This will not cut out "the middle man" for most developper. Most of them depend on a publisher to pay for their salary for the few year they spend developping the game. So there's no way to publisher will let them sell the game without them making the same profit.
Considering Steam is Valve only (currently), I think they could, theoretically, totally cut out the middle man (hey, Valve is rich!), but I doubt they will. There will certainly be a boxed release as well.
The fact that HL CD-Key system sucks doesn't mean that there aren't any good CD-Key system out there.
I agree, I was merely stating that because
the HL cdkey system sucks, they plan to use steam for it. Perhaps they hope to gain a few more sales? Or perhaps the unified key system is put in place for simplicity...
Oh, and if I really can diseable every feature from the thing (yay!), then why would I need to let it run in the background always wondering if it's sneaking up on me (alright, that did end up a little paranoiac).
If the beta is any indication you can set it so it will not run on startup. You will only need to start it when you play, so you don't need to worry about any Steamy ambushes. =D