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Debian Graphics Operating Systems Software Games

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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  • Sounds good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gweihir (88907) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @08:54PM (#45692139)

    Debian is a rock-solid foundation, that is just missing drivers. As to the custom-kernel, I have been doing that with Debian for over 10 years with no problems at all, except for some very recent issue with kernel include paths. (Which can be fixed by just using older kernel headers.)

    Now they just need AMD GPU support and some games.

    • Re:Sounds good (Score:4, Interesting)

      by lordofthechia (598872) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @09:55PM (#45692365)

      and some games.

      The games they've got. Over 300 last I checked + "more AAA titles coming soon".

      • They don't have Portal 2 yet :-(

        • Re:Sounds good (Score:4, Interesting)

          by pcolaman (1208838) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @12:46AM (#45692943)

          Valve has already commented that they will be porting all of their engines over to Linux, so I doubt that it'd be long before Portal 2 is offered as a native game in Linux rather than having to play through the streaming service.

          • by gweihir (88907)

            Good. If this works, then porting games to Linux will become just a matter of developers to try once and then they have the required experience.

            • by gbjbaanb (229885)

              true, but it also means they will have to code against those cross-platform engines. So no using the .net based ones (which tend to be a bit rubbish anyway, permanent 100% cpu on all the games I've played that used them).

              I'm sure Valve considers this drive towards using their engine to be a good knock-on bonus!

      • "Over 300" isn't an impressive amount. The Windows Steam client has "over 9000" games (well, items which can be DLC, expansions, etc).

        For that matter quantity is never the issue, quality is. Right now Steam for Linux lacks in the big name games. It has a few, and some popular indies like Starbound, but you find that you miss out on the majority of new games, particularly AAA games for it.

        • 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:No not really (Score:4, Interesting)

            by aiadot (3055455) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @07:52AM (#45694155)

            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.

            Technically you are correct when you point out the number of games. But I don't think that doesn't really mean a lot. The PS Vita has over 1300 games available for it on the PSN and look how great its doing. I'd rather buy a platform that has one game I want than a platform with thousands that I don't.

            Have a handful of system sellers is more important than having 100s of games no one cares about. Those 300 games? Mostly old Valve first party and indies that are available everywhere. A good chunk of hot PC games(Blizzard games, LoL, Minecraft, Origin) are not even on Steam, and even if those games were on Linux I find it hard to imagine the average joe sideloading the apps (basically the Android/Google Play situation).

            I think the extra competition by the Steam Machines are a great opportunity for traditional console makers to review some of their outdated practices and offer more interesting products. Currently the only reason I buy consoles alongside my gaming PC are for the exclusives games(and the lack of which is also the reason I'm not interested on Steam OS). And because of that I wish them good but yeah, they will have to do something about that library. As for the other features, while interesting, they're secondary. Game consoles are for games. Steam machines are just open gaming consoles.

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

            You can stop looking. In typical Slashdot fashion, any bad news about MS gets blared and good news buried, and the posters and mods continue propagating ignorance.

            http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-06-26-microsoft-no-longer-charges-developers-to-patch-their-xbox-360-games [eurogamer.net]

            • Honestly, didn't know they changed their minds after seven and a half years!

              Still good they saw the light, would have been awesome if they didn't do it near the end of the console's life...

      • Re:Sounds good (Score:5, Interesting)

        by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortexNO@S ... t-retrograde.com> on Sunday December 15, 2013 @12:03AM (#45692821) Homepage

        Not to mention, as an indiegame dev who cares more about the game than the money and creates cross platform code using GNU/Linux, I might just say screw purchasing iHardware and lose the additional time sink of build/test on Win. There's a few other developers I know of similar mindedness, so if the audience isn't non-existant you may see Linux exclusive games too. In my instance I'd just concentrate on the Linux build to get it out the door (as I always do), but put the testing on other platforms off until interest/demand warrants it.

        Since I started with an OS abstraction layer and use the GNU toolchain everywhere, there's no such thing as porting between platforms -- setting up cross compiling is a one shot deal; However, there's nothing like testing on the metal. Porting changes even without the cross compiler suite is just "git pull && make" on any platform GCC runs on; I could use LLVM, but the point is that I'm not compiling with multiple different compilers with their own quirks to work around; FLOSS means vendor lock-in isn't a concern there. It's a shame that Apple makes it illegal for me to install their OS on my superior yet cheaper hardware. I can't justify buying separate lower spec systems just for OSX gamedev given their market share, and even setting up the cross compiling from Linux is a bit questionable, so while it's doable I avoid it. Linux and Windows allow installation on whatever they'll run on, even VMs in most cases.

