Is Valve's Linux gamble over Windows 8 a shot in the dark?

Is Valve's Linux gamble over Windows 8 a shot in the dark?

Summary: While there's a lot not to like about Windows 8, there's not much for gamers -- or gaming companies -- need to worry about.

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Gabe Newell, co-founder and managing director of the video game development and online distribution company Valve, thinks that Windows 8 will be "a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space," and is looking to Linux as a hedging strategy in case Windows 8 disrupts the success of the Valve gaming portal.

Newell believes that the roadblock keeping gamers away from adopting Linux as their operating system of choice is a lack of games for the platform, so his company plans to bring a selection of titles -- including the popular Left 4 Dead 2 -- in an attempt to lure gamers to the free and open source platform.

Newell's fear is that Windows 8, with the introduction of the Metro user interface and the new Windows Store -- which will be the only place users can buy Metro apps -- will make Windows even more of a closed platform, and that this will have a serious knock-on effect of Valve's business.

I'm no fan of Windows 8. I believe that the mish-mash of classis user interface and the newer touch-enabled Metro user interface results in a design disaster that could sink the new operating system, and I believe that Microsoft is running out of time to fix this mess.

That said, I'm not sure why Newell is so worried about Windows 8.

First, users will be free to install the Steam gaming platform -- or for that matter, any other compatible software -- on Intel x86 versions of Windows 8. Users will be able to install anything and everything they want with no restrictions or meddling from Microsoft. The lock-down only applies to the Metro apps, not regular applications. Outside of the app ecosystem, Windows remains on the most part as open as it ever used to be.

It's business -- pretty much -- as usual.

Another point worth considering about Windows 8 is that the platform is actually very good for gaming. I benchmarked both the Windows 8 Consumer Preview and the Windows 8 Release Preview and found that Windows 8 was a solid gaming platform with performance on the whole en par with Windows 7. As AMD and Nvidia graphics drivers become more mature, the gaming performance offered by Windows 8 is likely to improve.

Gamers don't really have much to worry about in terms of gaming performance by making the switch to Windows 8

Finally, even if Windows 8 is a "catastrophe," it shouldn't matter too much to the likes of Valve. Windows Vista was a flop, but that just meant that people -- including gamers -- stuck with Windows XP for longer. People didn't feel the need to move to Linux back then, and it's unlikely that they will be motivated to do so this time around.

However, some do believe that Windows 8 will give Linux a chance. ZDNet's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols believes that the gamble Microsoft is taking with Windows 8, along with the way the company has upset hardware partners by wading into the hardware business, will encourage hardware vendors to take a look at Linux as it looks to boost razor thin margins.

"Heck," writes Vaughan-Nichols, "thanks to [Microsoft CEO] Ballmer's desktop and partner missteps maybe we finally will see a year of the Linux desktop after all."

As much as I'd like to see Linux rise from the depths of obscurity to give Microsoft and Windows a serious run for its money, it's just not going to happen -- at least not any time soon -- in my view. There are just too many factors working against Linux for it to gain any serious traction on desktop or notebook platforms. For that matter, given the tepid reception that Android has received on tablet devices, that platform may not be suited to Linux either.

The reason comes down to a single issue: compatibility.

When people buy a Windows license, they're not just buying the right to use operating system on a specific piece of hardware; they're also buying a warm and fuzzy feeling of security that most of the hardware and software they ran on the old operating system will continue to work on the new operating system.

Adding a few Linux-compatible games to the Steam download portal is unlikely to change that.

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Linux, Microsoft, Operating Systems

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163 comments
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  • What does Linux have?

    Next to nothing. For an OS that has little third party support, poor hardware support (Depending on which distro you use), no MS Office support, no support for either SkyDrive or iCloud, no support for mainstream Windows apps (No, WINE does NOT count), and a mess of a file system; Linux isn't going anywhere. Adding Steam to to the OS isn't going to fix it's shortcomings. It's a mess of epic proportions. SJVN and Gabe are living in a dream world, it's time to come back to reality.

    Plus Gabe is missing one thing: the inclusion of XBox Live to Windows 8. Any serious XBox gamer is going to love that, and if not, will stick to using Windows 7. They're not going to reformat just because Windows 8 is on the market.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • What does Linux have?

