For those who came in late: SteamOS is an operating system built on Linux by the fine folks at Valve, to help bring the Steam platform and its content (games, natch, and soon, other media like music and video) to the living room, offering gamers an alternative to consoles and even the traditional PC.
I’ve long resisted the urge to switch to Mac OS primarily because I’ve grown up on, and am very used to Windows. I’ve used OS X extensively for work, and still haven’t found it to be a ‘better’ OS — I believe it’s really a matter of preference of how you want to purchase and use your computing devices. There is, however, a major argument for Windows over Mac — games. While Windows supports hundreds of thousands of titles, only a handful of games make it to Mac (and are almost always ported, never made originally for the latter).
But while the game industry is booming and the PC is still very much a fantastic platform to game on, I’m not so sure about how things will play out in the future. I don’t mean to imply that the PC will die out as a platform, but I don’t see a whole lot of effort going into making it better for games. Hardware manufacturers have their best men working on faster processors and increased memory support for GPUs, but at the end of the day, my PC is still my work computer first and my gaming machine second — and it feels that way.
Let’s talk about Windows 8 for a second…
I’ve tried Windows 8 a few times, but didn’t feel like upgrading for several reasons (no major boost in performance over Win7 on existing hardware, interface feels silly if you’re not using a touchscreen, and no new functionality that I can’t get my hands on), price notwithstanding. I’d be okay with using it if it came pre-installed on a new computer, but other than that, I’m very happy with Windows 7. Plus, Win8 does nothing more for me as a gamer than Win7, and that’s worrying. Why isn’t Microsoft making efforts to create a better software experience for the users of one of its strongest and most exclusive trump cards? Instead, Steam is doing the heavy lifting, serving up a unified platform for buying, installing and playing games all in one package, along with multiplayer and social features.
SteamOS: What is it good for?
SteamOS is poised to take that further, in a way that makes sense for those who are new to the concept of buying a PC/console to play games on. It takes the plug-and-play functionality of Steam even further, all while building on good ol’ free and open-source Linux. Meanwhile, Windows 9 is said to be in the works and slated to ship in April 2015, but I don’t get the feeling that much on its agenda is to do with gaming. Granted, the Windows team has a lot on its plate already since it’s up against OS X and is yet to orchestrate a harmonious relationship between its mobile and desktop operating systems (and hopefully purge itself of the idiocity that is Windows RT). But the bottom line is that even in its next iteration, Windows will be about personal computing first, and gaming second, or third or somewhere lower on the spectrum.
As far as operating systems go, SteamOS is the only one that’s really built for gaming and entertainment, and makes sense given that it’ll ship on all Steam Machines. If all goes according to plan, SteamOS will be able to offer the best possible experience and performance when it comes to entertainment content. It’s still very much in beta, and doesn’t yet support most titles on Steam, but backward compatibility is very much a part of the plan, and with consoles happily relinquishing backward compatibility like it were a plague, that’s something to put a smile on PC gamers’ faces. There’s still a long way to go before SteamOS conquers living rooms or makes an appearance on any screen I own, though. Heck, I haven’t even started on Max Payne 3.