Editorial

Valve needs to start small to have success with SteamOS and Steam Machines

Nearly two years ago, I wrote an editorial that was based on the rumors that were surrounding Valve at that time; those reports claimed the company behind great game titles like Half-Life, Portal and Left 4 Dead were working on plans for a "Steam Box". At that time, those stories claimed that Valve was chatting with hardware makers to develop a PC that would be small enough to connect to a living room TV, much like a game console, and would use Valve's Steam download service to deliver games. In that editorial I wrote, "It should be able to combine the best aspects of a PC (open system, upgradable hardware, more games and game innovation) with the advantages of a console (small form factor, playable on big screen, more easily affordable)."

In the fall of 2013, Valve revealed more information on their PC hardware plans, which are now being labeled as Steam Machines (I prefer the term Steam Box but that's just me). It has also shown off its prototype Steam Controller, with its touch pads replacing the typical analog sticks. The most interesting development is the fact that Valve is making SteamOS, its own operating system for running games based on a Linux variant.

Since then, Valve has launched the first public version of its SteamOS for anyone to install and try out on their own PC. It also shipped 300 Steam Machine and Steam Controller prototypes it created in-house to a select few beta testers. This past week at CES 2014, the company announced that 14 third party PC makers would release Steam Machines of their own sometime in 2014.

All in all, the announcements that have come out of Valve in the last few months have been something of a disappointment to me compared to my optimistic hopes in 2012. While the Steam Controller looks like it will be a cool and different way to play PC games in a living room setting, the third party Steam Machines, and especially the push for SteamOS, feels like Valve is a long way away from getting PCs to be a staple of the big screen compared to dedicated game consoles like the Xbox One and PS4.

Costs and features of Steam Machines

One of the big problems is the prices and hardware specs for Steam Machines that have been announced. While not all of the third party companies are willing to reveal just what will be inside their cases or what their costs will be like (most notably the Steam Machine coming from Dell's Alienware division), the range of prices so far are between $499 and $6,000 (Valve has not indicated if it has a minimal set of hardware specs for the third party product). In other words, the cheapest Steam Machine that we know of is the same price as the Xbox One and $100 more expensive than the PS4. Granted, you have access to many more games with Steam Machines under the Linux-based SteamOS, but none of them are the current bestsellers that the PS4 and Xbox One already offer and it's unlikely that games like the Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty or Battlefield series will support SteamOS.

Valve has also announced that Steam Machines will be able to stream Windows PC games from a local networked desktop or laptop, but we would imagine that kind of set up is less than ideal for gamers who don't want to experience lag issues. That's maybe why many of the third party Steam Machine makers have already announced that users can have the option to dual boot to a Windows OS on these products.  In other words, the best Steam Machines will have Windows already installed, which means that if these PCs turn out to be popular among consumers, the biggest beneficiary might not be Valve, but Microsoft. The folks in Redmond would love to see many new Windows desktop PCs sold in homes, especially now, and if a lot of Steam Machines are sold, that likely means more people are using their OS.

Steam Machines no different from small form factor PCs

Based on what we currently know about the Steam Machines that are coming out, they seem to offer nothing new, in terms of hardware and prices, than the many small form factor PCs that have already been out in the market, running Windows, for quite some time. Indeed, many of the Steam Machines announced at CES 2014 are simply boxes that have already been sold as Windows PCs, such as Falcon Northwest's Tiki model.

The ideal "Steam Machine" will be small PCs running the Windows client of Steam in Big Picture mode, with access to thousands of games, including many of the big releases that will also be ported to the Xbox One and PS4. Those PCs will also offer a way to access even more games that are not available on Steam, such as many titles from Electronic Arts (which has their own Origin service), the best selling games from Blizzard and the hit MOBA game League of Legends. Indeed, one of the biggest indie PC games of all time, Minecraft, is still offered as a simple download via an old fashioned web page and is not available on any games download service, including Steam.

All of this can be accomplished right now with the many small desktop PCs that are readily available. The fact that there has been little movement in this area of PC hardware shows that the public needs to be convinced that having such a system hooked up to their big screen living room television is a good idea, and so far Valve has not done anything to change this mindset.

Does Valve see Microsoft and Windows 8 as a threat?