      I'm not sure if you've used Linux a lot.
      Popular distros surely have lots of support. Ubuntu has official support, and with forums and Google, you can find support for all popular distros.
      And it's utterly ignorant to criticise Linux for poor hardware support. It has the best hardware support - it supports any current hardware, except for proprietary ones, which you can still download and install drivers for.
      You can get SkyDrive online. And lots of other services. You can sync using Dropbox. And if you aren't using Apple products you wouldn't be expecting iCloud anyway.
      For MSO you have alternatives. Even you want MSO you can WINE - why doesn't it count? As long as it works, there you have it.
      As for the filesystem, how much of a mess is it? Every FS we have is comparable to each other. The only difference is in Windows you have drives and in Linux you have only one root - which is even simpler. Go ask any Mac users whether their filesystem, which is UNIX-like, is a mess. Furthermore, you cannot dismiss the performance of the ext file systems.
      There you go. What does Linux have? A hell lot. And it's evolving at a quick pace.
      15israellai
      • @15israellai

        If people are so unhappy with windows that they move to linux I doubt they will do so, because they can run wine to run windows. That is what I think someone means when they say "wine doesn't count".

        I think what really highlights the difficulty of convincing average users to move to linux is the lack of a 30 second speech about the O/S. If linux were a 30 second commercial what would it say that would peek the interest of an average user?

        When I read pro-linux comments (and I'm not anti-linux) it is almost always dominated by high level tech reasons that a typical user will not relate with. They are not going to care what the underlying file system runs, just what the computer can do for them.
        Emacho
        • The 30-second commercial

          The commercial statement raises a good point. For the average Joe & Sally consumer who doesn't religiously follow computer technology, they may not even know Linux exists as an option to Windows and Apple. There will have to be some kind of major shift that brings Linux onto the consumers' radar before it will take off. I think if you told them they'd first need to decide on a specific distro and an operating environment (KDE, Gnome, etc.) they'd throw up their hands and run right back to MS or Apple. Consumers are looking for something they know and are comfortable with. With that said, Linux talks work to get up to speed again. This may also be a reason why Windows 8 may turn out to be a dud commercially in that it strays away from people's comfort zone.
          jrbales@...
          • The 30-second commercial

            Sorry, I can't type. I meant to type "With that said, Linux takes work to get up to speed again." For enthusiasts (I include myself in that arena as I like tinkering with Linux and BSD) learning a new OS if fun! For Joe & Jane sixpack, it's like a root canal.
            jrbales@...
          • Replying to this guy...

            Who replied to another guy...who replied to the first idiot, just so it's visible.

            This could be huge, because gamers have no idea what their hardware is capable of without the kilograms of overhead that Windows piles on top of their poor computers. This could, quite seriously, turn gaming on its ear. Running a game on Linux could well be light running it on Windows on next year's hardware.
            thebaldguy
        • Here is your 30-second speech if hardware/software adopt Linux too

          Price of PC/laptop/tablet with Windows: $600. Price of PC/laptop/tablet without Windows: $500.

          And as a bonus, here is a 30-second response to the counter-point that there is no software:

          Most of the software companies are offering Linux compatibility Linux because they dont want to pay the Microsoft Store tax.
          nategator
          • Also...

            And here is your closing 5-second pitch:

            Plus, no Metro!
            nategator
          • Yeah

            ....And it isn't from Microsoft....
            Fri13
          • Huh?

            nategator wrote:
            "Price of PC/laptop/tablet with Windows: $600. Price of PC/laptop/tablet without Windows: $500.

            Actually, because of economy of scale, Windows PCs, with the same hardware, are cheaper than PCs with desktop Linux pre-installed. Just look at SJVN's latest article on Dell's forthcoming Ubuntu-based laptop for developers (and especially note the complaints from some of the commentators). In addition, look at the prices for PCs with Linux pre-installed from Linux system vendors. They're all more expensive than equivalent PCs from Microsoft's OEMs with Windows pre-installed.

            Then toss in the fact that Microsoft's OEMs can't install crapware on PCs with Linux pre-installed. Or they can't sell MS Office and Symantec or McAfee antivirus software along with the PC. This increases the price disparity between PCs with Windows and Linux pre-installed.
            Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Do you think the hardware is differently sourced for the linux machines?

