So SteamOS has been released.
While that's marginally interesting in and as of itself, there are two observations to be made:
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.