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What is wrong with Steam OS ?

Steam OS

Steam OS beta was released over the weekend by Valve, the same OS which will be powering Steam Machines. Steam OS is bases on Debian 7 Wheezy, for those who don’t know Debian is an operating system based on Linux and Linux is free to use, modify and distribute, so Steam has forked Debian to develop Steam OS which is in beta right now and can be downloaded from here.

” SteamOS is available for intrepid Linux hackers to try out. At this point the OS itself is not yet a finished product for a non-technical user,” Valve said. “Thanks in advance to the three hundred Steam users who are going to spend their time helping us shape the future of Steam in the living room. “

Valve has warned non-hackers to stay away from the beta version but if Steam OS is based on Debian Wheezy, how can the OS be unstable ? Debian has no definite release cycle and most of the stuff under the hood is petty outdated which is not ideal for gaming as Linux is going through an evolution, Nvidia and AMD are working hard to optimize their drivers for Linux and each Kernel update brings a lot of performance improvements. So it is very important to use upto date kernal & graphic drivers and that is what Valve is doing. They have picked the good old debian core and pumped it with new Kernel, DE and graphic drivers but then why does the title of the post says ‘What is wrong with Steam OS ?’

Well, there is nothing wrong with Steam OS. It is still in pre alpha stage, by releasing the beta version Valve might have meant ‘Hey, have a look, see what we are cooking’ and I hope it will rock the world when the final version comes out but this is Linux and we are very vocal about what we want, so it is time to have an in-depth look in the Steam OS and criticize Valve anyway.

Starting with Debian which is a perfect choice, no other distro could have given the freedom Valve needs or want but we all know how outdated Debian can get and Valve might have to do a hell lot of work to keep the OS up to date without screwing things up which is a daunting task, companies releasing Linux for over 10 years still can’t do the most basic thing i.e update the system without breaking it. A bug or a user error whatever the reason is, all of us have gone through that ugly thing at least once. So imagine if Steam Box failed to boot after an update. For that reason, I would have preferred Fedora over Debian, Fedora being a bleeding edge distro might loose points over stability but Fedora already has the upto date software and is backed by Red Hat so Valve could use their resources on the testing and making the OS more stable, not to mention Fedora already passes through some high testing standards set by Red Hat.

When Steam came out on Linux, I never understood why Valve chose Ubuntu. I understand that Ubuntu might have the biggest user base but Canonical with its linear approach, upsetting everyone in the Linux community, I always wonder why Valve chose Ubuntu. Valve is a huge brand but they still could have benefited by partnering with Red Hat. I am aware of Valve joining the Linux Foundation but that partnership is for the innovation in the core i.e kernel, innovation in under the hood things. A distro is different and I am not advocating Fedora here but I truly believe that with all the bleeding edge software and both the giants working on the stability of the OS, Fedora could have proven a better core for Steam OS instead of Debian.

Gnome is used as a primary DE in Steam OS which is a decent choice, Gnome is getting better with time but still might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Gnome 3 is very resource hungry, have all the features in the world which are irrelevant to a Gaming OS as majority of the users might never see the DE itself. A lightweight minimal DE like XFCE , LXDE or even mate would have been an ideal choice .

Valve is still using the Kernel version 3.10.11 when 3.12.5 is available but this is one thing where we should let Valve do the talking as putting the latest kernel version would have been an obvious thing but I fear Debian is being a bad boy here. Newer Kernel brings performance improvements, bug fixes and compatibility with new hardware. Amd and Nvidia release many cards throughout the year, Steam OS is using the kernel released back in August so the cards released after August might not be supported. Valve is planning to use latest of the breed cards in Steam Machines but using older kernel can cause issues, the vendors can somehow push the drivers during the deadline but optimizing the drivers takes time. As we have already discussed, Fedora would have made a difference here. Final version of Steam OS may have a newer kernel but for the time, older 3.10.11 kernel is being used.

This is all I have, the entire article might get irrelevant after the Steam OS is released if they fixed everything but that is the point anyway. As I have already mention Steam OS is still in Pre Alpha stage, doesn’t matter if Valve calls it beta, so a lot of awesome stuff is still yet to arrive. Go ahead download the Steam OS from here and start helping Valve in achieving something that could change the world as we see it today.

 

21 replies to this post
  1. SteamOS should be based on Arch.
    They dont need a complex package system or a full featured desktop
    Just a minimal linux with cuting edge drivers.
    So they can make a full own repository and maintain system stability.

    • Arch is not stable enought. Arch is good for some teenager “hacker” kid who wants to play with his computer. But it is not suitable for professionals who really want theis system to work.

