Indie gaming outfits like Desura and the Humble Indie Bundle have long supported Linux in addition to Macs and Windows PCs. But despite tentative moves like EA's to bring some of its browser games to the Ubuntu Software Center, Linux operating systems have still traditionally lagged behind OS X and Windows when it comes to gaming ... or even just "apps" in general.
That may be about to change, as Valve -- creator of the Portal and Team Fortress series of games -- has officially announced plans to bring its Steam digital download/online multiplayer service to Linux.
What, what's this about "Steam'd Penguins" now?
That's the title of Valve's blog post, the first on its new Linux blog. Steam refers to Valve's Steam platform, which is sort of like Xbox Live for computer games. The penguins refer to Tux the penguin, the official mascot of the Linux kernel.
The Linux what?
The kernel is the "core" of an operating system like Windows, which controls things like connecting to hardware and deciding what order to run things in. A Linux operating system is one that has the Linux kernel at its core.
Google's Android is technically one of these, but it's different enough that it's not usually what people (including those at Valve) think of when they say "Linux." The most popular Linux OS, right now, is Ubuntu, largely because the startup behind Ubuntu -- Canonical -- has put a large amount of effort into marketing Ubuntu and making it distinctive and user-friendly. In Valve's blog post, the Valve Linux Team explains that Ubuntu's popularity and its "recognition with the general gaming and developer communities" are some of the reasons why it's bringing Steam to Ubuntu first, and "will look at supporting other distributions [Linux operating systems] in the future."
Doesn't everything on Linux have to be "open source?"
"Open-source software," like most Linux OSes, can be copied and shared by anyone, right down to the programming code. Usually, anything you make that's based on open-source software is legally required to be open-source as well. Valve doesn't have to give away the programming code for Steam and its games, however, because they aren't based on open-source code. Valve's simply making it possible for Ubuntu users to play them, sort of like when it brought Steam to Macs earlier.
Not all Steam games run on Macs, though. Which games are coming to Linux?
The only one Valve has announced so far is Left 4 Dead 2, a zombie-themed shooter game. Valve has said that it's already successfully gotten "L4D2" to work on Ubuntu, and is now working on getting it to run as fast as it does on Windows, as well as making all of Steam's features work. "Porting additional Valve titles" is another priority listed on the Valve blog post.
Has Valve said when we'll be able to play these games?
Not yet. Valve's Linux team has "made good progress this year," though, and will be "posting more information ... on a regular basis."
An internal, as in Valve-only, beta test will start "in the near future"; and again, Ubuntu users will get Steam before other Linux users. Beyond that, though, no schedule has been released.
Has Valve said anything else about Linux support?
In a sidebar on the Valve Linux Team's blog, it also hinted at "investigating open source initiatives that could benefit the community and game developers." No word yet as to what these are.
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.