Windows 8, Valve, and Linux

>> Sunday, August 5, 2012

I've been reading a lot about Windows 8. Gunnar Berger and Peter Bright say that it's great for tablets but disconcerting for mouse-and-keyboard users. Gabe Newell, CEO of Valve, calls it a "catastrophe for everyone in the PC space." This is because Windows 8 comes with the Windows Store, which competes with Steam, Valve's popular online store for PC games. Mr. Newell is understandably concerned that Microsoft may use its home field advantage to handicap non-Microsoft applications or suppress them altogether. After all, that's how Apple does business.

So Mr. Newell has become interested in Linux. He wants Steam's games to run as well on Linux as they do on Windows, and his developers are working hard to improve Linux graphics drivers. I think this is wonderful, but Valve isn't the first company to try Linux gaming. Loki Software, which ported Windows games to Linux, went bankrupt after three years of operation. id Software made multiple attempts to sell games on Linux, but met with failure each time. You can watch John Carmack's discussion here.

When I consider Windows 8's strange new interface and its closed-shop policies, I think this could be a golden opportunity for Linux on the desktop. But there are two important problems:

  1. User interface - neither of the two main environments (GNOME and KDE) are sufficiently polished and intuitive for widespread adoption
  2. Marketing - traditionally, Mac OS is for hipsters, Windows is for corporate types, and Linux is for nerds
These problems can be overcome. For the user interface, it occurs to me that Linux could do well by adopting Microsoft's old interface, Windows 7. There will be patent/copyright hurdles, but it would be hilarious if Linux gave users an environment that was more familiar to them than Microsoft's new environment.

For marketing, I think Linux should emphasize its anti-establishment, pro-individual stance. Tired of police states and corporate tyranny? Try Linux, the free OS for free spirits! Sick of Apple and Microsoft telling you what applications you can and can't install? Use Linux and download whatever you like!

But to get Linux seriously accepted on the desktop, a company needs to expend serious money and development time. Red Hat is the company most associated with Linux, but they're focused on servers, not desktop computers. But if Valve were to put its sizable resources behind Linux on the desktop, wonderful things could happen.

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