When I started programming, people used to think about computers as enabling technology that allows them to travel into space some day. Fifteen years after they have mostly forgotten those visions they had. Now businesses attempt to dictate you should merely consume social media and play angry birds with their computers. All of the mobile phones are designed as if biggest computing task of the user would be to blow a cock. The programming tools are removed and the rest of the interface has been designed for consumption, as if people would never produce anything themselves.
Microsoft Windows 8 is their attempt to drive practises common on mobile phones into the desktop. UEFI Secure Boot makes sure you can't reinstall or change your system. Every app starts in full screen mode, as if designed for a TV-style consumption rather than serious production. Cloud services are deployed to insulate generic purpose computing to remote servers not owned by people who use them. The programming tools were thrown behind paywall already in Windows XP. This is convenient for media cartels because it protects them from piracy. A closed down system cannot be circumvented to illegal copying of a video.
It's been like this in gaming consoles for a while. PS4 is locked down by Sony to prevent user from doing anything else that is not related to games. The gamers love the setting because that's all they want to do on the set. They've been accustomised to thinking that gaming consoles are supposed to be closed from customers.
Most people think that this is all right, as it makes it just easier for them to use their computer. All that stuff which looked too complicated for them to handle seems to be hidden somewhere. It doesn't matter to them because they do not realise that it's not been just hidden but removed. Their preferred state to computing is slowly becoming status quo. Soon there is no way for anyone to silently slide into producing things on computers because production requires special equipment not available to common hardware at home.
This is a problem because any serious passion towards anything originates from small successes. You do not born into a writer, musician, artist or programmer. You start as a common person who knows nothing about those things. You start from status quo. Except that it's just been conveniently arranged that there's no way out to producing things.
Since you are allowing computing platform to restrict you, you have demoted yourself and your children into an observer. You won't get to fullfill those whims that would lead you to pursue larger motives. You are a passive shit in a DRM jail. What's worse, you doom everyone else around you and throw their dreams into a trashbin.
This is especially depressing because computers have become insanely good at doing their stuff. 15 milliseconds in your mobile phone is equivalent to 3 hours of processing on a desktop computer 30 years ago. It should be possible to more with computers now. Not less.
SteamOS is going to salvage PC and your basic freedoms to computing. This is the first time when an established game company releases a Linux distribution. It's going to be a blast. The desktop computers will catch Linux alongside and they can be finally used for something more interesting again.
What is a SteamOS?
SteamOS is a Gaming oriented Linux distribution by Valve Corporation. Linux distribution is a fancy way to say "Linux Operating System". An operating system provides some basic services for programs and makes the computer easier to work with. Linux has been designed for getting any job done.
SteamOS will be loaded by default on Steam Machines that are built out of PC hardware. This means that systems will be designed such that you can install any Linux system for them.
People can build their own Steam Machines from components because they use PC components after all. With the exception that there will be less bad choices because they all need to run Linux.
What is a Linux?
Linux is a Kernel of an operating system. It implements network stack, interfaces with peripheral drivers, provides a common platform for programs and user to run and interact with, constructs filesystem access, maintains user accounts, process and file permissions so normal users can't destroy the whole system by accident. It's also Free Open Source Software.
Anyone can fork Linux sources, publish them and make changes to them. It's been made easy to contribute to. Linus Tolvards and handful of regular contributors work as gatekeepers who will study at the changes and merge them with the main kernel if the changes are good. Hackers love Linux because there's no need to ask permissions from anyone to start working on something. If you think it's worthwhile your time, you're going to do it.
Open Source has been widely successful model of doing software except by desktop software that relies on graphics. It already runs in servers and small computer systems. Linux has itself become native platform of hackers. Whenever a new programming platform or technology gets released, it will first appear there. Other open source software tends to collect into Linux. As the result lot of software seems to be broken, but others stay up no matter how much they are abused. It's common practise to combine software to conduct larger works. That's the way it is when anyone can program for their own amusement.
The people who are using Linux prefer to keep the Linux distributions easy to program. Programming tools are chosen by programmers and not committees. Therefore Linux distributions commonly have several different kinds of programming languages for different purposes. Even the command line prompt has it's own programming language. When something widely available is needed, it's usually written in C because that is the most available language in Linux, because it has been written in C. Nobody proper person dictates which language you should use, and this culture of freedom is something that in my opinion defines Linux.
Linux based operating systems excel at networking. Linux can update itself through network connection, and if you've configured yourself a remote shell, you can access the computer from anywhere where you have internet-, radio- or some other access to the computer. Not only remote access should be possible. It's perfect setting for providing thin clients and other small machines that relay input to a larger computer in the living room.
The Linux origins are in a post Linus sent to comp.os.minix mailing list 22 years ago. The operating system sort of grew along the author. It isn't a coincidence that it is so good at networking. Linus himself used and is still using mailing lists to communicate with people. You can read more about Linux in Wikipedia.
I've heard the following claims of SteamOS, in Steam Universe forums:
- Steam Machine is just a PC with limited function and limited catalog of games. It's not a gaming console.
- Valve is doing SteamOS to take over the PC platform.
- Every PS4 contains an unicorn from North Korea that is optimized and dedicated to gaming. They must be sealed from public because otherwise they will metamorphose into building bricks.
- SteamOS is a failure and stupid attempt that will never catch mainstream acceptance.
- There are already too many consoles.
- Linux works only for computer hackers.
- Hardware support for SteamOS will suck.
- DirectX is better than OpenGL.
- You have to upgrade Steam Machine every year to keep playing games.
These statements multiplied after Valve announced that their beta program had to be excluded within US. People do not seem to read what already reads on the forums before they post.
SteamOS means a major blow for any vendor who attempts to dictate what their hardware is used for. Sure Valve itself can't force what can be done with Steam Machine either. Anyone can release a SteamOS powered machine too so they're not safe from competition and have to innovate to stay afloat. Valve completely surrenders the control of the platform to the user and we're ending up full circle back into AmigaOS and DOS -era.
It's horrible for media companies. They will see people playing pirated steam games, listening pirated music, running emulators and breaking into computer systems using Steam Machines. Valve is going to show them the finger. It saw what was about to happen when creativity was stumped to protect copyright.
I think the next logical step would be to drive the practises common on desktop to the mobile phones. We should get rid from Windows Phone, iOS and Android because they simply suck for producing stuff. You should always use a generic purpose computer so someone can do something stupid with it. Even if you were just having fun.