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Linux Steam External Beta Plans

The Valve Linux Blog announces they will begin internally testing Steam for Linux next week, and will begin admitting external testers next month, saying: "Things have been going well. We will be having an internal beta starting next week, and a private external beta for 1,000 users sometime in October." Here's word on where they are with this:

The private external beta will include:

  • Steam
  • One Valve game
  • Support for Ubuntu 12.04 and above

It will not yet include:

  • Big Picture mode
  • Additional Valve games

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27. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 28, 2012, 07:42 eRe4s3r
 
Mhhh, as you no doubt guessed my NTFS question is indeed related to permissions And more importantly, mirroring permissions. If at all possible, completely transparently to windows NTFS based permissions. But I guess that's not possible.. and why most samba NAS configs use EXT4.

I use a 4TB NAS a sort of pure network drive (ie, With a little folder/symlink trickery I can trick windows applications into Installing there without them realizing it) obviously a great thing if you have 2 PC's where you need the same apps with the same project and config shared instantly. ;p There is no way (like physically) the app will be active on both pc's at the same time so it is a little hack job that serves it's purpose (and is great for tricking Steam too)

Flushing write caches manually is too much of a hassle I simply don't use the NAS for that anymore, but it'd be nice if it did work better...
 
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26. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 28, 2012, 06:57 Sho
 
eRe4s3r wrote on Sep 28, 2012, 06:08:
Mhh, then there is only the problem remaining that there simply ain't anything to play on Linux, yet. Some games are supporting Linux but the vast majority does not, so yeah ;)

Well, "ain't anything" is not really true. Last time I counted, which was in 2010 or so, Steam already had several hundred titles in their catalog that were either available natively or use some sort of compatibility shim even on Windows that is equally available on Linux (e.g. Dosbox). Things like, say, all the games from Introversion. And Wine does work even for recent and demanding titles quite often these days (I mentioned playing Spec Ops: The Line in an earlier post).

It's true however that someone who wants to play mainly the latest round of traditional publisher-released AAA titles is currently still best served by Windows. Valve's moves are exciting exactly because they might herald changes in that department, by removing one more handicap traditional publishers have historically cited (the distribution issue).


eRe4s3r wrote on Sep 28, 2012, 06:08:
I guess my main point is.. I am wondering how it works with WLAN on Linux. Let's say I use Ubuntu 12.04 so I have a (mostly) nice desktop, when I plug a WLAN stick in, is it offering me a network selection IN the desktop? Does it let me pick one via a GUI, enter the key and then it connects, gets DHCP config for ipv4 and ipv6 automatically and it just works?

This is the point where we need to abandon talking about "Linux" and note that there are a couple of different popular GUIs for Linux. The most common are KDE, Gnome and Unity. However, they largely share the underlying network management infrastructure via a technology called, creatively, NetworkManager, and only put their own UIs on top of that.

That intro is necessary only to say that the user experience will vary in the details, but generally what will happen when you plug in that stick is that you'll get a notification bubble of some sort and either you'll use that to get to the GUI where you can configure the stick, or you'll call up that GUI manually whenever you prefer. The GUI will let you do all the usual things, from selecting between DHCP and static config to setting up VPN and proxy settings. Some of the more elaborate incarnations of this GUI will also allow you to manage profiles and/or locations, so you have an easier time switching between office and home WLAN modes and associated settings.

By default it'll most likely just pick DHCP and you'll get to pick an SSID from the popup menu on the panel and enter the key and off you go.


eRe4s3r wrote on Sep 28, 2012, 06:08:
What happens when you have USB hard-disks that are shared via network (So you are accessing them on a NAS where they are connected to, not locally on your pc) does linux still have the problem that it can not tell that these are other kind of hard-drives? (Eh, write cache, safe disconnect etc.) (This is something of a personal Issue I have right now, I can connect USB drives to my NAS, and it mounts them properly, but in (Windows!) network they appear as a FOLDER, which means it has a write-cache which is obviously a bad thing for a external drive that you switch on and off I guess I suck at explaining the problem... There is no way to safely disconnect these drives (via windows)

Your NAS will probably advertise these via avahi/zeroconf on the LAN so they'll pop up as devices in the KDE/Gnome/Unity file managers automatically. Whether it'll realize that they're USB disks and need to be handled as such I actually cannot answer, sorry. My LAN storage needs are served by a home server box that offers CIFS and NFS shares on SATA disks, so I never had your kind of setup to contend with.


eRe4s3r wrote on Sep 28, 2012, 06:08:
And lastly, what about NTFS. Can Linux boot on a NTFS partition? Can it access NTFS formated sticks?

