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I have been debating whether to write this up for a while, but here I am. I have completely ditched SteamOS in favour of Ubuntu Mate.

If you follow me on Twitter, you would have probably known this article was coming due to how frustrating an experience it has been for me.

I was spurred on due to the BoilingSteam website writing about it, and they echo some of my own thoughts and frustrations.

Recently I was sat with my son and wanted to play a point & click adventure game called Putt-Putt with him. SteamOS needed to restart to update, so I did and it just flashed into a black screen. We waited quite a long time to see if anything happened but nothing did. After rebooting, the system was completely broken with another black screen.

Oh god #SteamOS what have you done to yourself!

— LiamLinux (@thenaughtysquid) August 20, 2016

I tried everything I could find to fix it. I trawled through the SteamOS help pages, ran their automated recovery scripts from the terminal and nothing worked, everything just resulted in the same black screen. Their help pages mentioned some recovery option that would reset SteamOS, but that doesn't seem to exist if you do the advanced install method (as I had multiple drives with other things on).

I'm not the only person this has happened to; I've seen quite a number of people have a "fatal error loop" requiring a re-install. That is the sort of thing that is going to put people off and already has in some cases. You can see a bug report here that was closed, but people are still having issues. There's another post here, another here and so on. Quite a few people get issues like this and it's not looking good.

That was the final nail in the coffin for my time with SteamOS. I don't have time to deal with such breakage.

That wasn't the first time SteamOS gave me a black screen. It has actually happened to me 3-4 times now, but this time it just didn't want to come back alive. A lot of hassle for something that's supposed to be console-like and be easier to work with to just load up and go. The whole thing feels like it's still in its infancy.

My PS4 has had problems before, so SteamOS certainly isn't alone in having issues, but the difference here is massive. On the PS4 I was able to boot into some sort of safe mode and essentially re-do the PS4 operating system. All achieved with a controller and without any terminals, no resorting to keyboard commands or anything of the sort.

My other issue is that, honestly, I feel like Valve themselves are doing very little for SteamOS to progress into something. Other than driver updates and security fixes they don't seem to be doing anything with it — not even talking about it anymore. I am hoping they have something planned for the next Steam Dev Days, but I'm not holding out hope for something SteamOS related there.

I feel like SteamOS is still missing even some of the most basic things that makes a console-like box attractive to a wider audience. Things like Netflix, Spotify and other simple but useful things like that. You may not agree with me, but everyone I know that owns a console uses a mixture of those two or both rather a lot.

They also missed an important feature of having a party-like system, where you can gather multiple people into a chat/voice chat easily on SteamOS. Something like that is rather essential for setting up games together. I tried it a couple times with Samsai and other people and the built-in voice chat never worked for any of us.

Hell, I feel Valve really missed the mark by not having any livestreaming options in SteamOS. They still haven't even put their own Broadcasting feature into the Linux desktop client nor the SteamOS build yet.

I later setup Ubuntu Mate and within about half an hour it was running solidly with Steam and everything was dandy. For someone like me with whom Linux is the norm, SteamOS is no better than a normal desktop distribution with Steam installed. Since you can have Steam boot directly into Big Picture mode it does seem a little pointless for me now personally. If Steam breaks on Ubuntu Mate, I can find ways to fix it on the same machine — and it won't take the whole machine with it like it will on SteamOS.

The Steam Controller is by far the most useful thing Valve has done recently. I will still happily play from my sofa on Linux thanks to this wonderful device. Thanks to it, I can stay on my sofa, come out of Steam Big Picture and still navigate to other things I want to do all without having to get closer to my TV with a keyboard and mouse.

I still believe SteamOS has its place though. On pre-built machines of course it is much easier (and likely more attractive to consumers) to have SteamOS sold on it, and it makes a good target for developers who use the line of "there's too many distributions". It has done a lot to help push Linux gaming, that goes without saying, but for me it's just not a good fit.