So why is Steam pushing so hard for these third party Steam Machines and SteamOS when history tells us there's little interest in living room-based gaming PCs? In his very brief address during the Steam Machines CES 2014 press event, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell indicated that the PC ecosystem was an open one and the company wanted it to remain that way. That would seem to hint that Valve is concerned that Microsoft has moved towards a closed garden approach with the launch of Windows 8 in 2012 and its Windows Store, where Modern UI apps and games can be directly downloaded, much like the iOS App Store and Android's Google Play. That would also suggest that Valve sees such a system as a threat to Steam's online store.

There's one small problem with that scenario happening for PCs; there's no indication at all that Microsoft is going to move to a completely closed system where Windows would fully control the app download experience. Indeed, I strongly suspect that if Microsoft even hinted at such a move, there would be such an outcry among both software developers and consumers against that kind of system that the company would be forced to do a 180, much like it did with the Xbox One DRM and used games policies.

Valve will try to convince game developers to port their games to SteamOS later this week when it holds its Steam Dev Days conference in Seattle. This event is closed to the public and press, which means Valve will likely be revealing lots of development information to prospective game creators that it hopes won't be revealed on the Internet. We suspect that Valve will be trying to convince game developers that working with SteamOS is better for them than Windows because it is supposed to be an "open" platform.

What's interesting about this idea is that the current Steam download service itself is anything but open. That's actually one of the reasons why Steam now has over 65 million accounts and over 7 million concurrent users playing games every day. Valve chooses which games to publish on Steam and offers game developers an easy way to update their games automatically, much like the Windows Store does. It also makes it easy for consumers to purchase, download and update games and form communities around those titles in one place. In other words, Steam is a closed system.

Steam's massive success is due to the fact that Valve gained most of those 65 million users by working inside Microsoft's Windows ecosystem. It offers a Windows client to download and purchase games and the vast majority of titles on Steam are offered exclusively on Microsoft's operating systems, with just a small fraction available via Mac or Linux. In fact, it was recently revealed that Steam users who have either Windows 8 or 8.1 installed now take up just over 20 percent of all Steam users, despite repeated statements by Newell slamming Windows 8.

Yet, Newell and Valve now want to work outside Windows with SteamOS and the 14 third party Steam Machines and, based on their CES 204 announcement, they would be much better off releasing a Modern UI Steam client, which we think would be a massive hit on the Windows Store.

Did Valve already run into issues with a Steam Machine maker?

There's some evidence that Valve's approach for SteamOS and Steam Machines didn't work for a company that Valve actually worked with to create a prototype PC. At CES 2013, a PC maker named Xi3 announced that Valve had invested money in their company to help develop a "Steam Box" and Valve showed one of Xi3's prototype PISTON cases. The tiny enclosure seemed to be the perfect design for what Valve had in mind for its hardware. A couple of months later, Valve said it was no longer involved with Xi3 or their PISTON PC. In response, Xi3 said their computer was designed specially for Valve but that it would launch with a version of Windows. Xi3 did indeed launch the PISTON PC in November with Windows 7. It would appear on the surface that Xi3 didn't have much confidence in Valve's Linux-based SteamOS and would rather work within the much bigger, and more established Windows ecosystem.

Valve needs to step back and start small, like they did with Steam

Valve's SteamOS and third party Steam Machine announcements at CES 2014 last week offered little in the way of why anyone would want to break away from Microsoft's Windows platform to play games in the living room. There's no indication that PC developers will be switching over from Windows to SteamOS and Valve has said that it has no plans to offer its own Steam Machines for sale. In other words, Valve is going to let the many PC makers, and presumably the software developers who make games for SteamOS, take a lot of the risk up front.

There has been some Internet chatter that Valve has a long term plan for SteamOS and the third party Steam Machines. If that's indeed the case, Valve would be much better off by just offering one Steam Machine, either made in-house or created by one third party company under Valve's supervision, that has SteamOS installed. Valve started the Steam service in the same way 10 years ago; it only offered Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike Source for purchase and download. It learned from the mistakes made by that small launch and now it has grown the service so that it has become the single biggest supplier of downloadable PC games.