Linux has excellent NTFS read/write support these days (ironically faster than Windows itself, due to a combination of the better block I/O subsystem and VFS layer in the kernel and the filesystem driver itself), so that stick is no problem.

As for booting from a NTFS partition, I'd call that possible in theory but impractical for a regular Linux desktop system: Filesystem semantics between Linux/POSIX and Windows are quite a bit different with regard to things like the way permissions are stored or write locks work, and regular Linux software isn't written to expect Windows semantics. So that's more in the realm of tinkering and "neat hack" than something you'd actually want to do.

ETA: I should add that Linux offers things like commands to flush any write caches for any block I/O device, so there's probably ways to handle your NAS situation no matter what.

This comment was edited on Sep 28, 2012, 07:16.
 
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25. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 28, 2012, 06:08 eRe4s3r
 
Mhh, then there is only the problem remaining that there simply ain't anything to play on Linux, yet. Some games are supporting Linux but the vast majority does not, so yeah

I guess my main point is.. I am wondering how it works with WLAN on Linux. Let's say I use Ubuntu 12.04 so I have a (mostly) nice desktop, when I plug a WLAN stick in, is it offering me a network selection IN the desktop? Does it let me pick one via a GUI, enter the key and then it connects, gets DHCP config for ipv4 and ipv6 automatically and it just works?

What happens when you have USB hard-disks that are shared via network (So you are accessing them on a NAS where they are connected to, not locally on your pc) does linux still have the problem that it can not tell that these are other kind of hard-drives? (Eh, write cache, safe disconnect etc.) (This is something of a personal Issue I have right now, I can connect USB drives to my NAS, and it mounts them properly, but in (Windows!) network they appear as a FOLDER, which means it has a write-cache which is obviously a bad thing for a external drive that you switch on and off I guess I suck at explaining the problem... There is no way to safely disconnect these drives (via windows)

And lastly, what about NTFS. Can Linux boot on a NTFS partition? Can it access NTFS formated sticks?

This comment was edited on Sep 28, 2012, 06:16.
 
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24. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 28, 2012, 05:55 Sho
 
"Just works" for both, unless you get really unlucky with that USB stick.

The common WLAN chips from Intel/Atheros/Broadcom are all well-supported nowadays, but WLAN was actually Linux' last remaining driver problem area up until about 5 years ago, and so there might be a few old chips from those and older days that still aren't supported (because their manufacturers only started writing Linux drivers for later generations, etc.). Let's put it another way, any WLAN USB stick you buy in a store right now probably just works.

The X-Fi also works just fine; I have a X-Fi XtremeMusic in my rig myself. Actually I use both the X-Fi (with a Sennheiser headset) and the onboard audio (with speakers). Linux lets you individual move apps between soundcards at runtime from the mixer, and since I'm a bit of a nightowl and have neighbors to three sides it's convenient to kick stuff to the headset when it gets too loud ... I mostly game on the Sennheiser even during the day tho, became a habit.
 
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23. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 28, 2012, 05:47 eRe4s3r
 
So just as a thought experiment, what would happen if I plug a USB W-Lan stick in. On unmodified Ubuntu 12.04 ?

And, what about a X-FI Sound card ;p does this stuff "just work" nowadays, or is fiddling involved?
 
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22. Re: Linux Steam External Beta Plans Sep 28, 2012, 02:06 Ant
 
Go Tux!  
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Ant @ The Ant Farm: http://antfarm.ma.cx and Ant's Quality Foraged Links: http://aqfl.net ...
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21. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 28, 2012, 01:59 Prez
 
Thanks for the info Sho and Krizzen!  
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20. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 28, 2012, 00:06 Axis
 
In my quake clanning days you couldn't pay me to run D3D over OGL, everyone ran opengl without a thought as it was mainstream and solid... microsoft was the waterboy.

I'd love to see Microsoft carry more water to the big boys in the future. I'd like Apple to too, but they are pretty much void in the desktop realm for gaming anyway, and all in on the ipoop stuff...
 
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Yours truly,

Axis
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19. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 27, 2012, 22:00 Sho
 
Gladly helping you. I'll go pretty broad in order to provide a well-grounded answer; don't take this as patronizing, I realize you probably know much of it already.

OK, so let's say you want to develop a typical video game. That means roughly speaking that you want to do three things:

1. Put fancy graphics on screen.
2. Play fancy sounds over the speakers.
3. Do so in response to input from the player.

That means you need to interface with video, audio and input hardware, respectively.

