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  (Source: Polygon)
New "console" is expected to run Linux, play Windows-compatible games

For PC gamers who love Linux, but are loathe to give up their games that run on Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows operating system, Valve Corp. thinks it has the solution.  That solution, the "Steam Box", is expected to be announced at a special event on Monday after months of rumors and anticipation.

Rare staffing changes at Valve may have delayed the console, but it appears to be finally ready, much to the joy of eager gamers.

I. Steam Box Strikes Another Blow to Limping Windows Hegemony

At a LinuxCon 2013 keynote, sometimes "CEO" Gabe Newell (Valve employees have no official job titles, although Mr. Newell -- a company cofounder, performs most of the typical functions of a company's CEO) told the audience than next week his company would reveal, "the hardware opportunities we see for bringing Linux into the living room."

And today a launch page with a countdown timer went live.  The countdown points to a Monday unveil and a 2014 ship date for the console with the title:

The Steam Universe is Expanding in 2014

Steam Coundown

The page states:

Last year, we shipped a software feature called Big Picture, a user-interface tailored for televisions and gamepads.
This year we’ve been working on even more ways to connect the dots for customers who want Steam in the living-room.
Soon, we’ll be adding you to our design process, so that you can help us shape the future of Steam.

Reportedly the Linux-based box will be fully compatible with most Windows OS games of the past and present without any complicated custom fiddling.  It is unclear what Linux distribution the console will run, but we should soon find out.  

II. Steam Box Runs Linux -- Could it be a Chrome Box?

Google Inc.'s (GOOG) hot Chrome OS is one potential possibility.  At the 2013 Intel Developer Forum multiple companies showed off Chrome OS laptops (Chromebooks) and desktop machines (Chrome Boxes).  The Steam Box may prove to be the ultimate Chrome Box, with gaming geared modifications to the operating system to provide smooth compatibility with x86 Windows games.

Google Chrome Logo
The Steam Box could be a ChromeBox. [Image Source: Google]

If not Chrome OS, it's likely that Valve will have adopted and modified another popular Linux distribution, such as Canonical's Ubuntu or Mint OS.

Valve's decision to use Linux for its upcoming console, rather than Microsoft's Windows 8/8.1, is a sign of the companies' weakening relationship.  While Valve remains loyal to its customers -- including Windows gamers -- Gabe Newell publicly attacked Microsoft's decision to limit third party app stores like Steam in Windows 8.

The decision is also somewhat a testament to the weakening position of Windows in general.  At the 2013 Intel Developer Forum, Androids -- the mascots of Google Inc.'s (GOOG) industry-leading mobile Linux distribution -- danced outside the convention center in Intel Corp. (INTC) garb.  Intel, long so closely aligned with Microsoft Windows than customers dubbed the pair "Wintel", took a number of subtle jabs at Microsoft during talks and keynotes, while emphasizing a growing number of Android and Chrome OS solutions.

Microsoft is still the world's most used desktop and laptop operating system, but its grip on the market appears to be weakening after Google's stellar Chrome OS and Android successes, along with the chilly reception of Windows 8.

II. Three Steam Boxes Planned?

As for the onboard hardware, Valve may look to use content streamed from Windows servers for its initial implementation, allowing the Steam Box itself to feature minimal hardware in its initial build.  Such a scheme would not be unheard of -- Microsoft's own upcoming Xbox One offers developers the ability to offload processing to the cloud.  Other companies like OnLive have offered streamed, virtualized Windows desktop environments for iOS devices.

In a January interview with The Verge, Gabe Newell described the plan for "good", "better", and "best" hardware solutions, stating:

The way we sort of think of it is sort of "Good, Better," or "Best." So, Good are like these very low-cost streaming solutions that you’re going to see that are using Miracast or Grid. I think we’re talking about in-home solutions where you've got low latency. "Better" is to have a dedicated CPU and GPU and that’s the one that’s going to be controlled. Not because our goal is to control it; it’s been surprisingly difficult when we say to people "don't put an optical media drive in there" and they put an optical media drive in there and you're like "that makes it hotter, that makes it more expensive, and it makes the box bigger." Go ahead. You can always sell the Best box, and those are just whatever those guys want to manufacture. [Valve's position is]: let's build a thing that’s quiet and focuses on high performance and appropriate form factors.

