SteamOS, Valve's new gaming-focused Linux distribution, is set to be released for enthusiasts to download within hours.
An early release, beta version of SteamOS will be launched on December 13 in the US, only a few hours away. It'll be made available at the same time as 300 Steam Machine prototype PCs running the software are delivered to a lucky group of US beta testers.
SteamOS is Valve Software's entry into the operating system market, but unlike Windows or Mac OS X, SteamOS hasn't been designed to be a multipurpose, general operating system. Based on a variant of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, SteamOS has been engineered to maximise graphics performance (generally an issue with Linux), as well as increasing audio performance and reducing input latency to make gaming as seamless as it is on Windows and games consoles.
SteamOS is made for gaming in the living room of your house, is designed to run on a small, sleek, powerful PC, and will use Steam's Big Picture full-screen app alongside a custom-made Steam Controller. It's a direct threat to the future success of Microsoft and Sony's new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 games consoles, providing a far more powerful and versatile device for a likely similar price.
Of course, game compatibility is a big issue. The vast majority of games on the Steam platform are only available for Windows PCs, with Linux and Mac OS support lagging far behind. Valve is proactively updating its in-house titles to support Linux and SteamOS, though, and if SteamOS gains a popular following, other game developers and publishers will follow.
The Steam Machine prototypes going out to beta testers are built on regular Intel PC hardware, running a variety of Intel Core i7, i5 or i3 processors, and different Nvidia graphics cards. The beta tests will help Valve refine SteamOS as users try different games and tasks on it, and will provide a baseline for gauging performance with the new operating system. The beta test is restricted to the US; Valve had planned for it to be worldwide, but ran into customs and regulatory troubles.