Updated: December 28, 2013
Normally, my game-related content goes into the dedicated Gaming section. But this is a special moment. SteamOS is not just a game. It's a complete, Debian-based distro, and so it merits its own review, right here, alongside all other flavors and editions I've tested in the past. Moreover, some of the stuff will get technical, in the upcoming sequel articles, which makes the Software category the best candidate for this.
Anyhow, SteamOS. Linux based. A dream come true. Now, it's not just a gaming platform, it's a complete operating system, and it may soon land in your living room. The moment we have all been waiting for. But before that happens, let me give you a brief taste of what SteamOS can really do. For the most unusual system review yet, after me.
There are several things you need to take into consideration before testing SteamOS. First, it is not designed to be a home distro in the pure, typical sense, although it comes with a fully fledged desktop. But it's not meant to be your darling replacement for Ubuntu or Mint or Fedora.
SteamOS is designed to run on dedicated hardware - a gaming rig. If you just want to use the client, then you do not need this. But if you do, then you must understand why the Valve team asks for such high specifications for their operating system. And the chief reason is good experience, right.
In a nutshell, SteamOS requires a 64-bit processor, UEFI boot support, 4GB RAM, 500GB of storage, and an Nvidia or Intel card, although additional hardware will be supported in the near future. Now, now, now, if you don't own one of the test consoles, then you will have to install SteamOS on your own. There are two ways of doing it. You can expand a saved system image, which needs a target partition of 1TB, or you can perform a quick installation from a USB installer. Both file types are available from the official repo.
I tested the SteamOSInstaller.zip, which neatly extracts to a system image onto any FAT32-formatted USB stick. Not a great deal different from any other Linux, really. But we will discuss the gory details separately. For now, let us just enjoy what SteamOS can do for us. Oh, remember, Beta still, so things can change.
SteamOS boots with a Gnome 3 desktop on top of Debian 7. It looks like any Gnome 3 installation, with a simple desktop, the Activities menu and all that. You have a complete system at your disposal, including a web browser, a bunch of other programs, and of course, Steam itself. Everything works. You have Flash and Samba, too.
Testing Steam and such
I fired up the Steam launcher first. It downloaded its updates and when I tried to login, it challenged me with the standard two-way authentication method. After I provided the security code, I was logged into the Steam application proper.
This is what SteamOS will eventually be all about - the big screen menu for the people using the console hardware in their living room. Not a bad idea, built on an open system. This will be instant success.
Playin' some games
At this stage, I decided to try some of the available titles, which I purchased not that long ago for bargain prices. So I downloaded Half-Life first. Steam even asked me about the conflict between the files synced in the cloud and local content. Since I've already played the game for some time, I decided to use the saved files and thus retain my game profile.
As I waited for the download to complete, I did a bit of game browsing. You will notice that Flash works just fine. Everything is smooth and elegant, as it should be. True, this is the same kind of behavior you get in any Steam client, and the only thing that changes is the surrounding shell, but still.
Anyhow, Half-Life in action, just a quick teaser:
More important reading
All of these articles are about Steam. Read them!
Steam Flash setup, articles one and two
Official guide for installing Steam on Ubuntu and Kubuntu
Guide for setting up Steam on Mint prior to the Petra release
A guide for Fedora coming soon, fellas, so stay put!
How to troubleshoot common Steam issues
I really, really like this concept, Gnome 3 notwithstanding. SteamOS is a wonderful idea. You have a complete, unrestricted Linux distro, with the gaming platform built on top of it. What could go wrong? Well, nothing really. In my brief encounter with the Debian plus Steam, everything was fine. Network, Samba, Flash, the client, and the games.
Once again, do not treat this release as your home desktop replacement, but should you want to dedicate a system to Linux only, and then games only, and you have the metal and plastic to spare, then this seems like the ideal choice. I'm rather pleased, because this operating system signifies not only the beginning of a gaming revolution, but the transformation of the Linux world as a whole. Valve, kudos. Party on.