The creators of Portal, Team Fortress 2, and a ton of other AAA titles announced a few months ago that they were planning to bring their Steam digital distribution service to Linux. It's basically an app store just for games, and it's one of the most popular places to buy games for PC or Mac. Now the first wave of outside beta testers has been accepted, and gamers are buying and playing Steam games -- including Valve's -- on Linux.
Buy why Linux?
Gabe Newell, Steam's co-founder, isn't optimistic about Steam's future on Microsoft's new version of Windows, Windows 8. In an interview with VentureBeat, he called it "a catastrophe for everyone" who works with PCs, and said that "margins are going to be destroyed" and they should "have alternatives to hedge against that."
Why is Windows 8 a "catastrophe?"
From Newell's perspective, one big reason is probably the new Windows Store. Both Windows 8 and OS X (on Macs) now have built-in app stores, which threaten to make Steam redundant. That's because you have to go out of your way to install Steam and buy games from them, whereas on Windows 8 and OS X you can just click a button to buy from their stores.
Isn't Valve unlikely to sell many games on Linux?
You'd think! Linux has always been pretty obscure, and there haven't been comparatively many brand-name games or apps made for it.
A Linux OS called Ubuntu, however, has made it a lot more attractive to developers, by making Linux more popular and easier to use. Since then, the Humble Indie Bundle made pretty much all of its games run on Linux, and its publicly available sales figures show that a big chunk of its profits come from Linux gamers.
Newell said in the interview that "we're trying to make sure that Linux thrives." Valve is staking its reputation on helping make Linux a world-class gaming platform, and it's been at this for longer than most people probably realize.
How many people would actually use Steam on Linux, though?
Well, as of right now more than 60,000 people have signed up to test out the beta. Not all of them have been accepted yet, but in true Linux fashion some of the ones who haven't been accepted have figured out how to get in anyway (which may or may not violate Valve's terms of service).
But what games are there? Aren't they all Mac and Windows games?
A lot of the games on Steam already have Linux versions, thanks to the Humble Indie Bundle (which gives out Steam keys for all of its games). Meanwhile, Valve's been working behind the scenes for awhile now to bring the Source engine, which powers many of its games, to Linux. There's already an official Linux version of Team Fortress 2, Valve's free-to-play multiplayer first-person shooter, and there are 25 titles in all which are supported for the Linux beta right now.
More games will almost definitely be available soon, as the title Valve's internal testers were using to work out the bugs in the Steam client -- Left 4 Dead 2 -- hasn't appeared in their Linux store yet. And, for the record? It ran faster on Linux than on Windows 7.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.