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Under the Hood of SteamOS 201

Posted by timothy
from the inside-scoop dept.
jones_supa writes "SteamOS has been further inspected to see what kind of technical solutions it uses. The Debian-based OS uses Linux 3.10, shipping with a heap of patches applied, with the most focus being on real-time-like features. The kernel is also using aufs and they seem to be sitting on some bug fixes for upstream on top of that. The kernel is not using the new Intel P-State driver, with the reported reason being, 'it causes issues with sound being choppy during BigPicture trailer video playback.' SteamOS is using SysVinit as its init system. The desktop is backed by X.Org server 1.12.4 and a custom desktop compositor which seems to be a 4,200-line patch on xcompmgr. Catalyst and Mesa components can be found on the system, but so far only NVIDIA is officially supported. The system boots into Big Picture Mode, but the user can drop into a GNOME desktop. Responsible for a great deal of the kernel changes, SteamOS compositor work, and other SteamOS code is Pierre-Loup A. Griffais, a.k.a. 'Plagman'. He was a NVIDIA employee dealing with their Linux support. Another Valve employee doing lots of the SteamOS system-level work is John Vert, who up until last year was a Microsoft employee since 1991. There's also other former Microsoft employees on Valve's Linux team, like Mike Sartain."
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Under the Hood of SteamOS

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 14, 2013 @09:16PM (#45692215)

    Reddit solved this yesterday.

  • Re:Only nVidia? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Pinky's Brain (1158667) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @09:17PM (#45692223)

    No, you haven't been paying attention ... the beta boxes are NVIDIA and eventually they want reference designs with all the major graphics architectures. []

  • Re:Stop fragmenting (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 14, 2013 @09:47PM (#45692327)

    Valve offers SteamOS for use in a specific case - when you use a dedicated box for SteamOS. If that is not your case then you can simply install Steam through your package manager, or by hand if not available. Last time I checked Gabe didn't put a sharp knife on anyone's throat to force them to switch from Gentoo to SteamOS.

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @12:09AM (#45692847)

    You've basically revealed yourself as a moron who doesn't know what he's talking about but thinks he knows better than everyone else anyways.

    SteamOS is an OS designed not just for gaming, but for a specific subset of gaming - using a controller and television instead of a mouse, keyboard, and monitor. The UI needs to be significantly different. You know how everyone bitches whenever an OS tries to reinvent the UI so that it works on both tablets and computers? This could have been the same situation, but Valve was smart enough to realize "hey, nobody wants to use a 10-foot UI on a 23" monitor, and nobody wants to type with a controller when they have a keyboard. Instead of pissing off our existing users *and* alienating the new target audience by making a compromise that fails at both, let's have two completely separate modes".

    That's what SteamOS is designed for - a difference user interaction method. Or to be more precise, that's what Big Picture Mode (the Steam mode that SteamOS boots to) is. Big Picture Mode can be enabled as the default on any Steam install (Windows, OS X or Linux), and it's relatively simple to get Steam to launch by default as well.

    However, SteamOS includes more than just a few default UI settings. There's the incredibly simple installation script - it offers very little customization, but it requires almost zero knowledge outside "getting your computer to boot off media instead of primary disk". That's essential for this particular niche, but would you want Debian dumbed down like that?

    Or the stripping of unneeded crap. As I read TFA, I learned they built a rather customized compositor focused on game performance. Doesn't work too well in windowed mode, but it works well for fullscreen with UI overlays. Does that sound like something Debian ought to use?

    Same for their kernel tweaks (some realtime scheduling stuff and disabling things that caused bugs with games), or their stripped-down install, or the dozens of other changes people are still trying to find.

    But here's the thing - they are making almost all of this available as patches. It's open-source, except for Steam itself and the improved proprietary drivers. If Debian sees a use for these changes, they can merge it in. But to counter your inevitable repetition of "just make it a patch shit-gargler", you need to look at Valve's logic.