      • Please don’t comment if you don’t use it.
        We use custom linux based servers (50+ servers) in production for critical services and all servers have ubuntu server or redhat/centos variant installed and managed by us.
        Given the amount one has to do with custom packages and services on these distributions when they develop something, they tend to break very easily (try upgrading with custom packages and additional repos) so we tested arch linux (as most of us are arch linux users) on two system and they are now in production with much relief. It’s system that is by design up to date (not like fedora which is testing for Red Hat and *breaks*) and contrary to popular belief it goes through rigorous testing phase before pushing latest packages.
        Since it is designed for custom and specific usage one can easily build it as they want and upgrade it regularly.
        This is why it would be also great for Valve too but I’m sure they know what they are doing so it’s not for us to comment on that.

      • Will.,, How can you be so lame . Your comment shows you don t know what you are talking about. and as for teenage hackers I would really like such thing exists that would make a lot of more motivated, open minded, with a ton of lazy and free time, contributors to open source projects.
        But truth is Will that if you look at the contributor list of most of the project open sourced around linux the contributors are way over 21 year old!

        As a user of arch the intend of arch is to be constantly up to date that implicate that the software makers works tie to tie with the libraries makers and update their software often.

        Most of the broken software in arch linux were because the software maker were or too lazy or too disapeared from the map to keep their production in touch with the libraries they depended from. Then can we say that the one doing wrongs are the guys that craft the distribution ? I don t think so. The wrong is the core nature of open source, Evolution. People comes people goes good vital project remains maintained without their initial dev teams after they grew tired and retire or go make some monney to make their wifes happy! Bad project simply disapears in the pit of hell and since linux exists a ton of those projects disapeared.

  2. Really, Rahul, if you are going to publish anything please take some lessons on elementary writing. Such a poorly written article does a disservice to the Linux cause.

      • His reply wasn’t really very helpful, so here is some constructive criticism: Run on sentences are bad. The following sentence quoted from your article should be broken down to three, or even four, sentences.

        “Starting with Debian which is a perfect choice, no other distro could have given the freedom Valve needs or want but we all know how outdated Debian can get and Valve might have to do a hell lot of work to keep the OS up to date without screwing things up which is a daunting task, companies releasing Linux for over 10 years still can’t do the most basic thing i.e update the system without breaking it.”

        New sentences:

        Debian is a perfect choice, as no other distro could give Valve the freedom it needs and wants. However, Debian is very outdated and Valve might have to do a hell of a lot of work to keep the OS updated. Several companies that have released Linux over over a decade still can’t do the most basic things (updating the system, etc) without breaking it.”

    • What a rude comment by some troll.

      At least he was trying to contribute his personal opinion to the community, and the writing is not that bad. What did you do to contribute to the community, SLR?

  3. I agree with some of the points mentioned. However you end up contradicting yourself.

    First, keep in mind that Steam OS isn’t meant to be a general distro, it’s meant to be a gaming distro, more specifically, a Valve-regulated non-free platform to play games you buy via Steam. Also, it’s meant to go on the Steam Box. In simple terms, it’s commercial.

    The one thing you need to remember about commercial products, is that they are supposed to be stable. No one wants a stream of angry customers demanding their money back.
    Debian is the logical choice for Steam OS. Their slow release cycle isn’t because of them being slow, instead, it’s because they test everything, so that on release, it breaks nothing. This extensive testing is what guarantees that the final stable release is STABLE.

    You could even use testing/unstable repositories for the latest stuff, and it could be stable. But would it make sense for a commercial product? Probably not.

    Ubuntu was the perfect platform for testing the steam client. It has Gnome, and it’s also debian-based. But the more important thing was that it was widely adopted as a desktop client. Which meant there was a lot of people for testing, and when testing, you’d want to have a wide variety of desktops and configurations on which to test your product.

  4. I have both been a long time fedora user and a long time ubuntu user. I can tell for sure that fedora is more stable than ubuntu
    Its more bleeding edge
    Yum is better that apt-get and apt-cache
    Fedora is better in every way.
    So the People how say that ubuntu is a good choice: it isen’t

    • I m disagree with what your are saying

      “I can tell for sure that fedora is more stable than ubuntu”
      if you wan’t but debian is more stable than ubuntu so whose better fedora or debian?

      ” Yum is better that apt-get and apt-cache”
      No he doesn’t i work with both of them i did rpm and deb paquet, i don’t like .spec of rpm paquet (that horrible to unistall all the paquet) and i prefer apt to install and uninstall paquet i like his depends index. And apt is based in dpkg the most better installer i have used. Yum is based on rpm … i broke a lots of depends with rpm.