This idea of flooding the market with tons of different third party Steam Machine models all at once, some of which will run Windows as well as SteamOS, is the exact opposite of how Valve handled its Steam launch. In my opinion, its new approach is doomed to fail and quite frankly it feels like Valve is desperate to get SteamOS and these outside Steam Machines sold as quickly as possible. Slow and steady moves generally win races over the long haul, but at the moment, Valve seems to be racing to get Steam Machines out the door and it could easily trip before the finish line is reached.

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Max Norris said,

The entire Office suite isn't even remotely as complex as a developer's IDE, not even close.

Are you sure you are a programmer? This is just so wrong I don't even know where to start.
Max Norris said,
And again, how is that even going to work? Going to cram a bajillion buttons onto a toolbar? What about completely wrecking compatibility with hundreds of third party addons? What about all the dialogs/windows/views that extensions add? Your actual text editor is going to be a small one inch square once all is said and done, ignoring the stuff that's not even available anymore.

Your realize plug-ins for Office are far more widely used than Visual Studio plug-ins, yet there is a Metro version coming. Word is all about the text editor, yet a Metro version of Word is coming. Metro doesn't mean you can't use a keyboard.
Max Norris said,

Maybe our understanding of "saying that" differs, but that sure sounded like a prediction of the desktop disappearing to me. I get the "hedge" idea, but even if Valve says it (and Gabe's said lots of silly things lately), flawed is flawed. If anything it sounds more like fearmongering hoping to fill a need that doesn't even exist, never mind at the end of the day do you think they'll even care of people care about the Windows or SteamOS debate? Doesn't mean jack to them as a sale is a sale, regardless of which platform it's on.

Way to take a quote completely out of context. Maybe that's it, you're a politician not a programmer. Now add in the lines immediately before that quote that you conveniently cut out:

"Lets say Windows 8 was a phenomenal success. (Valve didn't know how it was going to do when they started developing SteamOS/Steam Machines). Over the life of Windows 8 more and more people moved more and more apps to Metro/Modern."

"Lets say" clearly begins a hypothetical. What hypothetical was that? The one where "Windows 8 was a phenomenal success". Then I go on to describe what MS wanted to do. Now Windows 8 was most certainly NOT a phenomenal success, but again Valve and MS didn't know that beforehand, and so MS has had to revise their plan and rumors are that Windows 9 will once again be more non-metro "desktop" app focused.

Asmodai said,
Are you sure you are a programmer? This is just so wrong I don't even know where to start.

Yup, some 35 years, somewhat working right now as I chuckle over this. Go ahead and start. Seriously. Compare the "complexity" of a word processor with a full blown development suite.

Asmodai said,
Your realize plug-ins for Office are far more widely used than Visual Studio plug-ins, yet there is a Metro version coming.

You realize those plugins won't work anymore either, right? Brilliant.

Asmodai said,
"Lets say" clearly begins a hypothetical. Maybe that's it, you're a politician not a programmer.

Yes.... I can read, especially the hypothetical part you're clearing backpedaling on now.

Max Norris said,

Yup, some 35 years, somewhat working right now as I chuckle over this. Go ahead and start. Seriously. Compare the "complexity" of a word processor with a full blown development suite.

Not Word, the ENTIRE SUITE. All of the applications combined, not any single one. Combined they all have huge plug-in support, lots of menus (which clearly is a big thing for you - as if the number of menus are a good measure of complexity, rofl), etc. Try again.
Max Norris said,

You realize those plugins won't work anymore either, right? Brilliant.

That would be my point genius. You implied that MS would not make a version of Visual Studio because it would break the visual studio plug-ins. I was pointing out that the fact that they are going to break all of the Office plug-ins isn't stopping them from making a Metro version of Office. Breaking plug-in compatibility is clearly not something that is going to stop Microsoft from making a Metro version of an app. Try again.
Max Norris said,

Yes.... I can read, especially the hypothetical part you're clearing backpedaling on now.

I'm not backpedaling on anything. You took a quote completely out of context to support your incorrect claim and got called on it. Try again.

Asmodai said,
Not Word, the ENTIRE SUITE. All of the applications combined, not any single one. Combined they all have huge plug-in support, lots of menus (which clearly is a big thing for you - as if the number of menus are a good measure of complexity, rofl), etc. Try again.

