Proton is the Valve-funded fork of Wine, a compatibility layer designed to run Windows software on other systems. With Proton, Valve are focusing of course on games and Steam integration with the help of CodeWeavers. Two years on, there's a huge amount more AAA games (thousands) playable on Linux with a few clicks of a button (guide). Thanks to Proton, users moving over from Windows likely don't need to give up a lot of their games, since many should work well and the importance of that cannot be understated as a back catalogue is vital.
Steam Play itself as a feature is definitely very interesting and exciting when you look outside of just Proton too. It's enabled the creation of other compatibility layers like Boxtron for running DOSBox titles on Steam in a native Linux build of DOSBox and Roberta which does the same for ScummVM. Even further than that, it's also the way you can run dedicated Linux builds in a container with the Steam Linux Runtime (info: #1, #2) to enable them to hopefully continuing running forever.
Since the original announcement, it's hard to say if Steam Play and Proton made much of a difference to the user share of Linux on Steam (see our Steam Tracker). It seems mostly stable and hasn't budged much. Not that I expected it to mind you, we still have plenty of mountains to climb with the biggest being that the vast majority of PC hardware people buy comes pre-loaded with Windows 10. We've seen some movement there though with more Linux-focused vendors popping up over the years including: Entroware, Purism, Slimbook, StarLabs, TUXEDO and System76 also continuing to expand. Even Lenovo started moving to add more Fedora offerings and Ubuntu/RedHat too but a huge amount of work has to be done on that to improve things across many more top-tier vendors.
For those curious: there's currently no news to share on the status of anti-cheat support (mostly meaning Easy Anti-Cheat and BattlEye) for Proton. The unofficial work that seemed initially exciting had a major setback when EAC was updated and it all broke. That is just one of the many mountains this compatibility layer needs to overcome, somehow.
I'm still thoroughly curious on what the end game is here and why Valve continue to fund various Linux projects like Proton, Mesa driver improvements, the ACO AMD shader compiler, whatever Gamescope turns into and plenty of others. Will it end up being part of their quest to bring out their own full cloud gaming solution? They have a lot of the tech there ready for streaming and they might end up being one of the last major gaming companies to do it at this rate. Will it be for SteamOS 3.0? Just as a continued backup in case Microsoft lock down Windows? Or is it really just a few passionate Linux fans inside Valve? As always, they remain quite tight lipped about it and one day I hope they agree to my interview requests on it. The future of Linux gaming certainly is looking colourful.
Happy two years, Steam Play and Proton. What will the next two bring?
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