Valve Unveils Steam Machine Linux Gaming Console at CES

NEWS ANALYSIS: Helping usher in the year of the Linux (gaming) desktop, Valve announced its Steam Machine—which will compete with Xbox One and Playstation 4.


When gaming vendor Valve's co-founder Gabe Newell told the Linuxcon USA conference audience last September that Linux is the future of gaming, he also hinted that his company's future consoles would be Linux-powered.

At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week, Newell made good on his prediction with the formal unveiling of the first generation of Valve's Steam Machine gaming console.

The Steam Machine is powered by SteamOS, which is a Linux operating system based on the community Debian Linux distribution. SteamOS optimizes the Debian Linux base and adds the Steam gaming client on top to run the actual games.

At CES, Newell revealed that 14 hardware vendors will be making Steam Machine-based PCs to run as living room entertainment consoles that will compete against Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's Playstation 4. The 14 vendors are Alienware, Alternate, CyberPowerPC, Digital Storm, Falcon NW, GigaByte, iBuyPower, Maingear,, Next Spa, Origin PC, Scan, Webhallen and Zotac.

"The first-generation Steam Machine offers something for every gamer, which is a critical part of extending Steam into the living room," Newell said in a statement. "With over 3,000 games and more than 65 million gamers on Steam, it's important to offer gamers a variety of Steam Machines that allow them to select what makes the most sense for them."

What is also important to note is that Valve's Steam gaming client has only been available on Linux since early 2013 and the vast majority of Steam users today are still on Windows or Mac PCs. Prior to the availability of the Steam gaming client for Linux, gaming options for Linux users were very limited.

For the last decade or more, people in the Linux community have wondered when the year of the Linux desktop would come and when Windows and Mac users would give up their costly proprietary desktops—and choose to move the open-source world of Linux and enjoy its freedom. Until now, the Linux desktop has been a technical reality but only a consumer dream. While there are Linux desktop users, the number has always been insignificant compared with Windows and Mac.

In contrast, in the server space, Linux continues to grow and is a major driver of server sales. According to third-quarter 2013 data from research firm IDC, Linux server revenue came in at $3.4 billion. A key driver for Linux's server success has long been the pull through from the big server vendors such as IBM, HP and Dell. There has never been the same type of pull through for the Linux desktop.

With Valve's Steam Machine, the Linux desktop now has its pull through from 14 vendors. Sure, the SteamOS isn't a pure play Linux desktop; it's a Linux desktop that is an interface to a gaming client.

No, I don't expect many Steam Machine users will really think of their boxes as Linux desktops in the sense that a desktop is an interface for office productivity applications, but Web browsing, Internet connectivity and gaming are all just applications.

PC gaming has long been a driver of innovation for Windows PC hardware and graphics. With the Steam Machine effort, gaming will now be the driver of innovation and adoption for Linux, as 2014 will be the year the Linux (gaming) desktop dawns.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.