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Valve’s inevitable march towards Linux

Valve’s inevitable march towards Linux

Linux, Valve, and Steam Consoles

Recently, Valve announced they’ve found great success in porting Left 4 Dead 2 and Steam to Linux. Not only is the game running, but they’re getting higher frame rates on their test benches with Linux and OpenGL as compared to the same hardware running in Direct3D in Windows 7.

As a starting benchmark, their Windows test system pulled 270.6 fps. Directly ported, without optimizations, the Linux version of L4D2 pulled a successful but miserable 6 fps. So they tweaked the Linux version, optimizing the client and drivers with the help of AMD, NVIDIA, and Intel engineers to hit an impressive 315 fps. In a matter of weeks, the team surpassed the performance offered by the Windows version—a product that’s had years of optimizations. It’s an impressive feat to be sure.

The tweaks and improvements found in the optimization of L4D2 in Linux aren’t just sitting locked in code repositories in Valveland, either. They instead submitted the optimizations to the involved companies’ public driver repositories so that the entire Linux community could benefit from their findings. Not too shabby.

All isn’t lost in Windows land, though. After proving the hardware was capable of more performance, the team re-approached Windows 7 drivers and wrung another few frames out, bringing their new Windows 7 benchmark number to 303.4 fps.

What does it all mean?

A few things really. We know Valve is committed to making Steam on Linux a Real Deal™. They’ve found that Linux performance for the Source engine can meet or exceed that of Windows 7, and in doing so are opening a door for bringing their popular engine of credit card destruction, the Steam Store, to a free and open platform. It will be a shot-in-the-arm for Linux, an OS relegated to the land of enterprise, servers, and neckbeards.

More performance is a compelling reason to get gamers to adopt something, especially when that performance comes for free. Will gaming hobbyists adopt Linux and provide it with an influx of new users? Possibly. And with an influx of users, the barrier to entry for Linux will be lowered substantially as the demand for ease of use increases.

But something more than just getting gamers to use Linux may be afoot. We know Valve is looking at consoles. In March, The Verge reported Valve was working on a console. Doug Lombardi, Valve’s marketing director, pushed off the reports as speculation and fanboy wet dreams. But we know Valve always has something up their sleeve. This is pure speculation, but the prospect of using Linux as the OS for a Valve console is certainly within the realm of possibility. They could make a stripped-down distro built for Steam games that brings all the Steam Store’s capabilities to a console. Let’s call this proposed Linux distro Gabenix.


Gabenix could offer everything a console needs. Graphics, internet connectivity, storage—all with the additional ability to run on x86 hardware if users wanted to build their own system. By adding additional support for a diverse array of video cards and network adapters, they’d be able to provide a free gaming OS to anyone who wants it. In the process, they’d lock in customers for their game distribution service empire. Again, it’s all speculation—but it’s possible.

Speculation aside, congrats to the Valve Linux team with their recent small success in making Linux suck less for gamers. We appreciate your efforts to make gaming more democratic, where players can choose their operating system based on its merits and not its limitations.

From one Linux user to another: We’re excited to see what comes of all this.


  1. Gargoyle
    Gargoyle IIRC, the only open source driver they contributed to was Intel's, but the AMD & NVIDIA proprietary drivers still benefited from the work.

    Another big advantage to GABENIX could have is security. Might help avoid the kind of piracy issues that Android is having (which contradicts Gabe's convenience theory of anti-piracy). Granted, I have no idea how anti-piracy measures work, and if Valve would even need anything from the OS to better lock things down, but at least that's an option if they do roll their own distro. But, rolling their own is really only suitable for a console, and I don't think they'd spoil this goodwill with Linux PC users by not delivering for at least Ubuntu.
  2. MiracleManS
    MiracleManS I think you're comparing apples and oranges when you're talking PCs vs. Mobile Devices.

    You'll notice that some of the steam sales cause full fledged games and older AAA titles to go on sale for roughly the same price as an Android application or two.

    The convenience theory isn't just about ease of purchase, but also hitting a price point that consumers are willing to spend their money purchasing your application/game. Part of this is a societal thing, where the prevailing attitude for many (correct or incorrect) is that mobile applications just aren't worth the same as a full fledged PC application.

    The only way you're going to be more successful in the DRM sphere is to make it more pervasive, which seems to be something Valve as a company is trying to avoid.
  3. Thrax
    Thrax An article from Peter? Dafuq?
  4. BuddyJ
    BuddyJ A wild Peter appears!
  5. drasnor
    drasnor I don't think it's likely, but cool nonetheless.
  6. Gene Airicmale I see the "gabenix" distro as very likely since valve actually just announced that the first software that are not games on steam will be released soon. Seems suspicious to me on why they would release non-gaming applications even though we don't know what the actually applications are.
  7. mertesn
    I see the "gabenix" distro as very likely since valve actually just announced that the first software that are not games on steam will be released soon. Seems suspicious to me on why they would release non-gaming applications even though we don't know what the actually applications are.
    How is it suspicious?
  8. drasnor
    drasnor I do not follow your leap from "non-gaming applications" to "operating system".
  9. AlexDeGruven
    AlexDeGruven I find the idea of a generic Steam-based distro highly unlikely. The amount of diversity in PC hardware would make this almost impossible to launch a generalized OS with such a specific goal in mind.

    I can, however, definitely fathom a Linux-powered Steam-specific console. This would make a LOT of sense.
  10. ardichoke
    ardichoke Small correction, the 303fps number on Windows was not just due to further optimizations on Windows. That number came from the OpenGL version, with the optimizations done for Linux, running on Windows as opposed to the Direct3d version which posted the 270.6fps number. Slight difference, but one that provides important data suggesting that developing for OpenGL may be wiser than using D3D.
  11. BuddyJ
    BuddyJ Ohai. SteamOS wut.
  12. ardichoke
    ardichoke @AlexDeGruven would you like some condiments with which to eat your words? ;)
  13. Tushon
    Tushon It'd have to be some really obscure flavor though.
  14. AlexDeGruven
    @AlexDeGruven would you like some condiments with which to eat your words? ;)
    I'll give you a little bit of that. I should note that I said "highly unlikely" to create and "nearly impossible" to launch, not just "impossible".

    I am thoroughly excited about Steamboxen, so I'm willing to take a few words for lunch in light of all the recent news.

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