem. The problem is that many traditional methods of monetization don't hold up in a free software world and it would require people to rethink how they plan to monetize.

          The trouble is that most of these ideas are crap for application development like service and support, though they're okay for platform/distro/device development like Android / Tivo / RHEL / Ubuntu and so on. Particularly those where you have a huge number of users who each contribute very little, like say a million people paying $1 on the app store. That's a pretty good income for a small development house of say ten people, less Apple's cut it's $70k/head before expenses and taxes. I wager that if you mad

        • by Bert64 (520050)

          I tend to agree that software should be free, but on the importance scale i'd much rather have the core os and applications which i require for communication and editing/storage of my own data were free...

          Games are far less important in this instance, they might be fun for a little light entertainment but you don't need them and they aren't holding any of your important data captive by being closed source. I would be perfectly happy with a free os, free application software and non-free games.

      • by Belial6 (794905) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:15PM (#45215809)
        This isn't a problem. We need Stallman, and his extreme view on the subject. If he went pragmatic, the pragmatic view would be considered the extreme. The center would shift farther towards lock down and rent seeking. It is Torvalds that plays the part you would place Stallman in. We need both types.
      • by gdshaw (1015745)

        GNU/Linux would be helped if they would allow some commercialization IMHO without any ability to make revenue, who can afford to maintain/update applications which more often then not require a serious amount of time and hard work?

        GNU/Linux already allows proprietary userspace programs. To avoid any doubt on this point, the licence file for the kernel explicitly states that a program does not become a derived work merely by using normal system calls. Neither GCC nor Glibc prevent proprietary programs from being compiled and executed.

        Kernel drivers are supposed to be GPL, but manufacturers are already making money on the hardware, and even on fully-closed platforms would not usually make any extra money from the drivers. In most cases

    • by Lendrick (314723) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:02PM (#45215571) Homepage Journal

      The FSF was mixed [gnu.org] about Steam for GNU/Linux. Since most of the issues remain the same with SteamOS, I'm guessing that their opinion on it will be similar.

      For obvious reasons, they're never going to endorse anything that's partly proprietary, but it it moves people away from dependence on completely proprietary systems, in there view it's possible that there might be some benefit. The FSF isn't so hardline that they refuse to acknowledge the distinction between software that's mostly free versus software that's completely proprietary.

      From the article I linked:

      However, if you're going to use these games, you're better off using them on GNU/Linux rather than on Microsoft Windows. At least you avoid the harm to your freedom that Windows would do.

      • by higuita (129722)

        exactly!

        FSF and Stallman will say for sure that Steam have DRM, have closed source client and games, but by using gnu/linux will open the games and wor to a new platform, improving the linux hardware and software support. SteamOS, if really open as they say, will enable people to edit and change it... and maybe replace the closed parts with time.

        And remember, Stallman one said that if the game engine is free software, the game content (story and music, maps, models, etc) can be closed (specially the story,

    • by tftp (111690)

      It will only lure people into using non-free programs distributed through Steam.

      It will also allow you to run free programs. I can't imagine that the SteamOS will only run signed executables. So as soon as you finish your clone of GTA V, with even a larger and more detailed world, you should be able to share it for free with everyone. I will definitely download it and say my thanks to you for a lifetime of labor that you spent for my entertainment.

      I know that there is a free flight simulator out there

      • by ausekilis (1513635) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @03:30PM (#45216867)

        It will only lure people into using non-free programs distributed through Steam.

        It will also allow you to run free programs.

        This point exactly. So with steamOS (and the right hardware) I can play Left 4 Dead 2 at a blazing 300 fps. Well, what happens when I just paid my rent and don't have the $50 to blow on Arkham Origins? Maybe I'll start looking at what I can get for free. That's when your normal (i.e. non linux nerd) folks will start to notice Tremulous or any of the other Id Tech derived games. They may even dig deeper and find some reborn classics like FreeDOOM. I doubt seriously that any of the free offerings will cause some uprising in gamers, but in the search of free through the SteamOS "software center", they'll be sure to stumble on all sorts of things they didn't realize had free/open alternatives. Maybe word will spread that LibreOffice will save that $90 for a student (read: Limited) version of Office or $400 for the full thing.
        Gamers are a picky and often very vocal group. Once some catch on to something, they can start an avalanche.

