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What we expect to come from Valve to help Linux gaming in 2021

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By now you've probably heard either through us in our previous article or elsewhere that Valve are cooking something up to help Linux gaming even further. We have an idea on what one part of it is.

Valve already do quite a lot. There's the Steam Play Proton compatibility layer, the new container runtime feature to have Linux games both natively supported and Windows games in Proton run through a contained system to ensure compatibility, their work on Mesa drivers and much more.

In Valve's review of Steam in 2020 that we covered in the link above, one thing caught our eye and has been gaining attention. Valve mentioned for 2021 they will be "putting together new ways for prospective users to get into Linux gaming and experience these improvements" so what exactly does that mean? Well, a part of that might have already been suggested directly.

Back in November 2019, the open source consulting firm Collabora presented an overview of the work they have been doing funded by Valve. Towards the end of the talk they mentioned ongoing work towards foolproof and fast instant upgrades of Linux systems. Collabora mentioned it could work for specialised systems like consoles or other systems where you don't expect users to be highly technical. Leading into that, a Valve developer posted on Reddit to clarify more details around what Collabora were talking about:

The image-based updater work is part of a set of efforts to attempt to improve the experience of trying out Linux on a normal PC with live USB media, and instantly updating said media from the other OS without losing user data. There's no "locking down" involved, as it can easily be disabled by the user to fall back to the normal package manager.

Pierre-Loup Griffais, Valve

Linux has long been able to run directly from USB drives but what about the next stage of this evolution? That appears to be what Valve are hinting at in their 2020 review blog post.

Imagine if you will for a moment: a SteamOS-style USB stick, that's highly optimized for Linux gaming, with drivers ready to go and Steam pre-configured with everything it needs all direct from Valve and also this special update system to ensure it keeps on working. Now add in some pre-configured persistence so your games, files and so on stay on it and that sure sounds like a new way for users to get into and experience Linux gaming doesn't it? Steam Machines didn't work, so a way to properly experience Linux gaming in full on hardware people already own? That could certainly work.

That could be a much more interesting way to actually market and advertise Linux gaming too. It's not enough to have Linux distributions be fast and stable, and to have plenty of games available to play otherwise we would already be in a better position as a platform. An absolute game changer? No, but another very useful tool in the shed. The conversation changes with such an easy to use way to get involved. Burn it to a USB stick, load it on your PC and login to Steam, download a game and away you go — you're now gaming on Linux.

Not just for gamers though, this could be a pretty valuable tool for developers to test their games on Linux too. If it enables developers to quickly boot up a drive with Linux on, that's up to date and works with games, that's going to make things a lot easier in the long run from all sides.

USB drives have been ridiculously cost effective in the last few years too, along with plenty of USB3 options now existing for the speed and you can get quite a lot of storage on them so it would be a pretty fascinating move.

Over to you in the comments, what are your thoughts?

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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101 comments
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Liam Dawe 16 Jan
Quoting: rcritSimilar to what Hori said, if I already have a Windows system capable of playing games why would I reboot using a USB stick to play them in Linux?
And that is the real question no one as of yet has a true answer for other than the existing arguments for using Linux over Windows that many of us are already aware of, and probably already using Linux for. Part of the point though, is to make trying it as easy as possible. We shall have to wait and see how Valve handles it but the quote in the article is pretty clear IMO on this being something of a plan of theirs.
scirocco 16 Jan
We already have something like that its called GamerOS, its not that hard to install it on a USB.
eldaking 16 Jan
This is certainly exciting from a Linux perspective (having a fully portable OS that you can plug into any computer!), but I'm not sure how this would translate into a marketable product. You already have a PC (presumably with Windows), why would you plug a flash drive with Linux to play games instead of playing them on Windows? If you didn't have Windows, you would want to have Linux installed directly on the hardware. This wouldn't help, per se, either selling devices (which shouldn't need your computer to run...) or enabling anyone to use Steam that already couldn't do it on their native