I don't think Valve plan to drop SteamOS any time soon nor do I think it has been a failure. A great experiment and something that has utterly catapulted Linux gaming to where it is now. If Valve ever do a big update to it, I may return to it to see if it's worth it, but considering the few minor updates it gets this may be a long ways off.

So, there ends my experimenting with SteamOS for now.

My final take on this whole experience is this: SteamOS is built for the people making systems and selling them, not for us in reality, Valve just provide it for us because they can. Valve only really care about the problems on the systems sold with it. So I would personally just steer clear of SteamOS unless you're buying it on a supported system.

How have you found your time with SteamOS? Have you also replaced it with a normal distribution like me? Let me know in the comments.

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I am the owner of GamingOnLinux. After discovering Linux back in the days of Mandrake in 2003, I constantly came back to check on the progress of Linux until Ubuntu appeared on the scene and it helped me to really love it. You can reach me easily by emailing GamingOnLinux directly.
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Styromaniac 29 Aug, 2016
I've had this issue multiple times and I finally got a recovery option, with it having been an expert install. It worked. I don't remember if it broke since because the breakage is so routine that I couldn't honestly remember if it didn't do it again.

On the flip side, Even Windows 10 completely broke on me once. All other times Rocket League would have library errors. Rocket League would very consistently break with Windows updates.

Last edited by Styromaniac on 29 August 2016 at 5:06 pm UTC
Cr1ogen 29 Aug, 2016
Is a good choice!! I never used SteamOS to play games. Ever i use Debian Unstable to use Steam and never had a problem with Steam
dmantione 29 Aug, 2016
So Valve do driver updates and security fixes. That's exactly what you would expect for maintaining a stable version. What if Valve are doing real development on an unstable version?

I know, it is just a theory... and if true Valve would have been hiding it quite well, since there is really so sign of an unstable version. Still, it would make perfect sense.
Teq 29 Aug, 2016
I hope GabeN reads these articles and decides to take put more resources to improving SteamOS.
dubigrasu 29 Aug, 2016
Well, I think Valve is more interested in having SteamOS running on their sanctioned Steam Machines rather than the custom ones.
The reset option (like for current consoles) does work if the default installation method is used.

Last edited by dubigrasu on 29 August 2016 at 6:17 pm UTC
Kithop 29 Aug, 2016
That log looks a lot like a video driver issue. I'm going to hazard a guess and say:

nVidia binary driver, they installed a new kernel, and the DKMS build for the glue module failed, meaning no video driver (and it won't smartly fall back to Nouveau - or can't), and Xorg blows up on launch because of it.

Seen this happen when testing kernel 4.7 on my desktop, on a regular Xubuntu install. :S:

I did play around with SteamOS about a year or two ago, and it did work as well as I expected it to. I enabled the regular Gnome login account, played around with what looked like a mostly-standard Debian install, and then realised the biggest shortcoming: The hacks they've done to Xorg to make Steam run under its own VT are great... but they absolutely wreck being able to run things outside of Steam, that may hook into Steam... like, say, recording or streaming with OBS. Or heck, dual monitor support at all.

I tend to have a browser with walkthroughs or chat windows and such up on my secondary monitor while gaming on the first. If I'm streaming, that secondary monitor is where I can keep an eye on OBS and use hotkeys to do scene transitions... or watch stream chat and respond, etc. That all falls apart when SteamOS kills the other monitor and forces you to stay solely 'in the game'.

It's kind of hard to understand the niche that Valve is going for, here. If people want a console experience, they're typically going to just get a console. Most of my friends on consoles are there for one big reason: they're cheap. The secondary reason might be: 'all my friends are on the same network'. Sony and MS subsidize their console hardware to make this happen - that's why it's tough to build a high end AMD APU system with otherwise matching hardware for similar prices. Once you go beyond that, and into the $800+ range for hardware, you're getting into people who want not just a gaming device, but a proper computer - something they can type up their homework or work work on, they can surf the web on (not that Steam's browser isn't functional, but browsing with a controller is an exercise in sadism, even with an actual Steam Controller). Something they can do video editing or music or whatever else you can do with a proper computer.