Nor are they one gigantic application but a bunch of smaller ones. Again, pick any one in the suite and honestly compare it to a development suite instead of "rofl" or insults as an answer, tell me all the complexities of what Word's doing in the background versus the bajillion things that VS is doing. Tell me how they're going to implement all that functionality in whatever interface they're going to come up with. Hint, the smaller office applications are all compacted into the ribbon... there's a reason Visual Studio doesn't have a ribbon interface. Try again, still waiting.

Asmodai said,
That would be my point genius. You implied that MS would not make a version of Visual Studio because it would break the visual studio plug-ins. I was pointing out that the fact that they are going to break all of the Office plug-ins isn't stopping them from making a Metro version of Office.

Right, a "metro version" of Office, which they give away for free with the devices to begin with. Not a $4000-$13000+ programming suite. Big difference. Think a crippled version of that's going to sell well? Think this through, "genius". Free Modern watered down version of Express? Mayyyyyybe for the hobbyists to mess with, a professional won't touch it, I'd wager money on it.

Asmodai said,
You took a quote completely out of context to support your incorrect claim and got called on it. Try again.

Ummm, no, I didn't. I based my replies on what you said, even quoting the bits, sorry. All you've done is repeated the same "predictions" over and over, tossed a few poor attempts at insults, and not actually proven, well, anything. "Well I do this for a living so obviously I know what I'm talking about" doesn't exactly cut it either.

Max Norris said,

Nor are they one gigantic application but a bunch of smaller ones.

At no point did I say they were, try again.
Max Norris said,
Again, pick any one in the suite and honestly compare it to a development suite instead of "rofl" or insults as an answer, tell me all the complexities of what Word's doing in the background versus the bajillion things that VS is doing. Tell me how they're going to implement all that functionality in whatever interface they're going to come up with.

Again, at no point did I say any single application was more complex then Visual Studio. I said the ENTIRE SUITE (of separate applications) COMBINED is probably similar. I have no idea why this is so difficult for you to understand.
Max Norris said,
Ummm, no, I didn't. I based my replies on what you said, even quoting the bits, sorry.

Completely out of context so that their meaning was completely different.

Max Norris said,
Well I do this for a living so obviously I know what I'm talking about" doesn't exactly cut it either.

That was just proving you don't know what your talking about when you said "if you've actually used Visual Studio or another professional IDE in a production environment you'd understand why this is probably the worst idea ever." because I do in fact use Visual Studio in a production environment. You're the one who brought that up, not me, I just fixed your mistake about my experience, try again.

Asmodai said,
Again, at no point did I say any single application was more complex then Visual Studio. I said the ENTIRE SUITE (of separate applications) COMBINED is probably similar. I have no idea why this is so difficult for you to understand.

Ok... so a bunch of applications grouped together might be about as complicated as the single program that we were talking about. Is that what you're saying? If so.... that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Throw on Paint, Windows Media Player and a few other applications in there to pad it up some more while you're at it. Still means jack.

Asmodai said,
because I do in fact use Visual Studio in a production environment. You're the one who brought that up, not me, I just fixed your mistake, try again.

I rather doubt that as if you really did, beyond a hobbyist at least (or more likely just trolling as I suspect), you'd instantly know exactly what's wrong with what you're trying to suggest and how spectacularly bad it would be to work with. "Try again?" Ummmm yea ok, I can just repeat that previous point if it'll make you feel any better... but you've still not actually proven otherwise.

This is getting really tiresome going around in circles with nothing but predictions, anecdotes, my supposedly taking your quotes out of context (even though it's perfectly obvious what you were saying) and "I know what I'm talking about because I said so." Come back with a real response please, I'm done wasting my time.

Asmodai said,

I didn't say the desktop machine was going to die. I just said it's not driving Microsoft future OS development because it's share is decreasing while what you call mobile is rising. MS doesn't want a mobile OS and a PC OS. They want to merge them and have one OS. It's very shortsighted of you to cling so strongly to the distinction. Soon 64bit ARM CPUs will start showing up in servers. No, they aren't going to destroy Intel but they'll probably sell well enough to continue being developed. MS will sell WIndows Servers for these systems (based off Windows RT... Windows on ARM) and they won't run desktop apps because they're ARM. Just like Microsoft used to sell Windows Server for MIPS and Alpha back in the day and they couldn't run normal "Desktop" apps either.

