You have your shiny new Steam Deck, which I’ve gone over in an initial look on — but what about desktop mode apps and other stores? I’ve also been testing that with the Epic Games Store.
The Steam Deck comes with a full desktop mode too outside of the Steam UI. The desktop environment is KDE Plasma (my own favourite Linux desktop) and so people familiar with Windows should feel quite at home. A perfect choice in this reviewer's opinion. You also do not need developer mode to access it. You just hit the Steam menu, select Power and then Switch to Desktop. To get back to Deck UI, you just Log Off from the Plasma menu.
One thing I will mention is that the SteamOS version of Plasma is somewhat minimal, and doesn’t include a huge amount of software — which is, of course, a space saving measure. Valve has to ensure everything fits on the lowest end model which only has 64GB space and a little room is left needed for both a few games and operating system updates to go smoothly.
For testing the desktop mode, I’ve been using a pretty generic £20 USB-C HUB with power delivery so it can keep the Deck powered too (Amazon - Brand: Paonies, although mine came etched as LEVIN). It’s cheap, cheerful and does the job splendidly. Just connect the HUB to the USB-C port on the top of the Deck, plug in a HDMI wire between your monitor and the HUB and pop — you’re now playing on a bigger screen. This works for both desktop mode and Deck UI mode.
Currently though, there’s a bit of a quirk here. Hooking up your HDMI-out to a monitor for desktop mode will add it as a second screen, instead of cloning the Deck screen like it does for the main Deck UI. If you tell Plasma to clone it, this brings up a bug in Plasma where your main bottom panel will disappear. A workaround I found for now is to first set your external screen to the Deck resolution at 1280x800, and then tell it to clone it. From there, it works.
Tip: if you’re in need of a wireless keyboard to mess with Steam Deck Desktop Mode, I can highly recommend the Logitech K400 Plus. I’ve used it for over a year, with it being plug and play on Linux and so the Steam Deck too.
The SteamOS file system comes out of the box as read-only, so you will not be able to install standard Arch Linux packages easily. If you wish to have full root filesystem access, Valve has an FAQ on that and more. It's a quick terminal command with sudo. That’s not something I’ll recommend, unless you truly know what you’re doing — no one wants to break their Deck. However, there’s plenty of extra software you can install quite easily using the app called Discover as it comes with Flathub / Flatpak installed and set up in a way that won’t mess with anything. The amount of software available will increase over time too; developers just need to put their stuff up on Flathub. Some of what you can install easily includes Chromium (Firefox is the default — although Chrome has an easy install in the Deck UI), Discord, Telegram, Blender, Godot Engine, Krita, GIMP, VLC, Inkscape and a great many others.
You can also use AppImages and anything else that’s a standalone Linux download.
Something I got asked to show, so here you go:
For now, desktop mode is the main way to install third-party applications. Using Discord as an example, if that’s your preferred way to chat to friends online, you can jump into desktop mode and then add it to Steam to show up in Deck UI mode. Same process as on a normal desktop: add it as a non-Steam game.
You can have multiple things open and switch between them too in Deck UI mode once you’ve added them. Simply tap the Steam button, go back Home / Library and then launch something else. When you hit the Steam button again, what’s already open will be listed at the top of the Steam menu.
Here’s a short look at installing and using Discord on Deck:
For those curious on the audio server, the Steam Deck is clearly using Pipewire.
Currently, it seems desktop mode is still X11 and not Wayland.
For those interested to know what speed you could be potentially looking at for the wireless with a pretty basic Google WiFi setup, using tests in desktop mode from a few different sources I averaged about 148 Mbps down / 15 Mbps up. So the wireless inside the Deck is pretty good overall. I’ve also tested tethering to my phone as a hotspot, which worked without issues as well.
Other stores? Say hello to Epic Games
Time to raise some eyebrows.
While this is a Valve Software machine, a Steam Deck — that doesn’t mean it’s locked down to the Steam store. This is where things get a little bit more complicated, however. Neither GOG or Epic Games have official Linux support for their store applications. With the Steam Deck shipping with SteamOS 3 Linux, that’s a potential problem for some users.
However, there’s some good news there as well — the community provides! For anything non-Steam, you do need to go into the desktop mode.
For Epic Games (and GOG in their latest release) you can use the Heroic Games Launcher.
There’s a caveat here though: for gamepad input to work on the Deck directly, anything you run needs to be added to Steam directly as a non-Steam game as it needs Steam Input. This is true of any game. For Heroic, that's not currently possible due to various issues — so you'll need either an external gamepad or keyboard.
I also tried the Lutris launcher that supports many stores, but it currently doesn't work out of the box on the Steam Deck but it should be fixed in the next main release. You could likely get around both issues with developer mode turned on, to get access to the full filesystem to install either Lutris or Heroic using standard Arch Linux packages — but that’s not something I'll ever recommend on the Steam Deck. Ideally, we need them both to have a Flatpak package to make it simpler.
So right now, the situation for external stores is a little on the rough side, at least when it comes to unofficial native launchers.
Guess what though? You can use the Windows version of the Epic Games Store, directly on the Steam Deck. If you add the installer as a non-Steam game. Here’s a step by step process:
- Download the EGS installer.
- Add the EGS installer as a non-Steam game either by:
- Clicking “Add A Game” on the bottom left of the Steam client -> “Add a Non-Steam Game” -> navigate to the Downloads folder and pick the EGS msi file.
- Clicking Games in the top menu, then click “Add a Non-Steam Game to my Library” -> navigate to the Downloads folder and pick the EGS msi file.
- Right click the new entry -> Properties -> Force Proton 7.0 in the Compatibility menu.
- Run it, let it install and it will just exit the installer when done.
- Adjust your non-Steam shortcut, to point to the newly installed EGS EXE file. Again by right click -> Properties and then adjust the paths. You should find the EGS launcher somewhere like: "~/.local/share/Steam/steamapps/compatdata/*randomnumber*/pfx/drive_c/Program Files (x86)/Epic Games/Launcher/Portal/Binaries/Win32/EpicGamesLauncher.exe"
Where *randomnumber* is an ID generated by Steam, that’s different each time as it’s a game / app not actually on Steam so it makes a new unique one. It will be a high number, so it’s not hard to find.
- Run it and watch the magic
Even better, here’s a video of it in action:
Considering all those free games I have on the Epic Store, this might even get me to play some of them…
To be clear though, this does not make games with Anti-Cheat work. Just like using plain Steam, developers need to update and test their games. Really, putting their games on Steam is absolutely still the best way to play them on the Steam Deck of course but having options is great.
Plenty more Steam Deck content is planned and in progress, stay tuned. If there are specific guides you want do reply in the comments.
You can follow along for more using our Steam Deck Tag (has a dedicated RSS feed), our Steam Deck Forum Category and the Steam Deck Channel in Discord. Be sure to also follow us on Twitch as we will do some dedicated on-Deck livestreams.