Big-time gaming coming to Linux

It used to be that the Linux desktop’s one real adoption problem was that it had comparatively few games. Now, with the Steam for Linux beta release, that's changing.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
Steam-based gaming is well on its way to Linux.

 As wonderful as it is to use Linux on a desktop PC, gaming on Linux has been one of its weakest points. Yes, there are many Linux games but nowhere near as many as on Windows. That's changing. Valve, creator of the popular Steam game engine, has released its Steam for Linux Beta client.

Avid gamers have heard of Valve. It’s the publisher of such favorite games as Grand Theft Auto, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

Today, the company said it had launched a limited access beta for its new Steam for Linux client. It also includes Big Picture, the beta mode of Steam, designed for use with a TV and controller

The Steam for Linux Beta client supports the free-to-play game Team Fortress 2. Over two dozen other Steam games are also now available for play on Linux

“This is a huge milestone in the development of PC gaming,” said Gabe Newell, Valve president and co-founder in a statement. “Steam users have been asking us to support gaming on Linux. We’re happy to bring rich forms of entertainment and our community of users to this open, customer-friendly platform.”

The Steam for Linux Beta client is currently available for installation only on Ubuntu 12.04. “An overwhelming majority of beta applicants have reported they’re running the Ubuntu distro of Linux,” said Frank Crockett, a member of the Steam for Linux team in the same statement, “We intend to support additional popular distros in the future; we’ll prioritize development for these based on user feedback.”

Alas, it's a closed beta for now. Don’t get your hopes up: The first round of beta participants has already been selected, out of the 60,000 responses to its initial request for participants.

However. the Steam for Linux Beta client will become available to a widening group of users over the course of the testing and release cycle. Subsequent participants will be chosen from among survey respondents. Once the beta is more stable and its performance has improved, the company says, Valve will make the Steam for Linux client available to all Steam users.

Why is Steam doing this? I mean, after all, Linux, not counting all the Android games like Angry Birds, probably has less than 1% of the gaming market. The answer isn’t necessarily a heartfelt belief that the Linux desktop is going to take over. It’s because of Windows 8. Newell thinks, "Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space" and he wants to hedge his gaming system platform bets.

He's not the only one who sees Windows 8 as being a black hole for computer games. NVIDIA has partnered with Valve to deliver new GeForce graphic drivers. NVIDIA, which has often been harshly criticized for its lack of Linux support, claims that these new drivers will bring double the performance and will dramatically reduce game loading times. The company claims that these new R310 drivers have been thoroughly tested with Steam for Linux.

The R310 drivers support both the GeForce GTX 600 series GPUs (graphics processing units)), and earlier generations’ GeForce GPUs, such as the 8800 GT and above. Drivers are available for both 32-bit and 64-bit Linux systems.

Games may not seem like a business issue. But, as we all know, game support historically has helped popularize systems, encourage hardware innovation, and driven system performance, and thus made an impact in enterprise computing.Most recently, GPUs initially designed for gaming systems have seen new adoption in servers and in security.  With both a major gaming and graphics company throwing support behind desktop Linux, and Windows 8's lack of luster for business, Linux may yet get another shot not just at the gaming market but at the office desktop as well.

That's for the future, for today If you just want to play games and find out more about Steam for Linux, head over to the new Steam for Linux Community Hub.

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