Dec 16 2013

SteamOS is based upon Debian, not Ubuntu

Published by at 4:55 pm under Software,Ubuntu Linux

Over the last few years, Canonical has earned the reputation of “trying to be another Apple”, in both the good and the bad meaning. Good, because it shows that Canonical has a vision and follows it. Bad, because Ubuntu is not the community-driven product that so many believed that it was or maybe should have been.
In any case, I’m certain that Valve had very good reasons not to go with a Linux distribution that is “owned” by another company – they are already in such a situation with the OS X and Windows versions of their products. They probably wanted to have full control over what they are doing and no longer wanted to rely on the choices of another party and possible competitor – after all, Steam and the Ubuntu Store -are- competing solutions. Even Valve’s “Big Picture” and Canonical’s “Ubuntu Touch” or “Unity” are competing solutions that have no place on the same system; one environment tries to lock the user into Valve’s ecosystem, the other environment tries to lock him or her into Canonical’s ecosystem.
Debian is not “owned” by a company and does not contain any proprietary extensions that might conflict with Valve’s interests or that have the potential to put them into a problematic legal situation. For Valve, Debian is a good choice. FreeBSD would have been an even better choice for licensing reasons – which is why Apple chose it as the foundation for Darwin – but Debian is close enough and Linux has a generally better hardware support than FreeBSD. Debian is also close to Ubuntu, so most of Valve’s development efforts were not in vain and can easily be re-used.
For the user, none of this actually matters. Most SteamOS users will never notice the difference, simply because they will never leave Steam’s “Big Picture” mode and fall back to the desktop environment.
I’m not sure if Ubuntu ever had a real chance of winning this: Valve ported Steam to Ubuntu not because Ubuntu is such a great environment, but because Ubuntu is the leading Linux distribution for the desktop with the largest user base — a gaming company has to go where the users are.
But does it make sense to base your own system software on a desktop distribution when you want to build a system that is not a desktop but a console? Do you really want to bundle your own store and ecosystem with the store and ecosystem of somebody else? No.
Just like they would not use Windows RT, OS X, iOS or Android with bundled Google Apps and Google Play Store as the foundation of their own operating system with an integrated distribution channel, they certainly did not want to have the Ubuntu Store and Ubuntu One on their SteamOS.
At a first glimpse, Valve’s decision might seem surprising and disappointing for us Ubuntu users. But when you give it some thought, it makes perfect sense. After all, Valve is still a company with commercial interests.

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