How to install Steam OS session in Ubuntu and its derivatives

Steam OS is the newest of Linux distributions, released by gaming giant Valve on December 13 of last year. Steam OS is based on the latest Debian 7. The OS comes with a new session called steamos-session, which is a modified Big Picture mode of the Steam Client, that uses a compositor customised and optimised for gaming. Steam OS is still in early beta and dualboot installation of Steam OS may not be the easiest option around. However, since Steam OS is Linux based you can easily install the Steam Session in Ubuntu. All you need are the following:

  1. Steam Linux
  2. SteamOS Compositor
  3. SteamOS Modeswitch

Installing the packages 2 and 3 will add another session to the LightDM login sessions and will enable you to directly login to the steamos-session. The session is not a complete DE, and loads only those components required by Steam and the games. The installation steps were done in Ubuntu ; these steps should work for all Debian based distributions as well.

Installing SteamOS session in Ubuntu

If you have not installed Steam’s  Linux client, install it from Ubuntu Software Centre or download from the Steam launcher from here. If you already have the package installed, make sure it is updated to the latest version.

Download SteamOS Compositor  package from here.
Download SteamOS Modeswitch package from here.

Once all three packages are successfully installed,  log out and before logging in, select the steamos- session.

Installing SteamOS session for nVidia Optimus graphics cards

Optimus graphics cards are difficult to operate in Linux as dynamic switching is still not supported.  To make sure nVidia drivers are activated  immediately after login to steamos-session, open the steamos-session file using your favourite text editor

sudo vim /usr/bin/X11/steamos-session

Change the line number 22 from

steam -tenfoot -steamos -enableremotecontrol


primusrun steam -tenfoot -steamos -enableremotecontrol

The above command will ensure that anytime you login, the nVidia graphics drivers will be activated. To confirm you are using the correct drivers, visit the system settings page of the steamos-session. As you can see in the screenshot below, steamos-session is using the nVidia drivers instead of Intel.


If you do not make the changes, steamos-session will run using the Intel graphics drivers which uses a lower screen resolution.


  1. The steamos-session is still in early beta, so expect bugs, crashes
  2. This session has been reported not to work on multi-monitor setups
  3. You many not be able to log out of the steamos-session or switch users. You may have to restart the machine( May be fixed in a future release)

Via: WebUpD8

About Sayantan Das

Sayantan is a Sr. IT Consultant working at Srinsoft Technologies, Chennai. He has over six years of work experience with more than four years as a Linux System Administrator. He is a Linux enthusiast and a blogger. He is also a regular contributor to the Ubuntu Manual.

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