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How to Use the SteamOS Desktop

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Valve’s SteamOS is a living-room operating system you can install yourself, but it will start shipping on Steam Machines later this year. While SteamOS is intended as a living-room operating system, it actually has a full Linux desktop.

The desktop underneath the slick Steam interface is a standard GNOME desktop built on top of Debian Linux. If you’ve used Linux before, it should look very familiar.

Accessing the Linux Desktop

The Linux desktop is installed by default, but it’s hidden to protect typical users from accidentally stumbling into the Linux desktop on their televisions. To enable it, click the Settings option in the top-right corner to access the Settings screen.

Select the Interface screen and click the Enable access to the Linux desktop option.

You can now click exit and select Return to Desktop. Steam’s interface will close and present a Linux desktop to you.

Introducing the Desktop

If you’re a Linux geek, you’ll recognize the SteamOS desktop as the GNOME Shell desktop — along with other GNOME 3 utilities — built on top of Debian Wheezy. If you’re not a Linux geek, the desktop should look reasonably familiar anyway. There’s a top panel and a desktop with shortcuts.

The Computer, home, and Trash icons open a file manager to different locations on your SteamOS system. The home shortcut opens your home folder. On a Linux system, your home folder is where all your user-specific files and settings are stored. It’s the equivalent of a C:UsersNAME folder on Windows. The Computer icon will show you all your connected drives — for example, USB flash drives you plug in will show up here.

SteamOS appears to use a single user account for all SteamOS desktop use. If you share your SteamOS system with someone else and you each log in with a different Steam account, you’ll all share the same account and files on a desktop. Bear this in mind — it’s important if you share your device. Your Steam password won’t protect access to your files, settings, and browsing history on the desktop.

Valve only provides a few desktop shortcuts of their own. If you ever want to leave the desktop, just double-click the Return to Steam icon. If you need to submit a bug report about problems with SteamOS, double-click the Valve Bug Reporter icon to open their bug-reporting tool.

Opening Applications

To view all installed applications, click the Activities option at the top-right corner of the screen.

By default, it will show any open windows you have. You can click a window to switch to it, or drag-and-drop a window to the bar on the right to move windows between your multiple virtual desktops.

To view installed applications, click the Applications option at the top of the Activities screen. Click an icon to launch any application. You can also filter your installed applications by selecting a category at the right, or drag-and-drop applications to the bar on the left for easier access.

Using Iceweasel, a Desktop Web Browser

For now, let’s focus on the most important application here — Iceweasel. Don’t let the name fool you; Iceweasel is actually the Mozilla Firefox web browser in disguise.

Why is it called Iceweasel? Well, that’s a long story. In short, while Mozilla Firefox’s code is open source and freely reusable and redistributable, the branding — that is, the name “Mozilla Firefox” and the Firefox logo — is trademarked. The Debian Linux distribution once used a browser named “Firefox” without the Firefox logo, as the logo was considered a non-free image and against Debian’s fairly strict free content guidelines. In 2006, Mozilla informed Debian that they would have to use the Firefox logo and have all their changes to Firefox approved by Mozilla if they wanted to keep calling their browser Firefox. In response, Debian changed the name of their browser to Iceweasel, a parody of the name Firefox. As Valve’s SteamOS is built on top of Debian, SteamOS inherited this change. Rest assured that Iceweasel’s code is the same as Firefox’s.

Iceweasel works the same as Firefox and has access to Mozilla’s services, including the Mozilla add-ons site and Firefox Sync for syncing your Firefox browser data. If you’re used to Firefox on Windows, one minor change you’ll notice is that the Preferences screen is available under Edit > Preferences instead of the Tools menu.

Installing Software

The selection of installed applications is otherwise pretty minimal. There’s a typical GNOME suite of desktop utilities for viewing PDFs and images, accessing a Linux terminal, searching your files, and customizing desktop settings.

However, you’ll also find a suite of software management tools. There’s the Add/Remove Software application for installing and removing packages, the Software Update tool for updating installed software, and the Software Settings tool for defining your software sources.

Linux desktops use package managers to manage their software. Rather than downloading software installers from the web — as you do on the Windows desktop — you open your package manager and use it to download and automatically install packages from your Linux distribution’s software repositories. Updates arrive via the package manager, too. This system is much like an “app store,” but package managers existed for many years before app stores.