A few possibilities I could think of:
1) A portable device you could "dock", like a Nintendo Switch? Play on its own or plug into your computer to use the more powerful hardware, but with the exact same OS. Not sure if it makes sense, though, and is massively difficult.
2) A way to play your own games in public computers, like cybercafes (yes, they are still popular in some places). They do have tools already for those, so this could be a very convenient tool.
3) Use it in thin clients, that play games through some kind of streaming (either in their servers, Stadia-like, or from your own gaming PC). Like an evolution of the current Steam Link, but with an entire OS attached?. Not sure why it would be a live OS though.
4) Investigating the possibilities of having a full isolated OS, with standardized libraries and stuff, to run the games. Like the extreme version of containerization. This sounds like it is either quite distant, or would be a massive headache for us that already use Linux.
5) Just a normal "it is now easier to try out Linux on your computer without commitment, which helps Linux adoption in the long term". Which I don't quite doubt anymore Valve would do, but wouldn't be a big thing in itself.
alkazar 16 Jan
I could see this perhaps working if it was able to pick up and play the already installed Windows games on the user's system. The problem then becomes making sure Steam doesn't download the Linux version over top of the Windows version, which is what would happen today, but that is probably easily remedied. Not to mention the reported issues of running games from an NTFS drive.

In any case, running an OS and games off of a USB stick is going to be a very poor experience and likely turn people off if anything.
Julius 16 Jan
Quoting: rcritSimilar to what Hori said, if I already have a Windows system capable of playing games why would I reboot using a USB stick to play them in Linux? Would this interest existing Linux users at all?

You are not the real target of this.

I think Liam has missed one piece of the puzzle, which is: This usb bootable Linux will allow you to use an existing Steam Windows installation as a Steam library folder. That way a user that has never tried Linux can just plug it in the PC and play around with it, including testing the games he/she has already installed to see if they work (with Proton).

Seeing is believing, and a lot of people shy away from installing a OS just to try it, and this would be a minimal effort way to test the game the person actually plays.


Last edited by Julius on 16 January 2021 at 4:34 pm UTC
Liam Dawe 16 Jan
Quoting: JuliusI think Liam has missed one piece of the puzzle, which is: This usb bootable Linux will allow you to use an existing Steam Windows installation as a Steam library folder. That way a user that has never tried Linux can just plug it in the PC and play around with it, including testing the games he/she has already installed to see if they work.
I left that out intentionally, because running games off an existing NTFS partition has almost always caused problems.

Edit: as for other comments - i'm not saying this will move mountains or be huge or anything. I'm interested in it as an idea though, and merely explaining what it seems Valve are doing.


Last edited by Liam Dawe on 16 January 2021 at 4:36 pm UTC
What Valve needs to improve:

1 - Steam Big Picture
2 - Proton (already great, but needs improvements)
3 - Marketing - They should give to Linux rhe attention it deserves, like releasing stuff for it before Windows or Mac. This could atract more players to Linux. For example: a Free game for Linux/Steam OS users...
4 - Work with ProtonDB and other Proton forks to make the Steam experience more straight forward.
5 - A good mobile app for the store and also for voice chat.
ekultails 16 Jan
I had a similar idea a couple of years ago to create a Linux gaming USB flash drive. More specifically, for my buddy who owns a Mac. With Apple dropping 32-bit support, not supporting Vulkan, switching to Arm, etc. it's becoming impossible to recommend macOS as a gaming platform.

Last year, I finally made such a project! It requires some advanced Linux knowledge and has the potential to be 100% automated. I gave it to my buddy as a birthday present and it's been amazing. We are now playing our favorite childhood games together again!

https://github.com/ekultails/mac-linux-gaming-stick
Lomkey 16 Jan
The USB thing, I remember Ubuntu had a program can instill and uninstall Ubuntu from windows long time ago. If they did that with USB stick. Easy to install and have it restart from the windows to USB stick. Valve can always work with gameros to make it happen.
QuoteNot just for gamers though, this could be a pretty valuable tool for developers to test their games too.
I think this is the real reason. I have seen a number of small devs post comments like "I don't have a linux machine" in answer to questions about porting games (or fixing the games they already ported). If it is super easy to plug in a USB drive and have an instant test environment, it would make many of those excuses go away.
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