Linux is perfectly capable for most of those things, of course, but that's where the sell gets harder for people used to Windows (and may have a library of software already from their old computers), and Valve has made it abundantly clear that 'another desktop Linux distro' is not the ideal they're chasing. They want a highly tuned, customized distro that boots straight into Big Picture Mode and has little need for anything else - at that point it kind of makes more sense to think of it a bit like, say, Android. Yes, it's technically Linux, but no one outside of tech circles actually cares, and even heavy Android users would have no clue how to manage or install software on a typical Linux desktop; they're just that disparate from each other.

That means Valve's job would then be to bundle all the things that people want to do into Steam itself. Granted, they've already got stuff like non-gaming software in there (which I've never tried to purchase or use straight from Steam), but as mentioned - Netflix (ugh, with that EME DRM crap), streaming... in my case I'd love to see some kind of integration with Kodi, actually. That would make the most sense as it's already 'done', has its own plugin system for many of those things, and doubles as being able to manage music and movies on local or NAS.

I don't get the feeling that Valve is ready or willing to dump those kinds of resources into SteamOS just yet, and I don't think the people who would be interested in the end-result from a user perspective line up with community members with the technical knowledge to implement it; technical Linux users by and large just don't really care about SteamOS, but we care about the Runtime and the games themselves that we can launch from our own distros. Community fixes and improvements on a 'locked down' experience are going to be hard to come by, leaving the burden almost entirely on Valve. :(
opera 29 Aug, 2016
Fortunately SteamOS runs fine on my machine. No issues so far.
But I am not happy with the lack of features like Streaming Services (Youtube, Twitch, Prime, Netflix).
Zelox 29 Aug, 2016
Well, steamos was something that made me try Linux, I knew about it. But I hade never really giving any thouts about what linux is and why I should use linux and not windows.
I also agree, valve seems lazy or dont really care about there steamos, and they dont really do anything to push it. Or so it seems.

But Its the same thing with there client, its a bit half done and they really dont want to bother with it, and there is alooot of rooms for improvment to be done.
I do think valve wanned to make steam os to something that stores, and computer sellers would pick up as a destro to sell to gamers.

And valve dont really want to have anything to do with it, they just want it to slooowly grow.
I do hope steam os becomes a thing in the future, and valve has made alooot of improvments to linux with steam os.
And the steam client was hated when it first came out, now almost everyone want there games on it, if they dont have it they will lose money, if you arent EA and have battlefield or Mass Effect on your store.
So maybe in time, steam os will grow in to something.

I also think steam os is still in development, and its still in beta.
I can be wrong, so maybe once its more stable things like black screen, kernel crash or other wierd bugs wont happen.
Or atleast steam Os will be more stable with every update.

Edit: Kodi is a great thing, if u want to play games or watch movies/streams.

Last edited by Zelox on 29 August 2016 at 5:51 pm UTC
Liam Dawe 29 Aug, 2016
Added an addition to the bottom of the article:
QuoteMy final take on this whole experience is this: SteamOS is built for the people making systems and selling them, not for us in reality, Valve just provide it for us because they can. Valve only really care about the problems on the systems sold with it. So I would personally just steer clear of SteamOS unless you're buying it on a supported system.
skinnyraf 29 Aug, 2016
It's quite the opposite for me: I don't play on Debian anymore. Login straight to Steam BPM, unattended upgrades, whatever magic it does to give me nice 1080p, HDMI surround sound in my AV receiver - all without any tweaking It Just Works™. The only additional software I got is Minecraft and Kodi though.

I had experienced the black screen once and the Evil Reboot Loop twice. I did one reinstall and since then I've learned how to fix it: rescue mode, get to desktop, sudo Steam.

I agree though that the autorepair script should cover it. SteamOS is on life support and it's visible.
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