At the moment, the available software is pretty bare. Every installed application, library, and system tool is part of a package, and Valve is using Debian’s apt-get package manager to automatically update them. However, there’s little in the form of additional packages to install just yet.

In the long term, Valve has plans to provide a wider variety of packages for installation from their own repositories — they’ll appear in the Add/Remove Software application for easy installation. SteamOS community members will likely create their own software repositories as well, which you’ll be able to add via Software Sources for easy installation and updates for a wide variety of Linux desktop software.

You should also be able to install a wide variety of desktop software on SteamOS by downloading it from the developer’s website. For example, Google Chrome, Flash, Skype, Dropbox, Minecraft, and a wide variety of other popular programs are available for the Linux desktop and could be installed on SteamOS. If they work on Debian Wheezy, they’ll probably work on SteamOS — although installing other required packages may be a problem at the moment.

At the moment, installing software will require more work. You’ll likely be able to install managed packages built for Debian Wheezy on SteamOS, but you’ll probably want to wait if you’re not a sophisticated Linux user. Once the SteamOS desktop stabilizes more and more software is made available for it, installing software will be much easier.

Bear in mind that Valve doesn’t recommend SteamOS for desktop use. You’re stepping outside the bounds of their curated experience here, just like when you install the Linux desktop on a Chromebook. Valve is focused on providing a slick living-room experience, not on creating a desktop operating system to compete with Microsoft Windows.

Since 2013 the Steam gaming platform’s developer Valve has maintained its own Linux-based operating system: SteamOS. Originally intended for a range of now-abandoned “Steam Machine”-branded hardware, this Linux gaming OS can be installed on any computer. But is SteamOS any good for Linux gaming? Can you rely solely on SteamOS for gaming, or should you dual boot with Windows? Let’s take a look. What Is SteamOS? SteamOS is a Debian family build of Linux that is optimized for video games. It is installed on standard PC hardware and provides a console-like experience via the Steam game client. For a console…

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By Christian Cawley
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How to use the steamos desktop

Since 2013 the Steam gaming platform’s developer Valve has maintained its own Linux-based operating system: SteamOS.

Originally intended for a range of now-abandoned “Steam Machine”-branded hardware, this Linux gaming OS can be installed on any computer.

But is SteamOS any good for Linux gaming? Can you rely solely on SteamOS for gaming, or should you dual boot with Windows? Let’s take a look.

What Is SteamOS?

SteamOS is a Debian family build of Linux that is optimized for video games.

How to use the steamos desktop

It is installed on standard PC hardware and provides a console-like experience via the Steam game client. For a console like experience, Big Picture mode is recommended.

More specifically, SteamOS features a tweaked kernel that is designed to improve gaming performance. The latest graphics drivers are supported, but SteamOS features little in the way of additional applications. While it has the GNOME desktop and a version of the Chrome browser, little else is included.

After all, this is an OS that is all about gaming. While ChromeOS is dedicated to cloud computing, SteamOS is dedicated to gaming.

SteamOS Hardware Requirements

As of June 2020, the minimum hardware requirements for running SteamOS on your PC are:

  • Intel or AMD 64-bit capable processor
  • 4GB or more memory
  • 250GB or larger disk
  • NVIDIA, Intel, or AMD graphics card
  • USB port or DVD drive for installation

Of course, for games with the full graphical and FPS settings, you’ll need more RAM and a top-of-the-range GPU.

Significantly, however, most currently available PCs are more than suitable for running SteamOS. Whether you choose an old device or a brand-new PC, most of the Linux-compatible Steam library can run.

Note that while the operating system is open source, the Steam client and some of the third-party drivers are proprietary. If you’ve gamed on Linux before, you’ll understand that this isn’t unusual. But if you’re an open source advocate, it might not be the ideal solution for you.

What Games Run on SteamOS?

How to use the steamos desktop

A decent selection of Steam-hosted games run on SteamOS—too many to list here. In June 2020 over 6,500 Linux-compatible games were available in the Steam library.

