Valve's SteamOS takes on consoles

Valve founder Gabe Newell has dismissed Windows 8 as a “catastrophe” and gone on the attack with his own Linux-based, gaming operating system, SteamOS.

Valve has won the hearts and minds of PC gamers with its Steam platform – a popular portal for buying games and arranging cooperative play, infamous for its sales that see fans lumbered with more games than they can play.

The Linux based OS will be based on the PC platform and let users stream games from their computer to the living room. SteamOS has the living room squarely in mind: “As we’ve been working on bringing Steam to the living room, we’ve come to the conclusion that the environment best suited to delivering value to customers is an operating system built around Steam itself,” Valve says.

In addition to bringing PC gaming to the “big screen”, Valve promises it’s working with “many of the media services you know and love”, claiming to bring music and video to SteamOS. There will also be family sharing options so games can be shared in the same household, letting users earn achievements for their own profiles. 

Valve says the operating system will be open, meaning greater customisation for developers and the end user on the hardware and software front. 

The company is expected to make further announcements, possibly this week. Rumours have been floating around for some time now that Valve will bring out its own hardware, nicknamed Steam Box by fans, which could complement SteamOS. 

Head of games at IHS, Piers Harding-Rolls, believes there will be some hurdles for Valve to jump. Although it recognises the lofty ambitions of the company, it believes Valve opening up Steam to third party manufacturers “reflects the limitations the company faces in building its living room presence” using just its own technology.

But Valve’s large userbase, and putting together an OS which can be adopted by hardware partners, can be a threat to the traditional console base, as well as putting pressure on Apple and Google which have so far not managed to tackle the living room.

IHS warns even if Valve announces its own brand hardware, there are questions about whether it will manage to get the balance right between ricing and usability. If SteamOS needs a high specification PC to stream content, this threatens to cut its potential.

“The long delay to the platform reflects that finding the right commercial balance is not easy to achieve,” IHS says.