So admittedly I’ve been a bit vocal about Linux for the past few months and that’s mainly because there’s a lot going on there that people should be taking note of. The Linux landscape is changing and as it grows with popularity, it may eventually enjoy the same kind of success as Android, only on a smaller scale of adoption thanks to Microsoft’s monopoly in the software market. But fear not, for things are even looking up for Linux gamers across the world, courtesy of Gabe Newell and Valve.
A few years ago there was a rumor doing the rounds that Valve was working on a port of the Steam client for Linux operating systems. At the time there was already confirmation of the client being ported to Mac OSX back in 2010. The natural train of thought landed on a Linux version as well, since OSX is based on Unix, and shares kernel changes occasionally with Linux. Likewise, many of the improvements to the custom Unix kernel found in OS X have also been implemented into Linux (albeit through reverse engineering, but I digress), so its not like the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
In fact, there were even screenshots that showed a semi-working native port of the Steam client, but unfortunately those developments were cancelled when the group doing the unofficial port dropped the project. And then they disappeared. Where on earth did they go? Who took the work and project with them? I speculated on another forum at the time that Gabe must have hired them to continue work for the client with Valve’s support and backing. And two weeks ago I was proven right (well, I still don’t know where the hell they went). There’s even a job listing for it still up.
Pictured above is a copy of Left for Dead 2, running natively on Ubuntu 10.04LTS. The game is running without any back-ports, without WINE and just behind the game window is a customised version of AMD’s Catalyst Control Center. If Valve is this far ahead with getting things to work properly, we can assume one of two things:
1) Gamers who buy titles exclusively over Steam with a Windows machine can, in future, run Ubuntu or any other distro and save money over the license costs associated with Microsoft’s proprietary software. Linux has come a long way since the original Red Hat, Fedora and Debian variants, and ranks up there with the leaders in terms of ability. Many software companies nowadays have at least a semi-updated Linux port of their software, so its certainly getting some attention.
2) If Valve does something, usually the entire industry stops, looks sheepishly at their investors, curses under their breath and begins a catch-up process right away. They’re not always the trend-setters, but they usually hit the nail on the head with their games. Once a Steam client for Linux lands, both EA and Microsoft need to think long and hard about how much that 1.3% of desktop users on Unix is worth to them. Yes, currently they don’t support the OS, but no-one really has any idea how this would take off. Out of forty-plus million gamers worldwide, Valve could have as many as an eighth of those move over to Linux as time passes, assuming they aren’t already dependent on Windows.
Currently work is being done to port over the Source Engine, rather than try to get the games running as the WINE project has done for years. Once the engine works natively in Linux with OpenGL, porting them over should be much quicker. Which Source-based games could be available?
If you’re still wondering, Source is a game engine that Valve created to be compatible with multiple platforms and operating systems. Source currently runs on Windows, OS X, Xbox and PS3 systems, with the Xbox running a customised version of Windows CE and Sony’s Playstation 3 on a custom Linux kernel (see, all the code was there from the start). The titles I’ve listed are all Source-based and have been Valve’s best sellers for years (with two exceptions, but I expect those to sell really, really well).
Steam also supports and acts as a retail system for games based off other engines, and it’ll be up to those publishers and developers to make sure their games are up to date when Valve releases the client. Valve’s CEO, Gabe himself is working on the port. The porting project had been running for a few years already, but Newell joined the team and is looking to speed things up. Gabe has been a big proponent of Linux in previous interviews and it’ll be interesting what the company can bring to the open-source (see what I did there? Har har) community.