    • by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <{taiki} {at} {cox.net}> on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @03:11PM (#45216577)

      Stallman had 30 years to pioneer computing and the best he could do is give us emacs and gcc.

      Fuck him.

    • by msobkow (48369)

      How is this a "problem"?

      The core system gets accelerated graphics from more vendors. The core system gets tweaked for better real-time responsiveness. The core system gets more eyes debugging it for stability. The core system has another vendor contributing fixes and patches.

      Only to a fanatical raving lunatic is this a "problem."

      Oh, yeah. We're talking about Stallman. You don't get any more fanatical than that, though I don't consider the man a lunatic by any stretch of the imagination.

    • by Burz (138833)

      And I'll go as far as to say Linus is a "Desktop Idiot". Like the kernel devs at any Microsoft or Apple, he hasn't a clue what it really takes to make a decent desktop platform. The rest of the folks at the Linux Foundation seem to struggle with the question in a manner that is both half-hearted and hamfisted.

      The first rule for them should be not to shove piles of 'packages' bereft of vertical integration (and unifying design) at consumers... Do not throw the products of server-room culture at them and expe

    • When people have a nice steambox already there and running, they will want to run other apps on it too. Check facebook, read webmail, play youtube, soundcloud, stuff like that. That's a web browser that will most certainly be running a lot on those steamboxes. Next thing you know it, they'll be running XBMC for media too. Once they have all that, why have a PC for only office stuff, if you can run it on the steambox? Even if you have a PC for desktop use, you already know how to use linux, it's cheaper (fre

  • Really huge (Score:5, Insightful)

    by faragon (789704) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:19PM (#45214891) Homepage
    I hope this mean not only first class graphics API porting (e.g. OpenGL), but also production-grade computing API (e.g. OpenCL) without vendor-specific crap (try to rebuild OpenCL stuff with the AMD """""SDK""""").
  • I would be extremely surprised if anything but an infinitesimal minority of people who buy this are not favourably biased towards Linux already, and may similarly be already running it on a desktop anyways.
    • Re:I don't think so (Score:5, Informative)

      by forkazoo (138186) <wrosecrans&gmail,com> on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:39PM (#45215191) Homepage

      Yeah, exactly like how Tivo buyers were all open source advocates, and Apple TV buyers are primarily interested in the fact that the kernel has posix API's. Though, there may be a small group of SteamBox buyers who buy it mainly because of playing games, and don't really care about what OS it runs.

      • by mark-t (151149)

        Or... we could wait and see.

        If I'm wrong, all I said was that I'd be surprised.

      • Yeah, exactly like how Tivo buyers were all open source advocates, and Apple TV buyers are primarily interested in the fact that the kernel has posix API's. Though, there may be a small group of SteamBox buyers who buy it mainly because of playing games, and don't really care about what OS it runs.

        Don't forget those of us who like to occasionally play PC games on the big TV in the living room, but don't want to have to deal with unhooking the tower, dragging it downstairs, then hooking it all back up again.

    • by dstyle5 (702493)
      Whats to buy? Its going to be free to download and install, like Steam is today. Yeah there will be SteamOS devices built by Valve or most likely other companies, but since its free alot of people will probably try it. My use case will be installing it on my older pc for a living room based gaming PC.

      As for people adopting it, when the SteamOS and the hardware are released you know Valve is going to have a big carrot dangling to get people to try it out, something related to a game with a 3 in the title
  • > It'll also force different distributors to realize if this is how Steam is going, they need to do the same

    And! Force different *distributions* to support Unity! Because if this is how Steam is going (Ubuntu), they need to do the same. /me ducks

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:33PM (#45215105)

    I'm not so sure SteamOS is going to be such a good thing for Linux.

    Yeah, you'll get AAA games on Linux (probably), but if they start tying everything to proprietary APIs and specific environments (say, Ubuntu/Unity/Mir, or worse, some entirely proprietary stack built from the ground up on top of the kernel), that's a loss for Linux. Your freedom is gone and it's Windows all over again.