      “Fedora is better in every way”
      No he doesn’t, you can’t use it like a firewall system openbsd is better for that, you can’t use it for a server who need stability debian is more interesting for this. The only way where fedora is good to use (not the best) it’s for destop but use debian unstable or sid is a good way to for a destop.

      ” So the People how say that ubuntu is a good choice: it isen’t”
      I agree with that but i have a saying ” all distrib have user to use it, all distrib have a spesific utilisation, so know what you want doing and find the best way to do this, for finish never take the proprietor way”

  5. Debian is the stable release that many other releases are based on, its core functions are for stability reasons not updated with just any new and shiny. And valves’ Kernel workings are probably mostly drivers . Maybe steam is doing some crazy dimond stuff with the BETA, in the short amount of time that steam has had it out, DebianWheezy (Debian 7.3) is the current stable release of Debian, and has been since 2013-12-14.

  6. On the choice of Gnome 3 . . . I’m not a big fan of Gnome 3 for my personal desktop computer use case. It takes away the way I like to do things which is fast and efficient for me and substitutes the way someone else wants to do things, which doesn’t work well for me. Mate and Cinnamon give me back what I want.

    But for something like this it would probably work OK. And the heft isn’t a problem. We’re talking gaming machines here, not Raspberry Pis. The hardware will have no trouble whatsoever with a relatively heavyweight desktop environment, especially if much of the heft is graphics. Not only that, but that environment isn’t normally going to be doing much stuff at the same time as the games, which normally take over the full screen. I suppose you *could* use a Steam Machine to run lots of concurrent applications, but it’s not a use case Valve should care about.

    As to Fedora . . . I’m sure Fedora is a fine distribution. I myself am prejudiced for Mint, so I could come up with cute reasons why Mint would be a great choice. Particularly since Valve could probably just hire all the key Mint developers to work for them full time out of pocket change. But ultimately Debian is probably the best choice. It’s the most solid base with the most work in it, the most packages for it, the biggest associated ecosystem. It’s also a very community-friendly choice–Debian is the upstream for most of Linux, so if Valve contributes work back to them they indirectly contribute to Ubuntu and Mint and PCLinuxOS and who knows what all. It also isn’t controlled by another corporation with its own agenda. And of course Red Hat are heavily focused on the server, which may lead to builds that are optimized in a different direction from what SteamOS is intended for.

    At this stage of kernel maturity I doubt switching kernels will matter particularly. As far as I know, it’s not like APIs will have shifted. Stuff should work fine.

    For a graphics-oriented machine, they were probably wise to avoid Ubuntu. Otherwise they could get stuck with Mir, which may yet turn out to be the greatest thing since Turing but is kind of vaporware right now and the people who’ve been in the Linux graphics biz a long time don’t seem impressed.

  7. I don’t agree that Fedora would have been a better core for Steam OS. The release cycle is far too often, and major system components are under going drastic changes (ie, SystemD, Anaconda Installer).

    Debian stable is widely deployed and supported. If you want near-cutting edge, Debian testing is a good place to start.

    The following from the article is completely non sequitur: “So imagine if Steam Box failed to boot after an update. For that reason, I would have preferred Fedora over Debian, Fedora being a bleeding edge distro might loose points over stability but Fedora already has the upto date software and is backed by Red Hat so Valve could use their resources on the testing and making the OS more stable, not to mention Fedora already passes through some high testing standards set by Red Hat.”

  8. >as Linux is going through an evolution

    riiiiiight… because there was no evolution going on in the Linux kernel in 2012. Or in 2011. Or in 2010… or you get the point. empty phrase that makes it seem you know something but says nothing.

    >why does the title of the post says ‘What is wrong with Steam OS ?’

    Because youre the one who wrote it and think that by re-emphasizing the point it will somehow give it more validity. If there is one talent you need as a linux writer, its being able to write good link bait.

    Stability is the key here, NOT bleeding edge. Debian is the perfect choice to deliver stability.
    You seem to be forgeting that Steam OS isnt going to be another Linux distro, its going to be close to Android or Ubuntu eventually or somewhere in between. Its going to be a part free-libre and part non-free platform to play games on Valve’s Steam Box.

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  10. Since when is Fedora “Stable” ????

    I have been using Linux a long time and have always been told and from my personal understanding that Fedora is a distro where the most bleeding edge features are used and tested with Linux, meaning it is not the most stable because it has the most cutting edge features.

    Case in point I have never heard of any enterprise using Fedora in production environments much less for mission critical applications they would use CentOS or Red Hat itself which both lag well behind Fedora.

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