        Now that consoles are basically just neutered PCs where the functionality is sold back to you at a premium: Fees for multiplayer & P2P chat? Charging for publishing i.e. making their platform valuable? While ads are on the dash, wtf? And considering that heterogeneous computing is coming to desktops, mobiles, etc. I think this last console generation was it for me. Upgradeable game system? Yeah, it's just a full featured personal computer. FINALY! One thing I don't hear many folks talk about is the huge potential for tons of actual user generated content with SteamOS (PC) games in contrast with consoles; Not just gloating over social media screenshots and vids of in-game footage... You really need a desktop interface to get down and dirty with some wicked modding;

        As a modder from way back, all of my game dev efforts are mod centric. I have mods I made for games decades ago that still play great today. If we want gaming to be realized as the full expressive medium it can be, we need to stop the practice popular in the last decade of birthing games and giving them DRM death sentences. I'm less concerned about this aspect on SteamOS than a console. EG: My Xbox 360 can see my friend's console. We'll be connected and chatting with each other. The consoles both know we have the original Halo 2 in the tray, and all the game needs is to be given the IP of the other client to play online -- And yet you can't do this on XBL, they turned off the Halo2 server; You have to purchase a newly released version of the game. That's asinine. Fire up a VPN w/ system link (or XLink Kai), BLAM, online multiplayer without XBL. What the fuck, MS. Might as well not be paying for your planned obsolescence non-service.

        One day the Halo 3 server will be cut off, and all of the Halo Tracks [halotracks.org] we modders spent lots of time building and playing for that game will be unplayable online. Without emulators, our hardware will crap out too. This kills the game. Game devs and players benefit most if games can run everywhere forever, but most console makers are directly opposed to the game industry's benefit: They benefit if games can only be played in one place for a limited period of time. I really hope SteamOS takes off and breaks the cycle of needless game death. Art should not have needless death sentences applied.

        • by Smauler (915644)

          Art should not have needless death sentences applied.

          I agree, completely, but also should point out that most art is crap. I've not modded anything much since I made DOOM levels, and I would find it hilarious if anyone still actually had any copies of the levels I created. If I remember correctly, I only made 3 "fit to release" (IMO) levels I uploaded, after having played them for hours on end with my friends. I just made them for me and my friends, and shared if anyone wanted them.

    • Debian is a rock-solid foundation, that is just missing drivers.

      Drivers have been in the official non-free repository for ages. Unless you're saying that they're using some kind of different NVidia driver?

      • by gweihir (88907)

        "Non-free" is basically not Debian. I did not say or mean to imply drivers were unavailable. Sorry about the fuzziness.

    • by jd (1658)

      I used to build myself patchsets roughly equal in size to the kernels themselves. There are a LOT of rare but bbv valuable projects out there.

      Steam has opted for well-established APIs, which is reasonable. Not what I would have done, as in a console war, you want to be able to undercut your opponents fatally if need be. However, consoles without games sell about as well as JCB GTs. Probably less. So, from that perspective, Steam (with a few hundred titles) would have wanted to have the games make use of the

  • Always AUFS ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pinky's Brain (1158667) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @09:06PM (#45692169)

    How many downstream projects get screwed when one of the kernel devs decides to ignore AUFS and "accidentally" breaking it? There are no more excuses. Union mount/overlay is fucking vapourware ... the farce has gone on long enough, mainline AUFS already.

    • Re:Always AUFS ... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Baki (72515) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @08:16AM (#45694205)

      Yes I discovered AUFS a while ago and it is really great.

      I use it to backup to 5 disks (of various sizes).
      Need to backup 10TB to a bunch of disks, but in the case of a disaster I want to be able to read individual disks without setting up a (software) raid array when restoring from an emergency. So I joined 5 disks of various sizes, 10TB in total, together with aufs and write to the aufs device. Aufs ensures that files are written on one of the disks, the one with the most space left.

      Later I can take an individual disk and find part of all files on int, or put them together in an aufs-setup and restore in one go.