    They saw Windows 8, and they were afraid. They realized that as long as PC gaming was reliant on one company (Microsoft) for an essential component, and that company has not just apathy towards PC gaming, but an outright reason to try to kill it in favor of their higher-profit-margin console, no matter how well Valve did at making games or keeping Steam running, their business could be destroyed. And with the Metro stuff and the locked-down app store, they saw a direct death threat. Shortly afterward, they started pushing their Mac port harder, and started work on the Linux port.

    Given that history, would you really expect them to make themselves reliant on someone else for their console? Their thinking is basically "if we control our own OS, even if every other OS maker turns hostile to our market segment we can still keep it running". They have no problem with people running Steam on Windows or Ubuntu or Debian or fucking Slackware for all they care - but they want to make sure that there's at least one OS that will *always* be there to play games on. Hell, they even recommend Ubuntu+Steam for the old desktop experience, not SteamOS. Nobody is going to be rebooting into SteamOS - they'll be running it as the only OS on the machine because it's the only one that's usable on that machine's setup.

    But everything I just said was kind of pointless, because you don't understand the very issue you're bitching about. Fragmentation on Android is a problem because programs that use new features do not work on old versions. Fragmentation of window systems or other APIs is bad because you have to write a new version for each system. And desktop Linux dislikes f

  • Re:No not really (Score:4, Informative)

    by lordofthechia (598872) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:16AM (#45693041)

    How many of those 9,000 windows steam games run on the consoles? (BTW it's closer to 3,000 - 3,500 unique windows games - excluding DLC).

    Somebody that already has a gaming PC (presumably with Steam) isn't the target demographic of this push. Folks who want console level convenience but would be open to saving money buying on Steam are. And what will they see when Steam Machines launch early next year?

    PS4 169 Total Games released and announced
    XBONE 77 Total Games released and announced
    Steam Machine 300+ games already released (and purchasable) *and* more coming soon.

    Then look at the other features you'll get with a Steam Machine (and Steam):

    * Steam Sales

    * Steam gifting (give your grandkids a Steam Machine then send them games through steam from your home PC/Tablet/Phone, etc)

    * Access to player mods (Steam Workshop)

    * Free online play (MMO's w/ monthly fees not included)

    * Equal or better hardware depending on your budget

    * Upgradeable hardware

    * Made with COTS HW -> easily fixable

    * Games you purchased on your Steam Machine are tied to your account, *not* your machine. On the road? Open your laptop and pick up on your games where you left off.

    * Ability to play 3rd party/unlicensed titles without jailbreaking

    * Compatibility with PC hardware (that works with Linux). Mouse and KB anyone?

    * Compatibility with XBOX 360 and PS3 controllers (and surely XBOne and PS4 to come)

    * Full desktop mode!

    * Controller that's nearly as precise as using a mouse (and miles ahead of the console controlers.

    * Devs can issue patches for free! (looking at you Microsoft)


  • Re:Um... (Score:4, Informative)

    by SCPRedMage (838040) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @04:23AM (#45693635)

    Umm... no, no it wasn't. Valve hired the guys behind Narbacular Drop, who then worked at Valve to create Portal using many of the same concepts, but Portal was developed entirely by people who earned their paychecks working for Valve at the time they were working on the game.

    In other words, Valve didn't buy the game, they bought the team.

  • Re:Stop fragmenting (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 15, 2013 @05:37AM (#45693807)

    Well, you could read the article. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not run aufs, use system V init, or run much of anything in realtime. The code itself is the explanation for why they are doing it that way, at this point, and let's be clear: you're not a game developer and this is not for you.

    Since it's clear you are vastly ignorant, I am compelled to explain that there is a step in between when the source code is made available, and when packages are available in the distribution of your choice. Currently Valve et all have released some source code that they have been working with. There would not be anything stopping you nor anyone else from creating a set of packages from that source code.

    However, since they're starting with lots of kernel-level changes and continuing with aufs and a custom compositor, you're probably not going to ever have a good experience just installing SteamOS packages in another distro. The real-time patches are probably the biggest obstacle. It's as if there's a reason why they're calling it SteamOS instead of Steambuntu.

    If after you've read the article you fail to comprehend it please feel free to take up the topic again.

Byte your tongue.