As a tablet or touch interface, Windows 8 is looking pretty sweet. As something I, or anyone else I know for that matter, might want to use every day on my desktop machine... not so much. In fact, I’ve pretty much decided it’s an OS to skip – assuming that’s going to be a viable option.
It’s curious enough that a lot of folks in the office, both Atomic and otherwise, feel the same way, but it’s even more interesting – and disturbing – that our thoughts are echoed by big movers in the PC gaming space.
Last week, Valve’s Gabe Newell referred to Windows 8 as a “catastrophe for everyone in the PC space”, and now Blizzard’s Rob Pardo, executive vice president of game design at the House of WoW, has chimed in – and he agrees. He was asked on Twitter what he thought of Windows 8 and its impact on the gaming community; he had this to say:
‘nice interview with Gabe Newell - "I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space* - not awesome for Blizzard either.’
If you add this up, it’s really not a rosy outlook: gamers don’t want it, game makers don’t want it, game distributors don’t want it.
The latter part was touched on by Newell, who feels that Microsoft’s decision to make its own Xbox LIVE and Windows Store a part of Windows 8 is more than a little worrying for third parties. “There's a strong temptation to close the platform because they look at what they can accomplish when they limit the competitors' access to the platform, and they say, 'That's really exciting,'".
Newell’s concern over Windows 8 puts Valve’s efforts to port Steam to Linux into a very interesting light. Gaming on Linux has always been somewhat... uneven (don’t hate me, Linux fans!), but Steam could change all that, while also giving Valve and Steam a whole new audience that isn’t locked down by catastrophic operating systems.
However Richard Stallman recently waxed philosophical on what effects Steam might have on the free OS. “Nonfree game programs (like other nonfree programs) are unethical because they deny freedom to their users. (Game art is a different issue, because it isn't software.) If you want freedom, one requisite for it is not having nonfree programs on your computer. That much is clear,” he said in at www.gnu.org. “However, if you're going to use these games, you're better off using them on GNU/Linux rather than on Microsoft Windows. At least you avoid the harm to your freedom that Windows would do.”
It’s plain to see that Stallman sees Steam as somewhat of an existential risk to Linux, but at the same time, he also thinks that Linux could well change Steam and Valve, or even sway people away from Windows. “It might encourage GNU/Linux users to install these games, and it might encourage users of the games to replace Windows with GNU/Linux,” Stallman says. “My guess is that the direct good effect will be bigger than the direct harm. But there is also an indirect effect: what does the use of these games teach people in our community?”
The worst case scenario here is an interesting one. Assume Newell’s fears about Windows becoming a locked environment come true; assume, also, that Steam’s foray into the Linux world is not so well received. What then?
Well, and this might sound supremely crazy... What about a SteamOS?
If you consider what Steam has already accomplished, from its built-in community functions, to game patching, to, well, everything else that makes it so convenient, it’s really not that long a bow to pull. Sitting back, and thinking about what I do on my home system, there’s really not a I can do in Windows that I couldn’t do in Steam; with built-in browser functionality, I can still access things like Google Docs, where I do a lot of writing and other work, and email, and... The list goes on.
In fact, it’s a pretty attractive thought, if you’re a gamer. Sure, there's all kinds of issues, like the many publishers who don't want a part of Valve's service (I'm looking at you, EA, though Blizzard's not much better). But imagine an OS that is built just for you, designed around your gaming experience. More than a few people have already posited the idea on the Steam forums, so I think it’s probably safe to assume there are folks at Valve thinking about it, even if it’s only in a Blue Sky kind of way. Ironically, any SteamOS would probably run off Linux anyway, and would face a huge challenge in dealing with DirectX, but I'm sure folks far smarter than me can come up with interesting solutions.
But certainly, with Windows 8 looking ever more dire for PC gaming, perhaps it’s not so farfetched.