      Raid-JBOD has the drawback that loss of one disk (in the backup set) means loss of all of them.
      Raid-5 is more complicated and fragile for restores, and wastes 1 disk for parity, which is not required for a backup (the live system already is raid-6).

      (and yes, I've got two backups).

  • by deviated_prevert (1146403) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @09:18PM (#45692229) Journal
    Interesting that Intel's frequency scaling causes audio pops so they disabled the p state drivers at the kernel level. As such this release might work well as a DAW if one were use Ardour or ecasound with jack. I am thinking about setting it up for this purpose and seeing what kind of RT performance it will achieve. Ubuntu Studio is interesting but far to convoluted and difficult to modify to ones liking. Seeing that this system is using sysvinit, coding called functions will be much easier to script and run. It would be really great if it can be tweaked to do high bit rate audio recording and broadcast in realtime streams over networks. Nice to see they are paying close attention to audio problems caused by the system at the kernel level, this release could become much more than just a gaming platform.
    • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @10:39PM (#45692509) Homepage Journal

      . As such this release might work well as a DAW if one were use Ardour or ecasound with jack. I am thinking about setting it up for this purpose and seeing what kind of RT performance it will achieve. Ubuntu Studio is interesting but far to convoluted and difficult to modify to ones liking. Seeing that this system is using sysvinit, coding called functions will be much easier to script and run. It would be really great if it can be tweaked to do high bit rate audio recording and broadcast in realtime streams over networks. Nice to see they are paying close attention to audio problems caused by the system at the kernel level, this release could become much more than just a gaming platform.

      Buddy, that is very smart. I've written here on several occasions about my annual efforts to use Linux as a main production machine in my DAW setup. I've been using it for streaming samples and rendering and off-loading effects and other processing (via Cockos' Reaper) but it never was ready for prime-time. UbuntuStudio and Debian and others, and there were always problems.

      I think it's interesting that today I noticed that Valve has started selling a DAW program called "Ohm Studio" through Steam. Wouldn't it be great if there was some connection to SteamOS? I'd love for it to become a solid platform for music production. Plus, when I get tired after my 30th take, I can unwind with a little Dota2.

      I'm glad you posted this, because I'm not really enough of a Linux maven to have made the connection/

      • There no connection to SteamOS with Ohm Studio. It is, as with most pro audio stuff, Windows and Mac only. It is just on Steam because Valve is now selling regular software, as well as games, on Steam. Cakewalk started selling Music Creator, their home version of their Sonar software, on Steam a couple months ago.

  • by sgt scrub (869860) <saintium@ y a hoo.com> on Saturday December 14, 2013 @09:24PM (#45692255)

    They combined 3 of the things I hate the most. Games that require a Steam account, a Steam account, and Microsoft employees. I'm expecting to find out they are being side funded by Sony.

    • by Fwipp (1473271)

      Just in: SteamOS requires a Steam account. More at 11.

    • by Pharmboy (216950)

      Xbox requires Xbox games, BFD. If you don't like it, don't get an account, don't use it.

      I've been on Steam since, well, before Steam existed. Back when TFC was distributed by Sierra. They have the least amount of DRM, often none, and the least restrictive policies of anyone. They have successfully bridged the needs of the user and the wants of the publisher. It isn't perfect, but it is less offensive than any other DRM method, and they have a lot of free stuff. And frankly, I don't mind a company maki

      • Perhaps sgt scrub prefers discs for one of at least four reasons:
        • Some people like to rent games before committing to a large purchase.
        • Some people like to buy used games, but I'll admit Steam sales reduce this need.
        • Some people are stuck on 5-10 GB/mo capped cellular or satellite Internet. That's not even enough to transfer a single dual-layer DVD (8 GB) along with the rest of the month's web browsing, and more and more AAA games have started to come on multiple DVDs.
        • Some deployed members of the armed force
      • "Often none"? How many games work without being signed into Steam? (Hint: that's DRM.)

        Among the services that prevent resale and force you to be online to play*, Steam is the least bad of them. Far preferable is something like the Xbox 360, where you don't need to be online or have an account to play, and can let your friends play too.

        *Yes, I know Steam nominally has an offline mode. It's been sufficiently unreliable for me that Steam requires online as far as I'm concerned.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      This is not flamebait. It's a valid opinion.