Actually, if Microsoft releases a version of Windows Server for ARM anytime soon I expect it would have to be allowed to run third party win32 and .NET applications (what I assume you are referring to when you say "desktop apps"), compiled for ARM of course, or it'd probably not be very useful for anything past maybe hosting simple Microsoft services that come bundled with it. But even if all you wanted to run was bundled MS services, how are you supposed to load a backup agent on it if third party apps aren't supported? I highly doubt anyone is going to be porting their server software to the winrt api anytime soon.

And those non-Intel versions of Windows NT you speak of... I'm pretty sure they also ran win32 applications as well, again it just would have to be compiled for the proper CPU. Maybe when you say "normal desktop apps" you're implying x86-compiled win32 apps?

domboy said,
Maybe when you say "normal desktop apps" you're implying x86-compiled win32 apps?

Yes, the issue being discussed in that comment was MS breaking backwards compatibility. I'm sorry if I didn't make that clear, I assumed using the older MIPS and Alpha examples would clarify (they obviously significantly predate Metro.) The point being that MS is almost certainly going to release a version of Windows for servers (i.e. not mobile) that doesn't run the vast majority of existing Windows software (something Max seems to think would never happen, especially for professional software) Sure they don't HAVE to use Metro, maybe (probably in the very first version) they will just recompile everything for ARM but just because you can just recompile your app for ARM and it will work doesn't mean most 3rd party software will. Even if they do if it's a commercial application they probably aren't going to just give it to existing customers for free, you'll likely have to upgrade to the newer version that adds ARM support. So if you're running an x86 Windows Server today and you upgrade to an ARM Windows Server in the future then very few (if any) of the apps you have will work. You may be able to get new versions of them, maybe those new versions will just be recompiled Win32 for ARM but MS hopes that many will take the opportunity to rewrite the GUI components in Metro. Lets keep that in mind as well, every app doesn't have to be completely rewritten for Metro. Metro is primarily a GUI language. Server services don't have to be rewritten to support it, nor do command line tools like compilers, nor do many libraries where most of the logic of complex software tends to reside. Only the GUI elements have to be replaced and while that certainly isn't going to happen over night (I'm not suggesting every 3rd party server software company is suddenly going to rewrite all their GUIs the instant Windows Server on ARM is released) that is the direction MS would like to see people go over time. Metro is not intended to be only ever used for lightweight apps.

Max Norris said,
So dropping ancient 16 bit support in the x64 build is a sign that the desktop is disappearing?

Asmodai said,
No, that's not what I said at all. I was just using it as an example of how MS has in the past dropped support for applications people use, that were at one point the most widely used type of application, after newer technologies have come around. You made it seem like such a thing was impossible and MS would never do it but they have.

I don't think this is such a great example to demonstrate MS' supposed sudden lack of commitment to maintaining software backwards compatibility, simply because in this case they were forced to do so due to a hardware issue. Adding 16-bit app support to a 64-bit OS would have meant developing a complete 16-bit CPU emulator, and this was obviously deemed to be not worth it given the tiny number of users still using such old apps. Moreover they did provide Virtual PC in case people still wanted to run older OSes and programs. In all other cases though MS still bends over backwards most of the time to allow older apps to still run, including going so far as to fix errors in them at run time.

Asmodai said,
If Windows 8 sold like hotcakes and Metro/Modern was embraced by the user base Visual Studio would have gone metro in a version or two.

You can speculate all you want but I don't believe this would have ever happened. First, you can't really compare the complexity of an entire suite of programs to a single IDE like Visual Studio. Second, I highly doubt the Metro Office apps will be as complex as their desktop counterparts, or provide every single function the latter do. Third, and this is important, it might actually be ok for the Metro apps to be less complex. Why? Because even now very few people use or ever know about all the features/cruft the Office apps have accumulated over the years. Excising these would result in very few complaints, if at all. I bet the same can't be said about VS though. Metrofying such a complex beast so it still looks good and is easy to use and retains all the existing features would be an impossible task IMO, and I have no doubt there'll be howls of protest from developers if things were left out. Just my opinion though, and I look forward to comparing the Metro Office apps with their desktop counterparts once the former are released.