That’s an impressive library of titles that includes big hitters including Civilization 6, Saints Row IV, Rocket League, CS: GO, and Dota 2. Independent publishers also release games on Linux, resulting in the most diverse and vibrant games and community.

Meanwhile, around 250,000 people using Linux for Steam gaming daily. That figure is of course lower than the total number of Linux users with Steam installed.

In short, Steam is the future of Linux gaming, and SteamOS plugs you directly into that environment.

Does SteamOS Have Any Limitations?

SteamOS, while good, has some limitations.

For a start, there is the obvious flaw: not all games are available with Linux. While SteamOS has resulted in Linux compatibility increasing dramatically and indie games often support Linux, many major publishers ignore it.

It’s getting much better than it was, however. Often, games are released initially on Windows and macOS, then support is added for Linux down the line.

Another SteamOS drawback is that the operating system is geared up just for gaming. While additional software can be added via Apt, you’ll be waiting for a lot of dependencies to also install. If standard computing is required, SteamOS is best avoided in favor of a normal Linux desktop. You can still install the Steam client if needed.

Install SteamOS on Your PC

If you fancy installing SteamOS you’ll need a 4GB USB stick or black DVD to write the installer to.

Download: SteamOS (Free)

The simplest option is the Automated Installation—this will wipe your hard disk drive, however. For dual booting, use the Expert Install option to create a new disk partition for installing SteamOS.

What Is Gaming Like on SteamOS?

So, SteamOS is a Debian-based operating system with the Steam client preinstalled.

There’s not much to say about the Steam client itself that you probably don’t already know. It’s the same Linux client, which is largely identical to the one on Windows and macOS. It has all the same features, including In-home Streaming. There’s nothing you’re missing out on by using SteamOS.

Gaming performance, too, is indistinguishable. Whether RPG, FPS, or strategy, Linux is up to the task. Hardly a surprise from a performance point of view, but it’s impressive how Steam handles Linux. In addition, achievements and other unlockables are also supported.

Breaking it down, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. SteamOS doesn’t include much more than the Steam client, leaving considerable system resources that can be dedicated to each game. Any differences in performance between Windows and Linux are minimal. Ultimately, if you’re getting equal frame rates, it’s tough to tell the difference anyway.

Controller support is good too, with pretty much any controller you can think of supported. While the best results are probably Xbox One or PS4 style controllers, the Steam Controller is worth using. However, as these are increasingly rare, a standard console controller is your best option.

Gaming on Linux? You Need SteamOS!

If you plan to use Linux primarily for gaming, SteamOS is the best option around. It’s lightweight, has good GPU support, and the list of compatible games is increasing all the time.

Used alone it can handle most of the games you’ll want to play. Further, since 2018 Steam Play has been added to the Steam client. This features a modified version of Wine and is intended to persuade incompatible games to run on Steam.

Any games that refuse to run will require close attention under PlayOnLinux/Wine, or installation in a virtual machine. Both options result in poorer performance on newer titles, however.

But what you really want to know is this: can SteamOS replace Windows?

Well, if you’re all about PC gaming and the games you like have Linux support, then yes. But you might want to dual boot and use Windows for productivity or as a non-Linux gaming alternative.

If you’re a fan of online gaming you’ll probably use a chat solution to easily stay in touch with your fellow gamers. Find the best game chat tool in our comparison of Discord vs. Steam Chat.

This doesn’t address a problem that I have and I seem to need the Administrator account password to solve it which is enabling auto log in. I’ve had to use the modded UEFI over-ride version so could be isolated to that version but upon loading SteamOS I need to do the user/pass ‘steam’ to log on everytime which just doesn’t do for something that is meant to sit in the living room and controlled with a joypad.

In user accounts I need to gain admin rights via the SteamOS Desktop account in order to set the auto login feature for the standard Steam account. I’m stumped

If the system is asking for the root password, they you are not running the command with sudo. If for some strange reason the desktop account has lost the sudo group, you can boot to recover mode from the grub menu and run:

This doesn’t address a problem that I have and I seem to need the Administrator account password to solve it which is enabling auto log in. I’ve had to use the modded UEFI over-ride version so could be isolated to that version but upon loading SteamOS I need to do the user/pass ‘steam’ to log on everytime which just doesn’t do for something that is meant to sit in the living room and controlled with a joypad.