The countdown page features three dots, with only the first one active with the countdown timer to Monday.  The Verge has speculated these dots line up with the different configurations Mr. Newell discussed.

Polygon has shown off one alleged hardware configuration from Xi3 Corp., a maker of small, stylish modular computers:

Steam Box

SteamBox back
A reported Steam Box prototype [Image Source: Polygon]

It's unknown whether this will be one of the final Steam Boxes.

Aside from software and the box's general hardware, one last feature to point out is the inclusiion of the aforementioned Miracast wireless display technology.  Valve has partnered with Miracast to including this technology in the Steam Box -- which will allow it to connect to multiple televisions all around your house, or even to use select mobile devices as a second screen.

Sources: Valve, Gabe Newell on YouTube

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They lost me at Linux
By SpartanJet on 9/20/2013 3:49:47 PM , Rating: -1
Sorry but I'd want a windows system. They wont be getting my money.

RE: They lost me at Linux
By JasonMick on 9/20/2013 4:03:07 PM , Rating: 3
Sorry but I'd want a windows system. They wont be getting my money.
I don't mean this as a knock on Windows and Microsoft, but I don't really get your comment or why you "need" Windows outside of a few work-specific scenarios.

Assuming it runs all Windows games and Office and if you're buying it for a gaming and/or non-Windows dev system, why?

I can see if you want a machine for developing for Windows or if it's a work machine and needs to run legacy software, but otherwise why dismiss the Steam Box if all your games will run on it?

RE: They lost me at Linux
By GulWestfale on 9/20/2013 4:44:51 PM , Rating: 2
i need office... on my PC. i don't care what OS my games play on. as long as this linux of theirs comes with an easy to use interface so the non-gamers/pc-ers can understand it, then i don't see the problem. remember, android is really just linux with a pretty face, and that's been doing rather well, wouldn't you say?

RE: They lost me at Linux
By FastEddieLB on 9/22/2013 12:21:01 AM , Rating: 2
Linux Mint comes with a remarkably user-friendly interface called Cinnamon and it comes pre-packaged with Libre Office, an open-source alternative to MS Office. Also available via the software center (which allows for one-click installation of programs) is Oracle's Open Office. The only thing that Linux doesn't have is OneNote, and if that's the thing holding you back I don't blame you, but if not, don't be scared of looking into Linux. You can even use a virtual machine or a live CD to try it out before you completely dismiss it as the antichrist of operating systems.

RE: They lost me at Linux
By troysavary on 9/20/2013 5:41:48 PM , Rating: 3
Because WINE emulation just doesn't cut it. Most games are not made for Linux, and I doubt Valve has the power by themselves to change that.

RE: They lost me at Linux
By Bubbacub on 9/21/2013 7:07:22 AM , Rating: 2
sorry but.....

wine is not an eumlator

p.s. office 2010 and almost all the games i want to play (admittedly i'm an old git that likes to play things like civ3 and panzer general 2) run rock solid under wine

RE: They lost me at Linux
By inighthawki on 9/20/2013 6:54:46 PM , Rating: 2
but otherwise why dismiss the Steam Box if all your games will run on it?

How exactly is it going to run "all" of my games? Last I checked, WINE could barely even run any DX11 titles, and still struggled with most DX9 apps.

RE: They lost me at Linux
By MooseMuffin on 9/20/2013 4:10:04 PM , Rating: 2
They're pitching it as a game console, not a computer. You'll never see anything except the game you're running or steam's big picture mode regardless of what OS its running.

RE: They lost me at Linux
By hpglow on 9/20/13, Rating: 0
RE: They lost me at Linux
By EnzoFX on 9/20/2013 4:17:03 PM , Rating: 3
For something that's meant for gaming, I think it's makes absolutely no sense to have a full-fledged, and fat ugly OS running on it. Secondly, I'm sure they'd rather not pay any licensing to MS, it's an avoidable cost. It simply needs to run the games, a stripped down, customized Linux makes complete sense, similar to what most hardware manufacturers do...

