Valve on Friday released the first public beta of SteamOS, the company’s new Linux-based gaming platform. At heart a custom Debian Linux build with built-in optimizations for the Steam retail and social software, SteamOS promises to offer a freely distributable environment for enjoying games and applications on a variety of hardware, including living room-based home theater PCs.
While individual consumers will be able to download and install SteamOS on the hardware of their choice, a major component of the initiative is an ecosystem of third party hardware, called “Steam Machines.” These relatively inexpensive and small form-factor PCs will offer compatibility with SteamOS without the licensing costs or perceived hassles of licensed operating systems like Microsoft Windows. Steam Machines will be available for purchase in 2014, with 300 lucky Steam users gaining in-home beta try-outs of recommended hardware configurations alongside the release of the SteamOS beta.
SteamOS will have a limited selection of games at first – game publishers need to compile their titles for Linux in order to work on the new platform – but the new operating system also introduces a “home streaming” feature, which will allow users to render games on their more powerful Windows-based desktop computers, and stream the output to less powerful Linux-based boxes in their living rooms.
Friday’s launch of SteamOS is still just a beta, and Valve recommends that inexperienced users wait for the final product, expected early next year. Those willing to give it a try can download the 960MB install file from Valve. It requires a 64-bit AMD or Intel CPU, 4GB of RAM, 500GB of hard drive space (for games, the actual OS install is much smaller), and an NVIDIA GPU. Those with AMD GPUs should check back later, as support for those cards is “coming soon.” All other info, along with installation instructions and usage tips, can be found at the SteamOS FAQ.