In user accounts I need to gain admin rights via the SteamOS Desktop account in order to set the auto login feature for the standard Steam account. I’m stumped

If the system is asking for the root password, they you are not running the command with sudo. If for some strange reason the desktop account has lost the sudo group, you can boot to recover mode from the grub menu and run:

Or manually edit the /etc/group file and append the desktop account to the sudo group.

the group file shows “sudo:x:27:desktop” already. I’m trying to set auto login through the user accounts applet in system settings. When I try to unlock the controls in the top right, it asks for the root password for accounts “Administrator” hi-lighted in bit red writing. I’ve tried the password steam and also the one I set using passwd.

When I try to do elevated commands with sudo in terminal I do get this “Sorry, user steam is not allowed to execute ‘/usr/bin/apt-get update’ as root on steamos.”

Does everyone else have this same behaviour as it seems my install is locked down and was like this from the get go

How to use the steamos desktop

Late on Friday, December 13, Valve released the first public version of SteamOS. As you would expect, SteamOS is currently very rough around the edges — it is essentially just a version of Debian 7.1 (Wheezy) that has Steam pre-installed. As it stands, I can’t really recommend that you to install SteamOS on some dedicated hardware — it would be a waste of time. If you’re interested in Valve’s latest machination, though, and toying with what might be the future of gaming, it’s well worth installing SteamOS in VirtualBox. That’s what I did — and I’ve written a guide on how to install SteamOS in VirtualBox, if you feel like doing the same.

Brute force

To begin with, it’s definitely not easy to install SteamOS in VirtualBox. Valve clearly didn’t intend for you to do this; you can’t just mount an ISO and install it, like a normal Linux distro. That isn’t to say that this is for experts only, though — even if you’re a Linux or VirtualBox newbie, as long as you follow this guide to the letter, you should have a working SteamOS installation within 30 minutes or so.

[This guide is for Windows XP/7/8, but if you can find a tool to create ISOs from folders or zip files for your operating system, it would work for OS X and Linux as well.]

Begin by downloading everything. Grab the latest version of VirtualBox and install it (it may take some time.) Get SteamOSInstaller.zip from Valve. Download ISO Creator and install it.

How to use the steamos desktop

Extract SteamOSInstaller.zip into its own folder. Open ISO Creator. You can name the ISO whatever you like, just make sure you save the ISO in a sensible location. Select the folder that you extracted the zip file to. Hit Start and wait a minute or two while the ISO is created.

How to use the steamos desktop

Now open VirtualBox. This bit is somewhat complex with lots of little steps and gotchas, so be careful. Create a New virtual machine. Give it any name. Type = Linux. Version = Debian (64 bit). Click Next. Pick any amount of memory (1GB is sensible if you’re just going to fool around; 4GB if you want to try out DOTA 2 or something). Accept the default options on the next few pages of the wizard, and choose “Dynamically allocated” when prompted. Pick a hard drive size of around 50GB.

Once you’ve created the virtual machine, select it on the right hand side and enter Settings. Click System and select Enable EFI. Click Display and select Enable 3D Acceleration. Slide the Video Memory slider up to 128MB. Click Network and select Bridged Adapter from the Attached to drop-down. Click USB and use the + icon on the right to add your USB keyboard and mouse (if applicable).

How to use the steamos desktop

Finally, head to Storage, click the optical disc icon under Controller: IDE, then hit the optical disc icon on the right hand side (see image). Click Choose A Virtual CD/DVD Disk File, then find the ISO file that you made earlier. Click OK to return to the main VirtualBox interface.

If you receive an error at this point, it’s probably because you haven’t enabled virtualization in BIOS. Enabling virtualization is beyond the scope of this how-to, but if you Google the name of your motherboard and “how to enable virtualization” it’s pretty easy.

How to use the steamos desktop

Start the SteamOS machine!

Now, click Start and pray. If all goes to plan, you’ll be greeted with a prompt that looks like the image above. After 2.0 Shell> type the following: FS0:EFIBOOTBOOTX640 . If you can’t type the backslash ( ) for some reason (I couldn’t), change your system’s keyboard to US layout, then use the On-Screen Keyboard app to type the . Press Enter, and you should be greeted with the first sign that you’re installing SteamOS.

