Valve, the company behind the popular games platform Steam, has opened its Linux-based Steam portal for beta registration.
The private external beta – which the company is requesting that only experienced Linux developers test – will only support Ubuntu 12.04 or above and will come with Steam, and one Valve game. It will not include "big picture" mode.
One of the aims of running a limited external beta is to test the software on as wide a configuration of hardware as possible. It will also enable Valve to evaluate performance metrics of games running on Linux compared to Windows.
The move demonstrates the company's sincerity in endeavouring to open up the open source operating system to the kind of high-end gaming that has previously eluded Linux, potentially providing the biggest challenge to Microsoft's Windows' hegemony on the desktop PC in 20 years.
Valve founder Gabe Newell, who spent 13 years at Microsoft prior to founding his company in 1996, believes that Microsoft's increasing encroachment into applications – culminating in the built-in app store in Windows 8 – is potentially "catastrophic" for developers in the Microsoft ecosystem.
In a rare interview in the summer, Newell said, "I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. I think we'll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that's true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality."
Newell fears that Microsoft's control of the channel to the customer with its app store will marginalise developers' own businesses and relationships with customers. Microsoft has increasingly encroached on software developers' turf with, for example, Microsoft Office and developer tools in the 1990s, and the Xbox console, network and games publishing in the 2000s.
Valve's migration of Steam to Linux, though, is the most high-profile manifestation of a rebellion among developers who are looking for a potential alternative relatively free from such proprietary control.
Steam provides a portal for downloading and running PC games, similar to the proprietary app stores offered by Apple in iOS on iPhones and iPads, and the app store Microsoft runs on Windows Phone and its Windows 8 RT-based tablet devices. It also provides a wider community and a network for gamers to compete online against each other.