    Corporations don't care about Linux and free software. We already have Google tightening its grip on the "open" Android. SteamOS will probably be more of the same: a corporation using the argument of "Open-Source" to lock users into their closed-source solution.

  • by nani popoki (594111) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:43PM (#45215253) Homepage
    If Linux is gathering Steam then it can't just be vaporware.
  • Taking the platform "seriously" really hasn't anything to do with it. The game industry has always been a chicken-or-the-egg problem with Linux: Games spur adoption, but adoption is abysmal without the games. I'm not quite sure how Steam figures they will work around this inherent problem.

    • by gman003 (1693318) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @03:24PM (#45216779)

      Slowly.

      Valve plays an incredibly long game compared to most tech companies (hell, most companies, period). They started Steam because they could see where constantly-increasing bandwidth was leading. They missed on some of the particulars, but by getting the main point correct early on, they were able to gather the momentum to overcome minor obstacles before anyone else could seize initiative. So not only did they avoid being tied down to another company's proprietary platform, but they managed to become the de facto digital distribution system while still being a relatively minor player.

      SteamOS is a defensive move. They're concerned that Microsoft may lose its Windows dominance, or might try to move it to an Apple-like locked store (they sort of have, with RT). So they ported Steam and their own games to both OS X and Linux.

      That was enough to spur an initial kick of OS X games following after them. It's not nearly universal now, but it's respectable, and growing.

      Linux didn't get the same kick, mainly because they don't have as much market share. So Valve is giving it more support, and perhaps more importantly, lending it a more prestigious (among gamers) brand name.

      Will it be a success? Perhaps. At the very least, it's enough a threat to Microsoft that they're not going to try to take over the digital distribution market, because if they do, Valve will just drop Steam on Windows and enough publishers will follow them to wherever they lead that Microsoft will ultimately have lost. So in one sense, it's a deterrent. But it could become a legitimate gaming platform in its own right, particularly if they get enough console-like games for Steam Machines to go up against the PS4/Xb1 in the coming generation.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      They plan on breaking this by taking the risk out of user adoption. In the past, if you wanted to buy a game, you bought the Windows version. If there was a Linux version, you would buy the Windows version anyway because even if you were running Linux that day, you didn't know when you would need to move back to Windows for a specific app. With Steam's model, you buy the game. Not the game on platform x. So, if you already bought a bunch of games that have Linux versions, you are going to be able to pl
    • The game industry has always been a chicken-or-the-egg problem with Linux: Games spur adoption, but adoption is abysmal without the games. I'm not quite sure how Steam figures they will work around this inherent problem.

      By making a console, of course. They're not pitching this to developers as "let's bring AAA games to Linux". They're pitching it as "we're bringing our viable and proven content delivery system to the living room and lowering the cost of entry by ditching Windows. Oh, and we're minimising the financial risk by spreading it out: giving away the open-source OS to hardware manufacturers and letting them take care of the dirty details." Sounds more tempting that way, doesn't it?

  • by umafuckit (2980809) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @03:15PM (#45216667)
    I reckon the degree to which SteamOS "converts" Windows people to Linux will depend on whether SteamOS allows for general-purpose computing. Take the scenario that boxes running SteamOS are just games consoles. People will be able to use them for games but not much else, in which case they'll still keep their Windows PC or partition for writing letters to the bank, or what have you. In this scenario, Linux would benefit from driver improvements but won't see much increase in user base. On the other hand, if SteamOS allows you quit Big Picture and enter a fully functional and feature-complete desktop then people may start to switch from Windows. Why boot into Windows if you can write your bank letter on Steam OS whilst taking a break from HL3? With an increased user base and a ready to go "app store" in the form of Steam, we might see more productivity software (e.g. Photoshop) appear for Linux. If Steam allows people to make money writing Linux software then that's got to be a positive thing. I know the die-hard free software guys shudder at the thought, but let's face it: the reason Linux is struggling on the desktop is because few developers think they can make money on the platform.

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