How to use the steamos desktop

From this screen, press Enter to begin the automated install. Don’t worry about the WILL ERASE DISK! warning — VirtualBox prevents SteamOS from changing anything on your local filesystem.

How to use the steamos desktop

The installation process is automatic and takes a few minutes.

How to use the steamos desktop

Once the automated install is complete the system will reboot and you’ll be greeted with the above screen. Select the second option, recovery mode. The system will boot up and you’ll end up at a Linux command prompt.

How to use the steamos desktop

Install VirtualBox Guest Additions

So that SteamOS is actually usable as a virtualized OS (clipboard sharing, shared folders, better mouse pointer integration), you must now install VirtualBox’s Guest Additions. From the command prompt type the following commands, pressing Enter after each one.

  • mount /media/cdrom
  • sh /media/cdrom/VboxLinuxAdditions.run

This will take a few moments to install, then type reboot and press Enter.

How to use the steamos desktop

Almost there…

This time around, don’t touch the GRUB bootloader and your system will automatically boot into a graphical interface — SteamOS! Well, almost. You’ll be greeted with a login prompt. Keep Default Xsession selected. The username and password are both steam .

How to use the steamos desktop

For some reason, the Return To Steam icon on the desktop doesn’t work; you need to click Activities in the top left, then Applications, and scroll down to Steam. The Steam app will update, and then you’ll be greeted with the usual login prompt. Log in, hit Big Picture in the top right corner… and voila! You now have a (virtualized) Steam Machine!

From this point on, you’re pretty much on your own. I haven’t explored SteamOS much yet, but to be honest it doesn’t look like there’s much to discover: Right now, I think it’s just Debian with Steam pre-installed. It’s probably a good idea to have SteamOS installed now, though, so that you can take a look at exciting features — such as local game streaming — when they’re rolled out in 2014.

How to use the steamos desktop

How to use the steamos desktop

Personally, I installed World of Goo and played it for a while. 3D performance in VirtualBox isn’t great, so don’t expect to do a lot of gaming in your VirtualBox install of SteamOS.

And now… time to install SteamOS properly on my main gaming PC so that I can do some benchmarking on a real Steam Machine! Presumably, if Valve wants to lure people away from Windows to SteamOS/Linux, game performance under SteamOS better be pretty darn good…

  • Intel or AMD 64-bit capable processor
  • 4GB or more memory
  • 250GB or larger disk
  • NVIDIA, Intel, or AMD graphics card
  • USB port or DVD drive for installation

SteamOS currently has two different repositories, “brewmaster” and “brewmaster_beta”. “brewmaster_beta” is a testing release where fixes and features will gradually accumulate on a daily or weekly basis. When the beta stabilizes, those fixes will be promoted to the “brewmaster” repository. This process is similar to the existing steam/steam_beta process. Important security updates or critical bugfixes may get pushed directly to “brewmaster” if needed. Currently we are aiming for a rhythm where brewmaster_beta is updated every Monday and brewmaster gets updated on the first Wednesday of the month. We expect this will change over time.

If you want to opt your machine into brewmaster_beta, you can run this command from a terminal session on the desktop: “sudo apt-get install steamos-beta-repo” Now when SteamOS checks for updates, you will get the newer packages from the brewmaster_beta repository. WARNING: there is no easy way to opt out of the beta, you will need to either restore your system partition or wait for “brewmaster” to catch up to the brewmaster_beta!

  • Unzip the SteamOSInstaller.zip file to a blank, FAT32-formatted USB stick (MBR, not GPT).
  • Put the USB stick in your target machine. Boot your machine and tell the BIOS to boot off the stick. (usually something like F8, F11, or F12 will bring up the BIOS boot menu).
  • Make sure you select the UEFI entry, it may look something like “UEFI: Patriot Memory PMAP”
  • Pick “Automated Install” from the next menu.
  • The rest of the installation is unattended and will repartition the drive and install SteamOS.
  • After installation is complete, the system will reboot and automatically log on and install Steam. At this point an internet connection is required. If you have an internet connection, Steam will automatically install itself. If you do not have an internet connection (for instance, if you need to connect to a WiFi access point) you will get a popup telling you this. Close the popup and you will get the network configuration UI where you can set up your network. Once you are connected to the internet, close this UI and Steam will install itself.
  • After Steam finishes installing, your system will automatically reboot and create a backup of the system partition.
  • When the backup completes, select “reboot” to boot into your freshly installed SteamOS

To access the SteamOS desktop, it must be enabled from the Steam Settings menu. Select Settings (the gear icon in the top right) then select Interface and check the “Enable access to the Linux desktop” box. Now the Exit button will have an additional option, “Return to Desktop” that will switch to the SteamOS desktop.

