So SteamOS has been released.

While that's marginally interesting in and as of itself, there are two observations to be made:

  1. Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony will feel an impact. More functionality on cheaper hardware which can easily by upgraded; I bet quite a few managers are not happy, at the moment.
  2. While the stand-alone Linux Steam client was initially targeted at Ubuntu, SteamOS is based on Debian Wheezy.

Actual Linux (not Android) for the end user

The first one means more Linux installations. In the living room. On a machine that children are really focussed on and will want to play with, quite literally.

The next logical step is for people who play games to install SteamOS on their other machines; desktops, laptops, everywhere they want to game.

This could really be the tipping point where the average adolescent computer enthusiast does not need to reboot into Linux to fool around with, but the other way round: To need to boot to Windows for a few select legacy applications which don't run on the FLOSS variant of Wine like Office or Photoshop. And once this momentum starts to shift, other software vendors will follow the money trail.

Could 2014 finally be.... the year of Linux on the desktop...?

Debian vs Debian-based

The latter one is also really interesting... Obviously, I don't know why Valve decided to go down this road, but there are several reasons which come to mind:

  • No need for the extra bloat
  • They wanted to avoid the tie-in with another for-profit entity
  • Unhappiness with some technical decisions made by UbuntuCanonical
  • Lack of faith in the long-term governance of Ubuntu

What we are left with is a major player entering the ring of Linux for end-users and choosing Debian over Ubuntu. Hopefully, improvements to the base system will be fed back upstream, enabling all Debian-based distributions to profit easily, not only Ubuntu-based ones.

I am willing to bet that two years ago, SteamOS would have been based on Ubuntu, not Debian. Recently, there's been a lot of backlash over various decisions which Canonical forced onto Ubuntu and it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the long run... I will be interesting to see how much pain Linux Mint and Kubuntu will endure.

Forecast

Users

All in all, we are looking at a massive influx of new users into the Debian ecosystem. How massive? 65 million registered users massive. 7 million concurrent users at once, 1.2 million users actively playing the top 100 games at the same time massive. This is huge.

Contributors

In time, a substantial part of that userbase will switch over one or more of their machines over to SteamOS.

The tinkerers among them will realize they can install plain Debian and install Steam as a package.

The hackers among those will start to improve upon their systems; and what better way to do that then to go upstream?

If even a tiny fraction of users makes it this far, the count of actively involved contributors with Debian will skyrocket if we let them join. Raspbian and some other not-quite-ideal decisions come to mind.

Vendors

Commercial software vendors need to stay profitable. Thus, they are forced to support distributions which promise enough paying users. In the past, this meant mainly SuSE and Red Hat; they had commercial backers, went through certifications, etc. In the recent past, this also meant Ubuntu.

All of a sudden, Debian stable has a potential market of tens of millions of average computer users and computer enthusiasts. A lot of whom will want to continue to use their OS of choice at work, as well.

Oh boy...

Your analysis seems very optimistic. Do you have sources where valve explains why it chooses Debian over Ubuntu? Maybe it is just about the money or the license, and maybe we will have another fork of Debian (as ubuntu actually was) which will then 'do it's own thing' within the next couple of years.

I mean: are there ways where the efforts of valve will merge back into Debian instead of developing into another Debian based distribution? Valve will have/develop expertise in support voor graphics card, kernelmodules, kerneltweaks, etc. but will it come back to Debian? That is for me the interesting question.
You mention that steamOS could become a kind of package which you then can install: this is a kind of 'shell' upon Debian. Can it also go something further (and how can one organise this?): that you have a steam-version of wayland, a steamversion of X, a steam-kernel, ... but also the ability to mix this without any problems with the standard Debian distribution and it's gnome-desktop? Can one develop a kind of a more complex desktop version of init and it's runlevels. Like with runlevel you can then switch with just one click/command to a different version of waylanddriver (open to closed:nvidia or radeon), kernelmodules, etc. so that you can switch from office-pc to game-pc to multimedia-pc to xmbc-dlna-server to .... With it could also come different interfaces or 'graphical DE's'... In other words: every distro has another audience, other kernelversions and -parameters, other DE's, other optimisations, etc... Can we avoid the continous forking (and thus dispertion of energy) by creating a more modular Debian on the level of services, kernelmodules and -drivers, software, GUI's, ... which you can enable with 1 click or command?

Just dreaming....

Comment by koen 2013-12-14--14-04-18-CET