1. Video

Right now, the most common way to interface with video hardware for high-performance graphics is to use one of two APIs that aim to abstract the hardware and ease graphics programming: OpenGL and Direct3D. How much of each API is implemented by the OS vs. by the driver varies by platform and API and driver and these details don't matter for the moment, so let's focus on which API is available on which OS. On Windows, both are available. On iOS and Android only OpenGL is available. On Linux and Mac OS X, only OpenGL is really fully available natively, however there exists a software called Wine for both Linux and Mac OS X that implements Direct3D by translating it to OpenGL.

Wine implements many other Windows APIs aside from Direct3D; the idea is to run Windows applications unmodified. Since implementing all APIs offered by Windows is a huge job and translating from Direct3D to OpenGL has a certain overhead, Wine does not support all games, and the ones that do run won't achieve the same performance as an optimized, native port would. This means that while you can play a lot of games via Wine really quite well (some even run better than on Windows, ironically), there's still value in making native Linux versions.

Porting from Direct3D to OpenGL is certainly quite a bit of work, but it's doable without too great difficulty. The renderer is only a relatively small part of a modern game engine, after all. And if you've licensed a game engine that already comes with rendering code for both Direct3D and OpenGL - for example, the Source engine now - you're pretty well off.

By the way, the resurgence of OpenGL in recent years is a big reason why you're seeing Linux gaming bounce back now. If you're doing a mobile game for iOS or Android, it's going to use OpenGL since it's the only option. OpenGL is also about to become the de-facto accelerated graphics API for web apps via the WebGL standard. And engine/middleware makers want to get in on these markets, so they're adding OpenGL renderers, which means their customers suddenly have a much easier and cheaper time at porting to Linux.

2. Audio

There's an API for high-performance 3D-positiona sound similar to OpenGL called OpenAL. OpenAL was originally invented for Linux, but later found adoption on Windows and Mac OS X as well. Thanks to OpenAL moving sound code between platforms is reasonably easy today.

3. Input

This is actually the area where you in theory need to still write the most platform-specific code. However, there's an open source library called SDL (short for "Simple Direct Media Layer") which was originally started to provide some of the same functionality that the DirectX suite does (i.e. all the other things in there next to Direct3D, like DirectInput) on Linux. Since then SDL has also become available on Mac OS X and Windows. So quite a few games (or engines) actually just use SDL cross-platform now, or at least have SDL backends.


Bottom line, a more direct answer: For all of your games to be playable on Linux either Wine would need to become perfect (which it is increasingly approximating, but not there yet) or the developers of all of your games would need to make native Linux versions. The latter has become more affordable (mobile market synergies, middleware availability). We Linux gamers get by reasonably well on a combination of these two, and as you can see, the future seems to hold ever more native titles right now.
 
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18. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 27, 2012, 21:58 Krizzen
 
Prez wrote on Sep 27, 2012, 21:39:
So help me understand here (complete Linux noob) - for all of my games to be playable on Linux the developer of each would have to make a special Linux version, right? Can Direct X even run on Linux?

Bingo. Special Linux versions, and NO DirectX. Games would have to use DirectX alternatives, which are just fine like OpenGL for video, and fmod for sound!
 
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17. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 27, 2012, 21:39 Prez
 
So help me understand here (complete Linux noob) - for all of my games to be playable on Linux the developer of each would have to make a special Linux version, right? Can Direct X even run on Linux?  
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16. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 27, 2012, 21:14 Krizzen
 
Axis wrote on Sep 27, 2012, 11:57:
*snip* ... we're going to finally see Linux adoptions by more ordinary users en mass. It'll take some time, but leave no doubt this will be the reason.

Ordinary users have already adopted Linux en masse. Android!

I'm sure you meant on the desktop and not a dedicated/embedded device.
 
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15. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 27, 2012, 19:26 Sho
 
As a more general remark, as a long-time Linux user I'm really happy with recent developments in the gaming space. Between all the stuff that got ported for the Humble Bundles, other great indie titles like Amnesia, all the Kickstarter games looming on the horizon (you'll notice they basically all support Linux, and some already hit - FTL is addicting!), Valve with Steam and their Source engine and even Wine maturing (used it to play Spec Ops: The Line recently), I am looking forward to tons of gaming fun on my favorite OS in the next few years. I used to keep a Windows install to reboot into, but I see it ever less now.  
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14. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 27, 2012, 19:14 Sho
 
Drivers are largely a solved problem as well. Hardware manufacturers actually care about Linux now, so they tend to start contributing code to support new devices to the kernel before the devices come out - e.g. you can often find out what Intel has in the pipe by looking at what they put in the kernel a year in advance.