From the desktop, click on the “Return to Steam” icon to switch back to Steam.

SteamOS comes with two predefined accounts. The first is “steam” and it is the account where Steam and all its games run. This is a non-privileged account. The second account is “desktop” and this is where the SteamOS desktop and any non-Steam applications run. This account can use ‘sudo’ to gain administrative privileges after you set a password for it.

Note that these are SteamOS accounts and are not associated with any Steam Login. Even though you can login multiple Steam users, all those users will currently be sharing the same SteamOS desktop and accounts.

The standard SteamOS installation includes a recovery partition on the hard drive. You can use this partition to restore the system drive to its original state. Your Steam installation, games, and any desktop changes you have made will be preserved. To use the recovery partition, you will need a keyboard attached to your SteamOS machine. Turn the machine off and back on. Press the ESC key repeatedly as the system starts and you will get the SteamOS boot menu. Select “Restore System Partition” from the menu. The system will starts and prompt you for confirmation. After restoring your system disk, your system will boot back into SteamOS

If the recovery partition does not fix the problem, every Steam Machine also includes a USB recovery disk. This will completely reimage your hard drive and return the machine to its factory state. Any Steam games or desktop changes will be lost. To use the recovery disk, you will need a keyboard attached to your SteamOS machine. Turn the machine off, insert the USB recovery disk, and turn it back on. Press F11 as the system starts and you will get the firmware “Select Boot Device” menu. Select the first “UEFI: Centon Centon USB 8.07” entry and you will get the SteamOS recovery disk boot menu. Select “Restore Entire Disk” from the menu. Your machine will be completely reinstalled. When the process completes, the machine will shutdown. Turn the machine back on to boot into SteamOS.

Steam isn’t the only place you can install games from. There are other platforms/apps that can run games e.g., Xbox and the Xbox app or the Microsoft Store. Admittedly, no one really goes to the Microsoft Store to look for games but some games can only be found there. Even if you have a preference for Steam though, you might still have one or two games from the Microsoft Store. If so, you might want to add those Microsoft Store games to Steam. Here’s how.

Steam lets you add non-Steam games but Microsoft Store apps won’t show up in the list. There’s a little hack to getting around it but it doesn’t seem to work on Windows 10 1809. It is still possible to add Microsoft Store game to Steam and the process is actually much more simple.

Microsoft Store games on Steam

To add Microsoft Store games on Steam, you need to download and install an app called UWPHook. Run the app and from the list of installed apps, select the game you want to add to Steam. Click the ‘Export selected apps to Steam’ button.

How to use the steamos desktop

If you have Steam running, quit it from the System Tray and then run the app. Open Steam and click Library. The game should show up in your library. When you click the Play button, it will launch the game.

How to use the steamos desktop

When you add games to Steam, the time you play the game is logged there. Other than that, there are no other benefits to this. If you want, you can also set categories for the game.

If you ever want to remove the app from Steam, it’s easy. Open the app, go to your Library, and right-click the game. From the context menu, select the ‘Delete shortcut’ option and the game will be gone.

If you have other games, i.e., non-Microsoft Store games that you want to add to Steam you can do that. All you have to do is go to your Steam Library and click the little plus button at the bottom. Select ‘Add a non-Steam game’ from the menu and select the EXE of the game you want to add.

This limitation with Microsoft Store games is only there because the games are UWP apps and they have limitations that normal desktop apps don’t have. It’s basically the absence of an EXE file that prevents Steam from finding it and adding it to its library.

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Valve’s much-anticipated Linux distribution, SteamOS, is here – at least in beta form. Despite it being early days, we couldn’t wait to see what the OS brings to the table (at this point), and what it’d be like installing it to a custom PC (hint: it’s hit-or-miss). One thing we know for sure: Linux’s gaming future is bright.