      But it's just that, an opinion. I have the opposite opinion. I love steam as a system and have no problem with a steam account. I honestly can't imagine going to a brick and mortar store and buying a game on DVD, actually nowadays I don't even have a DVD player in my machine. I use an external USB drive when I need to. I have no opinion on the account itself, that's just an account.

      As for Microsoft employees, they are just people. Some are excellent coders, some a

  • Is this NVidia's attempt to keep market share given that the latest consoles are all ATI based?

    • by Tynin (634655)
      Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no. :-)

      But honestly, that sounds plausible.
    • by symbolset (646467) *

      Call it what you want. nVidia claims to be working closely with Valve, including embedding their own engineers in the project. [nvidia.com]

      Engineers from Valve and NVIDIA have spent a lot of time collaborating on a common goal for SteamOS: to deliver an open-platform gaming experience with superior performance and uncompromising visuals directly on the big screen.

      NVIDIA engineers embedded at Valve collaborated on improving driver performance for OpenGL; optimizing performance on NVIDIA GPUs; and helping to port Valve’s award-winning content library to SteamOS; and tuning SteamOS to lower latency, or lag, between the controller and onscreen action.

      The collaboration makes sense as both companies strongly believe in the importance of open-platform innovation, and both companies are committed to providing gamers with a cutting-edge visual experience.

      Valve will deliver a great, open-platform gaming experience, and NVIDIA will continue to be the best choice for gaming on any open platform or operating system, including SteamOS.

  • this is idiotic. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by markhahn (122033) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @10:40PM (#45692513)

    the proliferation of distros is just stupid - people don't seem to understand what "distro" means, or why they should be offering addons to an existing distro, rather than pretending that they are building a new OS.

    the ONLY value a distro offers is in establishing a particular set of versions, with a modicum of consistency of config and hopefully some testing. none of them offer anything significant that is also distinctive - just slightly different versions of the same packages maintained by others and used by all the other distros. yes, apt vs rpm, so what? they're functionally equivalent.

    the real point is really a matter of software engineering: forking a distro is bad, since it increases the friction experienced by source-code changes. streamOS (sic) people may be dilligent and honestly propagate their changes upstream, but fundamentally, they should really just be running an apt repo containing their trivially modded packages. sure, that may mean a different kernel, big whoopie (very little of user-space is sensitive to anything but huge kernel changes.)

    but yeah: it wouldn't be very sexy to say "I've got a repo of 37 tweaked packages I call a brand new whizzy *OS*".

  • by Ben Hutchings (4651) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @11:48PM (#45692771) Homepage
    It's a stock Debian kernel with some minor packaging changes and support for a new game controller. All those realtime patches? Not actually used by default. The full list of exciting changes:
    • Make the binnmu regexp also reconize our build suffixes
    • New XBox controller driver
    • Disable Intel P-State driver as it causes issues with sound being choppy during BigPicture trailer video playback.
    • Hard-code parallel build for now since our OBS infrastructure doesn't know how to set these options yet.
    • Add postinst step to touch /var/run/reboot-required
  • by Arakageeta (671142) on Sunday December 15, 2013 @01:44AM (#45693129)

    I'm glad to see SteamOS has picked up PREEMPT_RT. I hope they stick with it. The PREEMPT_RT developers recently reported that they lacked the man-power to continue development (https://lwn.net/Articles/572740/). Maybe Valve can contribute money or man-power?

    Also, since NVIDIA is keen to support SteamOS, this means that NVIDIA must officially support PREEMPT_RT. NVIDIA's driver support for PREEMPT_RT has always been spotty. At best, hacks to the driver's GPL layer were required to make it work. I hope those days are over. NVIDIA has really improved their Linux driver over th years in order to better serve the Android and HPC markets. PREEMPT_RT support should make it even better (PREEMPT_RT can often uncover pre-existing bugs).

  • by paugq (443696)

    The runtime is the most interesting part to me. They are effectively replacing the LSB with a "binary LSB" that you can distribute with your game.

    By ensuring any application compiled against the Steam Runtime will work on SteamOS, they are providing a solid baseline for developers. From now on, developers will know they can relay on Steam Runtime.

    Next thing may be we start to see other applications (not games) to use the Steam Runtime and provide it on non-SteamOS distributions.

The bogosity meter just pegged.

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