            If Dell buy 1000 motherboards and set aside 100 for the linux machine.

            Are you really suggesting that dell are paying more for the 100 motherboards used in the linux machine?

            What an idiotic and false statement you've made.
            Bozzer
          • Sorry, but for the mainstream user

            $100 isn't enough to make them want to adopt a system that seems completely alien to them.

            And they already have the games they need for the PC market. Promising that the Linux gaming market is rising is not an enticement point. You would have to do better than that.
            milo ducillo
          • Alien?

            The platform isn't "completely alien to them". Have you seen Metro? One analyst astutely observed that the learning curve to go from Windows 7 to OS X is smaller than Windows 7 to Metro, and he's right. The same is true for Linux running KDE. In fact, in a test in Italy, a laptop was taken to the street and people were told that a Linux distro with KDE was really a beta of Windows 8. People had no problem using it (and liked it). ZDNet Australia did the same thing before the release of Windows 7. I know someone who fixed a girlfriend's virus-laden PC by putting Linux on it and not telling her. If it wasn't for her son who told her she wasn't running Windows two weeks later, she'd never have known. :-)

            Multiple desktops, lower system footprint, touch and desktop UIs (without one being forced on you), almost no malware, complete customizability, update your OS and every piece of software on it through one easy update tool, get all of their software through an "app store" like they do with their phones, most of the rest of the software available is free as well (making the savings well above $100), logical volume management that will let them expand partitions without moving them and join drives together (Windows can't do this on the boot drive and can only do it for whole drives), much faster file system (Tom's Hardware found ext4 20% faster copying large files than NTFS), faster game play (Tom's also had faster frame rates on games available on both platforms like Doom 3), easier installation, ability to upgrade over the Internet as easily as installing system updates, live CDs, DVDs and flash drives, no annoying verification system, better support for older hardware, support for open standards so you never get locked in, and all of the features of Windows 8 today - from reinstalling without losing your settings to pausing file copies and mounting ISOs, every single notable feature of Windows 8 was in Linux over two years ago! That's just off the top of my head, without getting into things like the full OS being ported to ARM so that you can run your desktop software on ARM devices. What's Windows' 30 second commercial nowadays? "Windows - because we've locked you in so now you're stuck with us. Enjoy metro!"?
            jgm@...
          • I've not only seen Metro, I've been using Win8 for over a year now

            Just to avoid any TL;DR's like jgm tipped over, I'll respond in just a few sentences.

            Win8 still includes the legacy desktop UI (jgm, have you played around with Win8 yet?)
            To the mainstream user populace, Linux is still a hobbyist technophile's platform, regardless of how far their desktop UIs have evolved. They don't even want to hear the word Linux.
            If you have to sit them down and go point by point why Linux can do this or that, you've already lost them.

            End of story.
            This WON'T be the year of Linux.

            ;)
            milo ducillo
          • Where have you been lately ?

            Unix has ruled the past decade.
            Mac is taking over the PC market and MacOS is ... Unix.
            Android is taking over the tablet and phone market and Android is ... Unix.
            On top of that most of what makes up the internet runs either Solaris/AIX/HP-UX/Redhat or SuSe , and all of them ARE Unix.
            We're living in a Unix world, my friend.
            And next year won't be any different : most devices that will be sold will be running some form of Unix. Windows has been on the decline for almost a full decade now and it doesn't look like that's going to change with Windows 8 : most people won't even BUY a PC/Portable anymore, they'll go for a Tablet and it won't be running MS-DOS 2012.
            kleykenb
          • Relevancy fail

            "most of what makes up the internet runs either Solaris/AIX/HP-UX/Redhat or SuSe , and all of them ARE Unix"
            1. You conventiently left out Server 2008 / Server 2008 R2
            2. We're not discussing server platforms my friend, we're discussing platforms for the general consumer mainstream market.

