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 Debian has no definite release cycle and most of the stuff under the hood is petty outdated which is not ideal for gaming as Linux is going through an evolution, Nvidia and AMD are working hard to optimize their drivers for Linux and each Kernel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Debian which is a perfect choice, no other distro could have given the freedom Valve needs or want but we all know how outdated Debian can get and Valve might have to do a hell lot of work to keep the OS up to date without screwing things up which is a daunting task, companies releasing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.