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Steam OS has that killer app that Ubuntu doesn’t

The first batch of Steam OS powered machines were announced at CES 2014. These machines will serve two purposes – they will redefine the gaming industry by bringing new players, better hardware to break the trinity of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo which locks everyone else out of the game console market.

In this context Steam OS will do the same to the game console market that Android did to the mobile industry.

The second purpose is to take over the living room as these machines double up as a desktop computer which allows you to do almost everything that an average user would like to do on a PC.

Looking at these machines and Valve’s strategy, it seems like GNU/Linux will eventually dominate that space which has always been its weakness – desktop PCs.

The reason why Steam OS would be a success where Ubuntu hasn’t been so far is simple. Ubuntu pitches against Windows or Mac and falls short of the competition because it, unfortunately, lacks professional applications and services which an average PC user may need.

There is no Netflix or Google Drive for Ubuntu, there is no Photoshop or Adobe Premiere. So there is no incentive for users like my wife who want a mix or work and entertainment on their systems (she has become a full time Chromebook user as she can access Netflix and use GDrive) or my film-maker buddy who needs to do a lot of professional grade work on his system. Ubuntu fails to solve the problem of everyone who is sitting between these two kind of users.

Steam OS doesn’t have that problem because it’s not projecting itself as a PC. It’s a game OS and Valve already has that one killer app that any company needs to break into a new market – games. Valve is a very powerful game distributor with over 75 million registered users. So it already has a very huge ‘money-spending’ user base. Here we are talking about concrete numbers and not some estimation. The company has roped in leading hardware players who are building game consoles using Steam OS; the dedicated Steam OS hardware is already in the market.

So what gives Steam OS an edge over others and how is it positioned better than Ubuntu?

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Simple. Steam exceeds expectations. When one buys an Ubuntu PC he/she can’t do a lot that a Mac or Windows user can do, but when someone buys a Steam OS game console, he/she can do much more than what a PlayStation, Xbox or Nintendo user can do. Steam Machine user won’t have to open their laptops to get the work done – which they have to do when they are on other game consoles.

Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

5 Comments

  1. Sayantan Das

    while i agree with most of your points, libreoffice writer is still no match for ms word .. kingsoft office fares much better in docx compatibility . this is again because 99.9% users in the enterprise world use ms word

  2. Swapnil thanks for providing such a balanced commentary like describing your wife’s needs as a customer segment (as opposed to a hardline FSF ideological approach … not that I don’t have a great deal of respect for RMS because I do). We’re all unique, coming out of the Windows world I don’t have a problem with Ubuntu on a System76 laptop as my primary client, seeking FLOSS substitutions whenever possible as well as using Erich Hoover’s great Netflix player and Pipelight that came out of that, and Wine when I need it and a virtuallzed Windows 7 under Virtualbox when I need it. But at the same time, I’m very happy with my 1st generation Nexus 7 as a consumption device (with about the only tinkering having it rooted and using an OTG cable with a USB thumb drive for added storage).

  3. Productivity has moved to Linux, Utility has moved to Linux, and the only ones left were Gamers & Businesses.

    Now Gamers will move to Linux. That only leaves the Mammoth Corporations moving like Mammoths.

  4. Your point in number 4 concerns me as well. If I had Valve’s Steam Machine, I’d almost certainly put Windows on it at some point, at least as a dual boot, so I can have access to the Windows titles in my Steam library. The streaming feature requires a Windows machine in the next room. All those machines have Linux on them in my house.

    Also there is the issue with video streaming. Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo all have some kind of media center built into the interface that stream from services like Netflix and Hulu. I’d like to see that as well built into the Big Picture mode. Maybe some kind of agreement with Roku to wrap their software into Steam? That would be ideal.

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