RE: They lost me at Linux
By inighthawki on 9/20/2013 5:15:47 PM , Rating: 1
One can look at it both ways. That license cost to Microsoft empowers users with a much larger and broader game library which would only enhance their sales figures, since more games would be available. They could easily swallow the cost of the license and make it up in sales via steam rather quickly. This is obviously not their goal, though. It's clear they want to push the Linux market, so that's what they went for.

RE: They lost me at Linux
By EnzoFX on 9/20/2013 5:56:27 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah. I think they want to be in control, they want to start defining so they are always in full control. They do not want to just be a Windows "promoter". They are clearly not seeking to just get Steam to run, and hope you run what's available. They want to move the entire platform forward. This is a big picture move, no pun intended lol. They will have more freedom with Linux, etc. etc.

RE: They lost me at Linux
By Motoman on 9/20/2013 5:21:14 PM , Rating: 1
The only benefit to Windows over Linux for a gaming system is game software support. Obviously only a tiny fraction of the world's popular PC games are available natively on Linux.

But if they port all the games to run natively on Linux...then who cares?

It's a game console. It's not an HTPC...or really a PC in any sense of the word. So unless you want to start arguing that the PS4 needs to be running Windows, you have no argument to make.

RE: They lost me at Linux
By ClownPuncher on 9/20/2013 6:30:08 PM , Rating: 2
Do you understand how big of a task it is to "port" all of the games to Linux?

RE: They lost me at Linux
By ResStellarum on 9/20/2013 10:47:47 PM , Rating: 4
Do you understand how big of a task it is to "port" all of the games to Linux?

Most new games coming out these days are multiplatform by default. Valve has already ported the Source engine, along with Half Life, Portal, LFD2, Team Fortress, and others to GNU/Linux.

The Steambox is a great idea, because, just like the Xbox, PS, etc, Game developers will start targeting it, which means all those games will automatically run on the Linux desktop too. That's a compelling reason to develop for it.

There's no need to be binary compatible with Windows any more using things like WINE. We get real Linux games now thanks to Valve.

It's funny how people are commenting that they expect the whole catalogue of Windows games to be available from day one. When the Xbone and PS4 come out, they won't automatically run every Windows PC game either, but I don't see anyone complaining. That's because new games coming out will support them, just like they will the Steambox. It will be a complete non-issue in time.

RE: They lost me at Linux
By Piiman on 9/21/2013 1:54:31 PM , Rating: 2
There's no need to be binary compatible with Windows any more using things like WINE. We get real Linux games now thanks to Valve."

Only if it sells, BIG.

RE: They lost me at Linux
By Bubbacub on 9/21/2013 7:16:16 AM , Rating: 2
its a big deal but not as big as it would have been before the consoles became the target hardware for 99% of developers.

direct x is the main thing keeping pc gaming on windows.

all game developers have an open gl like render pathway (for ps3 porting) given the way in which most pc's have much more rendering power than an xbox 360/ps3 even a quick dirty inefficient port would run smmothly.

valve could also offer developers a rebate on the cut they have to pay to valve if they offer a linux client as a way of encouraging such ports.

other mechanisms for getting a quick linux port include packaging wine into the build e.g. the eve online linux client (now discontued) was the wintel code packaged into wine - it ran with a double click and no hassles.

RE: They lost me at Linux
By Motoman on 9/21/2013 9:02:17 AM , Rating: 2
Yup. Do you understand that they're actually doing it?

RE: They lost me at Linux
By ClownPuncher on 9/23/2013 1:48:35 PM , Rating: 2
No, they aren't. They are allowing streaming from Windows PC's to Steambox for all games that don't play well with compatibility layers.

RE: They lost me at Linux
By Motoman on 9/25/2013 1:04:33 PM , Rating: 2
It appears that that may be which case I call shenanigans.

RE: They lost me at Linux
By ppardee on 9/24/2013 5:04:03 PM , Rating: 2
You wouldn't expect Steam to port the games, but if the original game was programmed well, it isn't that big of a deal. The direct interaction with the OS and DirectX should be pretty well abstracted and you'd simply have to write a new provider for the OS-specific methods and graphics API calls. Shouldn't take more than a 100 man-hours of work per game to code and test (assuming they're doing TDD, but what fools wouldn't be doing TDD??) The ROI on something like that is pretty good if it's a fairly new game since you've opened up a whole new market.

If the game was programmed poorly, yeah, you're screwt.

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