Some drivers are still closed and must be installed separately, notably the video drivers from nVidia and AMD, though AMD is also supporting the development of open drivers now (with documentation and manpower) and nVidia at least is doing a great job at their closed stuff (timely and regular releases, Windows-equivalent or better features and performance - AMD is not quite there sadly).

Apps don't code to drivers that much but to the standard APIs they implement - e.g. OpenGL - so they're in some ways shielded as well.

When it comes to game audio, most games use the same API as on Windows now, OpenAL.
 
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13. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 27, 2012, 18:59 eRe4s3r
 
What about drivers? (Audio, Video) (I admit, I haven't really worked with any Linux for a while now...)  
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12. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 27, 2012, 18:54 Sho
 
FWIW, your last one is a bad example: the kernel never breaks public interfaces, so it's no issue at all. In fact, backward compat on Linux is generally not that much of an issue anymore. It used to be a decade back when the compiler ABIs still changed regularly or big glibc transitions occured, but all of that has pretty much settled down. Binaries are quite transferable these days and Steam will run fine on all mainstream distros, officially supported or not.  
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11. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 27, 2012, 17:30 eRe4s3r
 
Yeah, I meant not amused in a "Ubuntu is going to become the go-to distro for gaming on Linux" kind of way. Because let's face it, nobody cares where Steam Linux is running, the question is where and how do the games run. And for it to become ANY meaningful platform the amount of "tinkering" required to run a linux game should be pressing "install" and "play" if there is ANY step beyond this one, Linux is losing to Windows, where this is the reality (most of the time ^^).

I think Steam is really smart here, in choosing the least moving and best supported distro of them all as base. My snappy remark merely pointed to the fact that other distros are moving, and thus will never be a gaming platform. Because a moving OS is a terrible gaming platform. And this is really why Linux gaming does not exist in any meaningful amount. (That is, Shit is moving when it should not) Windows XP to Windows 8 is a great example, any game that runs on XP properly runs on all these OS. But try running a game made for kernel 2.6 on the latest linux kernel, without tinkering.
 
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10. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 27, 2012, 16:46 Beelzebud
 
eRe4s3r wrote on Sep 27, 2012, 16:06:
It's even funnier that it only supports Ubuntu 12.04+ imo. Other distros are probably not amused

It's sensible for getting things running. They know exactly what libraries Ubuntu is using, and it gives them a target that isn't constantly moving. People on distros like Arch, which update every day, will make do, they like tinkering with things.

I know one of the main contributors to Slackware has said he'll make sure Steam runs on Slackware. I think reasonable people see the logic in how Valve are doing this.
 
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9. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 27, 2012, 16:06 eRe4s3r
 
It's even funnier that it only supports Ubuntu 12.04+ imo. Other distros are probably not amused  
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8. Re: Linux Steam Eternal Beta Plans Sep 27, 2012, 14:45 Jivaro
 
Minuit wrote on Sep 27, 2012, 13:53:
Indeed. This could change the perception of Linux just as much as if id had released Linux versions of Doom or Quake back in the 1990s, or if classics like SMAC or HoMM were ported in 2000...

Oh, wait. They did. And nobody really cared and everyone involved has given up and gone on to new things long ago.

It's still good news, and I'm still going to be excited for it right up until Steve Ballmer has lunch with Gabe Newell, forgets his briefcase full of krugerrands on the table, and then the two of them announce an exciting new partnership between Steam and the Microsoft Totally-Not-An-App-Store Store whereupon this whole experiment is quietly swept under the rug and forgotten about leaving us with nothing more than an Ubuntu port of TF2 and a penguin shaped hat.

I understand your basic premise, however you are comparing apples and oranges. You are talking about individual games, I am talking about the single most recognized and successful digital games seller on the PC bringing their store to the OS and thus giving anyone who wants to make a Linux capable game a widely recognized storefront to sell through. This makes a return on investment more likely, and that is what porting to any OS is largely about. Steam is possibly that "simple" way for people to game using what they currently perceive to be a complicated and less user friendly OS.

I think you are right in that it a huge stretch that somehow this will make Linux a huge player just because of Steam...but that wasn't my point either. I said "aware". I picked that word for a reason. These things don't happen overnight, they happen in baby steps. People just think its a big step when they actually take notice. This has the potential to be that step, that is all I am saying.

It obviously has the potential to fall into a deep pit and be forgotten like the Nintendo Power Glove as well.

This comment was edited on Sep 27, 2012, 15:07.
 
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