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SteamOS could really help desktop Linux adoption, says Torvalds

Ian Paul | Oct. 25, 2013
The Linux desktop revolution is just around the corner!


The Linux desktop revolution is just around the corner!

This is a familiar refrain that has received new life in recent months thanks to Valve (whose homepage is shown above) and its efforts to turn Linux into a gaming platform with the Steam client for Linux and the Linux-based SteamOS.

Even Lars Gustavsson, the chief game maker for DICE, which is the EA-owned studio responsible for the Battlefield series, has a strong interest in Linux for games.

There's so much Linux love in the air that it prompted Linus Torvalds, overlord of the Linux Kernel, to tentatively suggest that Valve's announcements could encourage Linux adoption on desktop PCs. Screech! Not again, I hear you say?

Yes, we've heard the claim for years that the Linux (or GNU/Linux depending on your persuasion) desktop revolution is just around the corner. And yes, this could be just another high hope in a long history of high hopes, but Torvalds reinforced some important arguments about a Steam-powered rise for Linux.

"I think [the Steam announcements are] an opportunity to maybe really help the desktop," Torvalds said recently during LinuxCon + CloudOpen Europe in Edinburgh, Scotland. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for a Linux revolution but, if anyone is familiar with endless promises of Linux-based desktops becoming popular, it's Torvalds.

For Torvalds, Valve's Steam efforts could be a big opportunity to drive desktop Linux because it could force the various desktop Linux distributions to standardize their technology. Torvalds said earlier in the 44-minute talk (shown below) that the Linux desktop was a "morass of infighting."

Critics' reasoning
A criticism often leveled at Linux OS distributions—and contributing projects such as the Gnome desktop—is that each component insists on doing things its way, or going in a different direction, or breaking compatibility. This can result in fights over everything from the best bootloader to which desktop UI is superior (ridiculous since everybody knows Unity rocks).

Some critics, such as Gnome project founder Miguel de Icaza, put at least some of the blame at the feet of Torvalds. Regardless of who's at fault, most critics agree that the Linux desktop is a house divided right now, which is why a company like Valve and the success of Steam is so sorely needed.

"[Valve] is this one company who has this vision for how to do things," Torvalds said. "I think it also forces the different distributions to realize hey, if this is the way Steam is going, we need to the same thing. Because we want people to be able to play games on our platform too.'"


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