Valve renews Linux commitment, Microsoft and Sony should worry

Valve has joined the Linux Foundation, making Steam Machine prototypes looking more and more like serious competition for Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

If Valve has its way, tomorrow's gaming console is going to be running Linux. The Steam-gaming company has just renewed its Linux commitment by joining The Linux Foundation.

Valve Steam Machine Controller
This is a prototype Steam Machine controller. The real thing will be out early in 2014.

This follows Valve's recently announced plans to move its Steam-gaming platform, with 65 million active accounts and games from hundreds of developers, into the living room with its Steam Machines project. An innovative living room device, Steam Machines will be powered by its own Linux-based distribution: SteamOS.

Valve isn't new to Linux. While the company has only been releasing its games on Ubuntu Linux since February 2013, its history with Linux actually goes all the way back to 1999.

Valve CEO Gabe Newell said in September that "We use [Linux on] several hundred thousand game servers and use it internally as well for game servers. Internally, we have 20 terabytes of content, we go a year between reboots, and we delivered over an exabyte of data on the Internet in the year to date, which comes to 2 to 3 percent of the world's Internet." He added, "In all game companies, you'll find more reliance on and higher percentages of Linux usage."

Newell continued, "Linux is the future of gaming for gamers on the client as well, because, besides Microsoft moving to a more locked-in style of computing, "Open systems were advancing much faster. The old console guys are not competitive, and there's huge tension in proprietary systems." For example, Newell said, "It took us six months to get one update through the Apple store. Closed systems are at odds with the evolution of gaming."

So, joining The Linux Foundation makes perfect sense for Valve. Mike Sartain, a leading Valve Linux developer and a former Xbox programmer, said in a statement, "Joining the Linux Foundation is one of many ways Valve is investing in the advancement of Linux gaming. Through these efforts, we hope to contribute tools for developers building new experiences on Linux, compel hardware manufacturers to prioritize support for Linux, and ultimately deliver an elegant and open platform for Linux users."

At the same time that Valve is working with the community to further Linux gaming, the company is also working on getting it Steam Box engineering prototypes ready for beta testers. Valve isn't the only one building SteamOS-powered gaming consoles. IBuyPower, a popular gaming computer manufacturer, is also creating its own Steam Machine.

According to a report from the Verge, the IBuyPower Steam Box will be powered by a multi-core AMD CPU and use an AMD Radeon R9 270 graphics card for video. At an educated guess, and with a price point of $499, the IBuyPower gaming console will use such high-speed, low-cost processors such as AMD FX-9370 Eight-Core and AMD FX-8350 Eight-Core.

Valve's own system will use quad-core Core i7-4770 CPUs to run games. For graphics, it will use Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 at the lower-end. Other models will feature GTX 760 or GTX 780 cards, while the top systems will come with GeForce GTX Titan monster cards.

Unlike the Playstation and XBox, even though the latter shares the Windows NT core along with Windows 8.x, you will be able to run SteamOS on your own PC. While Valve will be happy to sell people dedicated Steam Machines, the real plan is to not lock users into consoles but to merge the best features of PC and console gaming into one, open user-friendly gaming environment.

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