            "Windows has been on the decline for almost a full decade now"
            Strange that the number of licenses sold year-over-year don't seem to reflect that:
            h t t p : / / static6.businessinsider.com/image/4c49f7657f8b9aac29ac0400/chart-of-the-day-microsoft-still-owns-computers.jpg
            h t t p : / / w ww.kalmstrom.com/images/Blog/SAChartWin7iOS.png

            "go for a Tablet and it won't be running MS-DOS 2012"
            Of course you know that's about to change (MS-DOS 2012? Ouch dude, that's a bit harsh).
            The market is about to open up with a wide variety of Win8 tablet/laptop/desktop/phone devices running Win8.

            Looking forward to the next several years!

            (Good luck Ubuntu)
            milo ducillo
          • Windows on Tablet, about to change ?!

            Windows had it's chance on all sorts of mobile devices in the past decade and failed.
            No, unfortunately for Microsoft this isn't likely going to change with their newest attempt.
            If history is anything to go by then they're setting themselves up for an Epic Fail.

            Btw. As for your obscure charts (couldn't watch the first and the second wasn't tied into any sort of context) it may be enlightening to you that nearly every PC or Portable in the world that runs Ubuntu actually was sold combined with a Windows licence. In other words, the charts say little about actual Windows use over the years.
            For all you and I know a lot of people bought a PC, payed for a Windows License and are running Ubuntu !
            kleykenb
          • @milo ducillo

            Five words: Boot camp, parallels, and wine. Windows is often time's being used alongside other operating systems. ESPECIALLY for Mac users.

            Apple is actually the biggest and the badest company desktop company right now, which is much scarier than Microsoft being the numero uno (you want to talk about locking down users' rights, Apple is the worst).

            Here is Linux's biggest drawback: IT support. That's it. Yes, you can go online and hunt down a solution, but most users don't want to do that. Especially since some of the fixes for Linux can take time that they don't have. Linux doesn't get supported like it should. I worked at a university IT helpdesk for 2 years and they just plain refused to support linux.

            Let's be honest, IT isn't there because people cannot support themselves, it is there because people 9 times out of 10 don't want to deal with it or don't have the time to deal with it.

            Yes, there are a lot of clients who aren't aware of Linux, but for those that try Linux out, there isn't enough support, and even when there is, the fixes take too long to implement.

            However, if more and more people start using Linux, this will likely change.
            dmmobius
          • Really?!

            @milo ducillo

            Five words: Boot camp, parallels, and wine. Windows is often time's being used alongside other operating systems. ESPECIALLY for Mac users.

            Apple is actually the biggest and the badest company desktop company right now, which is much scarier than Microsoft being the numero uno (you want to talk about locking down users' rights, Apple is the worst).

            Here is Linux's biggest drawback: IT support. That's it. Yes, you can go online and hunt down a solution, but most users don't want to do that. Especially since some of the fixes for Linux can take time that they don't have. Linux doesn't get supported like it should. I worked at a university IT helpdesk for 2 years and they just plain refused to support linux.

            Let's be honest, IT isn't there because people cannot support themselves, it is there because people 9 times out of 10 don't want to deal with it or don't have the time to deal with it.

            Yes, there are a lot of clients who aren't aware of Linux, but for those that try Linux out, there isn't enough support, and even when there is, the fixes take too long to implement.

            However, if more and more people start using Linux, this will likely change.
            dmmobius
          • Really?!

            @milo ducillo

            Five words: Boot camp, parallels, and wine. Windows is often time's being used alongside other operating systems. ESPECIALLY for Mac users.

            Apple is actually the biggest and the badest company desktop company right now, which is much scarier than Microsoft being the numero uno (you want to talk about locking down users' rights, Apple is the worst).

            Here is Linux's biggest drawback: IT support. That's it. Yes, you can go online and hunt down a solution, but most users don't want to do that. Especially since some of the fixes for Linux can take time that they don't have. Linux doesn't get supported like it should. I worked at a university IT helpdesk for 2 years and they just plain refused to support linux.

            Let's be honest, IT isn't there because people cannot support themselves, it is there because people 9 times out of 10 don't want to deal with it or don't have the time to deal with it.

            Yes, there are a lot of clients who aren't aware of Linux, but for those that try Linux out, there isn't enough support, and even when there is, the fixes take too long to implement.

            However, if more and more people start using Linux, this will likely change.
            dmmobius