Unless Valve pulls the Windows client completely (which would result in them losing almost all business), most gamers are going to stick with the Windows client, if for nothing else than the need to play popular games from Origin or Uplay or other services.

The price is another sticking point.

It is clear that Newell's nightmare of a Windows Store monopoly... isn't near realistic, and his response seems to be to make a monopoly of his own. Seems counter-intuitive.

Create a monopoly? He is trying to *maintain* his monopoly. Steam is already the biggest place I get games, own games, and play games. There are few exceptions like Battlefield, Mass Effect 3 (1 and 2 are on Steam), and Starcraft.

What will wind up being funny is Valve launches this OS and it gets hacked, and now they have to turn into a security company in order to maintain it.

Shyatic said,
Create a monopoly? He is trying to *maintain* his monopoly. Steam is already the biggest place I get games, own games, and play games. There are few exceptions like Battlefield, Mass Effect 3 (1 and 2 are on Steam), and Starcraft.

What will wind up being funny is Valve launches this OS and it gets hacked, and now they have to turn into a security company in order to maintain it.

I don't think you really understand how GNU/Linux works do you.

99% of the "OS" is maintained by upstream.

No, the KERNEL is maintained upstream. Additions to make it a specific fork (ie, SteamOS) are *not* maintained upstream, they are maintained at the fork. So this is why Ubuntu/Red Hat and other organizations provide enterprise support (at a high cost, by the way) for their OSes.

I don't think you know how Linux works. Just because it is open source doesn't mean that it will be highly maintained by default.

Shyatic said,
No, the KERNEL is maintained upstream. Additions to make it a specific fork (ie, SteamOS) are *not* maintained upstream, they are maintained at the fork. So this is why Ubuntu/Red Hat and other organizations provide enterprise support (at a high cost, by the way) for their OSes.

I don't think you know how Linux works. Just because it is open source doesn't mean that it will be highly maintained by default.

The only addition they've made is a customised compositor which ties into the Steam client itself, the rest of it is maintained upstream.

Also FYI, SteamOS - not targeted at enterprises surprisingly enough.

So yeah, I don't think you know how this works.

Athernar said,

The only addition they've made is a customised compositor which ties into the Steam client itself, the rest of it is maintained upstream.

Also FYI, SteamOS - not targeted at enterprises surprisingly enough.

So yeah, I don't think you know how this works.

Their customized "layer" still has network access as well as other features for streaming, etc... lots of security endpoints. Not saying that it will be insecure, but OS development is not Valve's forte, and when you buy a Steambox, people will expect support for it because they are buying it from an OEM. It will just be an interesting proposition is all, especially considering the cost of support from Ubuntu/Red Hat.

Shyatic said,
Their customized "layer" still has network access as well as other features for streaming, etc... lots of security endpoints. Not saying that it will be insecure, but OS development is not Valve's forte, and when you buy a Steambox, people will expect support for it because they are buying it from an OEM. It will just be an interesting proposition is all, especially considering the cost of support from Ubuntu/Red Hat.

Your original statement was that the "OS would get hacked and they'd have to become a security company".

I.e You were implying Valve would have to actively maintain an entire OS themselves.

I quite rightly pointed out that the vast majority of SteamOS is developed and maintained upstream and not by Valve. The exception being the custom compositor of course, but the burden of maintaining that is really no bigger than the one they currently have with maintaining the Steam client itself.

Athernar said,

Your original statement was that the "OS would get hacked and they'd have to become a security company".

I.e You were implying Valve would have to actively maintain an entire OS themselves.

I quite rightly pointed out that the vast majority of SteamOS is developed and maintained upstream and not by Valve. The exception being the custom compositor of course, but the burden of maintaining that is really no bigger than the one they currently have with maintaining the Steam client itself.


Valve forked Debian 7. That means that they have to, themselves, work in any revisions that are upstream into a product they now have to support -- a full OS. SteamOS won't get security updates or patches from Debian, they have to come from Valve and merged into their code.

