Ah, so that's why Valve is busy porting Steam and Left 4 Dead 2 to Ubuntu Linux. Apparently, Valve head honcho Gabe Newell is none too thrilled about Windows 8, and he sees Linux as a potential refuge for PC gamers and enthusiasts.
At least, that's how I understand Newell's response to an interview question asked by VentureBeat yesterday. The question was simple: "What are some of the projects you’re working on?" The Valve founder started his response by saying Valve owes its success to the inherent openness of the PC as a platform, but going forward, the company will need to take an active part in "[making] sure there are open platforms." He went on to say:
One, we’re trying to make sure that Linux thrives. Our perception is that one of the big problems holding Linux back is the absence of games. I think that a lot of people — in their thinking about platforms — don’t realize how critical games are as a consumer driver of purchases and usage. So we’re going to continue working with the Linux distribution guys, shipping Steam, shipping our games, and making it as easy as possible for anybody who’s engaged with us — putting their games on Steam and getting those running on Linux, as well. It’s a hedging strategy.
I think that Windows 8 is kind of a catastrophe for everybody in the PC space. I think that we're going to lose some of the top-tier PC [original equipment manufacturers]. They'll exit the market. I think margins are going to be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that's true, it's going to be a good idea to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality. But when you start thinking about a platform, you have to address it. You have to address mobile. You have to look at what's going to happen post-tablet. If you look at the mouse and keyboard, it was stable for about 25 years. I think touch will be stable for about 10 years. I think post-touch, and we'll be stable for a really long time — for another 25 years. I think touch will be this intermediate….
Well, how about that.
Newell's prediction might seem a little out there, but I can see where he's coming from. Microsoft has clearly chosen to prioritize tablets and touch-enabled systems with Windows 8, and I've ranted at length about how awkward that's going to make things for us enthusiasts. At times, I've also found myself wondering if Linux might offer an escape route from the looming swarm of Metro tiles and full-screen apps. I guess I haven't been the only one.
To be honest, though, I've never been too impressed with Linux's driver support—or open-source alternatives to Windows productivity apps like Excel and Photoshop. I'd probably be happier clinging on to Windows 7 than switching to Linux. That said, if more enthusiasts jump ship with the backing of firms like Valve, who's to say what Linux will look like in a few short years? The widespread availability of virtualization software could ease the transition, too.
One thing's for sure: the next few years are going to be interesting times for PC enthusiasts.