Valve’s Big Announcement #1: SteamOS Coming to Your TV

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SteamOSJust last week, Valve announced that we’d be seeing some major news coming from the company this week, and today starts it off with a bang. Ever since founder Gabe Newell decried Microsoft’s Windows Store policies – claiming that it was against users’ best interests, but likely driven by the fact that it cut Valve’s Steam platform out of the running – rumors have swirled around the idea that Valve would be creating its own operating system as a means of protecting their revenue stream.

Today those rumors have borne fruit, as Valve announced that it would be releasing a Linux-based operating system dubbed ‘SteamOS.’ Built from the ground up to provide gamers with a suitable ‘living room’ experience, it builds upon the company’s ‘Big Picture’ mode (released last year, Big Picture changes Steam’s interface so you can comfortably navigate from your couch with a controller, rather than keyboard and mouse) and provides a complete operating system, rather than just a skin that sits on top of Windows.

On the surface, this won’t signal much to users of Steam’s current Big Picture mode, especially since the new features in SteamOS will be coming to the Windows and Mac-based Steam clients:

  • In-home streaming: the new SteamOS will support game streaming. If you want to play one of your games on the television, but it’s only installed on your computer in another room, you’ll be able to stream it to the SteamOS on the TV. Given that Valve says, “You can play all your Windows and Mac games on your SteamOS machine, too,” it’s likely that this means the games will run locally  on the other computer – meaning a SteamBox could end up small and very cheap.
  • Music, TV, Movies: Valve is planning on launching support for several “media services you know and love” – and it wouldn’t surprise us to see Steam start supporting suitably-DRMed TV and Movies for rent or sale.
  • Family Sharing: You’ll be able to play games with different Steam profiles/accounts – similar to the Xbox live system, you can swap back and forth, with Steam keeping separate track of saves and game achievements for each player.
  • Family Options: SteamOS will support parental and family features, like game restriction/access, keeping more mature content out of reach of younger kids (and likely keeping small childrens’ games from appearing in parents’ profiles when they want to game).

It’s a big move for Valve, but a necessary one – it’s becoming clear that both Windows and Mac OS are becoming more locked down (not that we think they’ll ever be completely locked down – but even doing it by default means that Valve loses out on a lot of potential customers) and Valve only thrives within an open ecosystem. Building upon Linux means that the company never has to worry about whether someone will remove their access – after all, a gamer can throw Linux onto just about anything, for free, and game as usual.

It also means that one of the biggest reasons for non-enterprise customers to buy Windows – gaming, may go out the Window. Tablets and smartphones can take care of much of the average joe’s computing needs, with gaming filled up with consoles and a Linux-powered Steam.

This isn’t the only major news coming out of Valve this week – two days from now, they’ll make another announcement, and two days after that, a third. What will those be about? We can’t be sure, but at least one of them will likely deal with hardware – whether Valve/Steam-branded or supplied by OEMs, and a third could be about content, like one of the most expected video game followups in history.

Would you buy a SteamBox if it were the only way to play Half-Life 3?

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