Yes, Valve will have to maintain an OS themselves. They won't actively maintain the kernel, but they will have to manage the merges from upstream fixes into their own fork. That is managing an OS, as far as I'm concerned.

As for maintaining the app layer -- you're likely right, it won't be too complex. But honestly I don't see it getting a huge following to begin with, so they might follow the Apple model; security through obscurity.

Shyatic said,

Valve forked Debian 7. That means that they have to, themselves, work in any revisions that are upstream into a product they now have to support -- a full OS. SteamOS won't get security updates or patches from Debian, they have to come from Valve and merged into their code.

Yes, Valve will have to maintain an OS themselves. They won't actively maintain the kernel, but they will have to manage the merges from upstream fixes into their own fork. That is managing an OS, as far as I'm concerned.

As for maintaining the app layer -- you're likely right, it won't be too complex. But honestly I don't see it getting a huge following to begin with, so they might follow the Apple model; security through obscurity.

Uh, that's not maintaining - that's just keeping packages up to date. This notion of "maintenance" fits with your initial statement of Valve having to become a "security company".

Maintaining would be actively writing and patching code. Not merely, compiling packages from the latest upstream source with some patches. (also from upstream or elsewhere)

This strategy complements their Windows and OS X software, it doesn't take away from it. Just an area where Valve is more flexible. They will still support their other platforms.

Steam Box is for people who want a console experience and don't want to have to mess with a PC. All software, driver, and OS updates are curated by Valve and geared toward gaming performance. Some people also want a dedicated platform, if your PC gets a problem and you need to troubleshoot, your Steam Box still works.

The games will come in time. Developers who make games on Mac, PS4, and Android, will all be familiar with the way a unix-like OS with OpenGL works. Windows and Xbox are the odd ones out using DirectX. SteamOS has to be built first for the devs to target the platform, and is still in beta, but it's almost there. The games will come. Don't forget you are free to install Windows. Valve doesn't care as long as you use the Steam store.

As for the streaming, if it works as well as PS Vita, Wii U, and nVidia Shield, then lag won't be an issue.

This makes no logical sense because the SteamBox *IS* a PC. It just runs a different OS that by the way -- has no proper support mechanisms, no security history, etc. It is a version of Linux and as such, can be prone to "problems" just as much as a PC can. The only benefit is that the interactivity from a user into a SteamBox will likely be limited to just controller/remote input, but RAM can still go bad, a board can burn out, graphics card driver might crash, etc... all the things that can happen to a PC.

And people don't "mess with PCs" any more -- unless they are on Windows XP or something. Windows 8 OEM PCs are pretty simple and you don't "mess" with it at all.

It's different because they don't care about supporting the software environment for apps, just the games. All of the updates/drivers/interface is geared towards the games and tested with that in mind. You'll be more sure an update doesn't break the games because that's the primary purpose. If there's an issue that affects the games, they will focus on it right away. They are primarily paying attention to game performance, the games don't take a back seat.

"Steam Machines no different from small form factor PCs"
This heading right here can't make for an argument, the components from the 8th gen consoles and prior are essentially small form factor PCs, especially since MS and Sony are using the x86 architecture. So it can run Windows too, that's great.

What this article fails to address is that PCs aside the consumer conscious ones who built gaming ready machines never began to address the market for small boxes near big TVs except for HTPCs. Valve is basically doing the work to collaborate with different vendors that use those PC components. Most of what we've seen is the steam machine prototype gradually being detailed more and more as time progresses, the marketing honestly has not even started.

The R9 270 is such a great card to bundle in, it certainly demolishes the Xbox One's graphical output. My take is that Valve should start first with the $499 SKU and let the focus be on that box so developers don't have to worry about the configurations too much, let them work on getting the most out of it. I realize it's not such a big problem adjusting for multiple configurations like it use to be but if they see the market has demand for even higher powered SKUs sure I can see them shipping a little later.

Steam Dev Days are today and tomorrow, not "later this week".

Oh, and they don't choose what games to publish on Steam either, that's covered by Greenlight.

Chock full of inaccuracies? Check. Drowning in pro-Microsoft bias? Check.

Yup, it's a Callaham article. Maybe you should call out Notch again and get told where to shove it.

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