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Tuesday, 29 October 2013 10:32

Linus Torvalds says Steam Machine may unify Linux distributions


Interviewed at a conference this week, Linus Torvalds stated he sees Valve Software's Steam Machine as a development which can unify the morass of Linux distributions.

What is the big problem with Linux? That’s a question I put forth in March 2009, over four years ago now, to a range of Windows users. Why don’t they use Linux? What’s wrong with it? What does Linux need to do differently to entice them?

For some, the answer was “nothing” – they’d never consider Linux ever because Windows suited them perfectly. Ironically, this was in the pre-Windows 7 days and these same people were pining for its advent to free them from Windows Vista.

Nevertheless, some very interesting results came out and it was abundantly clear “gaming” was a major roadblock.

Linux has justly received a solid reputation as a serious server operating system platform but has never made the same inroads into the desktop market. The oft-prophesied “year of the Linux desktop” has not materialised. I could tell you “next year will be the year of the Linux desktop” and you could return and read this article any day of any year and it would still make sense.

It’s not for the lack of a Photoshop or a Microsoft Word, but instead, I proposed, the lack of big gaming titles. What I would like to see, I said, is a greater push for Linux ports of modern, desirable games.

In the years since I made this almost-paradoxical request for Linux retail software – a platform best known for being free open source – a wonderful development has occurred.

Valve Software, famous makers of the Half Life franchise as well as the popular Steam content distribution service has announced its impending SteamOS operating system - a Linux derivative - and Steam Machine console hardware.

Valve has been working hard behind the scenes over the last year to make Steam available to Linux users, to work with nVidia to optimise Linux graphics drivers, and to work with game developers to make more Linux ports. Separately, the Humble Bundle team has also been instrumental in bringing a range of indie game titles to Linux. Steam is now working with hardware vendors to sell its Steam Machine hardware, powered by none other than SteamOS aka Linux.

This week, Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, was interviewed by Dirk Hohndel and audience at the LinuxCon + CloudOpen Europe 2013 conference

During this video-recorded interview Torvalds was asked (at 29:26 in) what he thought about games coming to Linux and did he think it would bring money to the platform. Torvalds replied "I love the Steam announcements."

He continued, "I think that's an opportunity to maybe really help the desktop. What I like about the Steam announcements in particular is that Steam is this one company in particular that has a vision for how to do things and I think that will force a lot of the other vendors around them - and I'm not just talking about the hardware vendors - I'm not just saying it will help us get traction with the graphics guys - I think it will also force the different distributions to realise, hey, if this is the way Steam is going we need to do the same thing because we can't afford to be different in this respect because we want people to be able to play games on our platform too."

Torvalds said, "So, it's the best kind of model for standardisation. Standards should not be people sitting in a smokey room ... and writing papers; that's not how good standards get done. I think good standards are people just doing things and saying this is how we do it and being successful enough to drive the market and I think it is interesting to see the Steam announcements from that viewpoint and see where it goes."

What do you think? Could 2014 be the year that Linux vendors move to consolidate their distributions? Or might it be, as gaming legend John Carmack thinks, that SteamOS is "dicey" and big companies aren't going to want to port to Linux after all?

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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