Page 1 – Introduction, Installation Considerations & Using SteamOS

How to use the steamos desktop

Valve impressed us back in September when it announced its own Linux distribution, and now, it impresses again: A mere two-and-a-half months after the announcement, a beta has become available.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the beta since its release late last week, so in this article, I’m going to talk about my experiences with it, give some tips, and then talk about what we should expect to see (and hope to see) in the future.

Given Valve’s undivided attention to Ubuntu Linux during the development of Steam for Linux, it seemed likely that it would become the base for SteamOS – but not so. Instead, Valve went with the base of Ubuntu and a billion other distros: Debian. Going the Debian route allows Valve to build a distro from the ground up and also deliver an underpinning that many Linux users are already familiar with.


A quick video tour of the SteamOS beta.

I’m not going to talk too much about the software that Valve ships with SteamOS outside of the interface that everyone will be using, but if you do happen to be interested in some specifics, I’d recommend checking out DistroWatch’s SteamOS page. An important takeaway is that SteamOS makes use of recent software; nothing is “outdated” here. Interestingly, despite Valve currently offering support for only NVIDIA graphics hardware, DistroWatch’s package list shows a bundled AMD driver (called ‘ati-driver’). Intel support might also be included, but its driver would come from the Linux kernel itself.

SteamOS Installation Considerations

On its “Build Your Own” page, Valve lists off a number of points to take note of before installing SteamOS. The most important of them all: Installing SteamOS will erase the entire primary hard drive. Unlike other distros, which allow you to modify the partitioning scheme, the SteamOS beta has one goal: Extract its image to the entire disk.

Hardware requirements are somewhat modest: A 64-bit AMD or Intel processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive (this isn’t a strict requirement), an NVIDIA graphics card, and a motherboard that supports UEFI.

One requirement there is easy to overlook: UEFI. This isn’t something many people would have expected, but it’s one that could restrict someone from installing SteamOS on a PC only a couple of years old. Hacks exist to get around this issue, but when it comes to an OS which is meant to be stable, I’m not sure I’d mess around with it outside of experimentation.

How to use the steamos desktop

That being said, even if the motherboard does support UEFI, it doesn’t mean that booting-up into the SteamOS image will be that simple. Across four different machines I tested (ASRock Z87, ASUS X79, GIGABYTE X79, and GIGABYTE Z87), only two booted into the image correctly (ASRock Z87 and GIGABYTE X79). Further, the ‘SYSRESTORE.zip’ didn’t work for me at all, while ‘SteamOSInstaller.zip’, which Valve notes as the alternative, did.

I couldn’t figure out what it was that would prevent either of these images from booting up on a proper UEFI motherboard, and editing options inside of the EFI itself didn’t help. Where SteamOS’ installation is concerned, it’s best to just consider things hit-or-miss at this point. Things will improve.

If you boot into the flash drive that Valve has you create and you see the exact GRUB bootloader above (that Steam logo is important), you should have no problems getting the OS installed.

For those without a test PC to install to, VirtualBox is a good alternative (although a little bit of a complicated one). I’d recommend checking out this guide; I followed it and things worked out well.

Post-install & Using SteamOS

Because the ‘SYSRESTORE’ version of SteamOS didn’t work for me, I had to conduct a couple of post-install steps that Valve mentions on its ‘Build Your Own’ page. After a couple of minutes and reboot, I was greeted by the main SteamOS screen.

How to use the steamos desktop

As you might be able to tell, SteamOS looks the same as Steam’s ‘Big Picture’, which I took a look at after its release last September. If you’ve used Big Picture before, you’ll feel right at home with SteamOS; the navigation remains identical. For this reason, I’m not going to post a bunch of screenshots, but would instead refer you to the YouTube video at the top of this page so you can see it in action.

One “beta” problem will be seen immediately: The titles displayed in your library or on the store are not Linux-specific. This of course means that most games seen will not be installable under Linux, which is going to prove frustrating for those who might be led to believe that a game they love (or have wanted) is now supported under the OS.

How to use the steamos desktop

While the option to filter by Linux in your library exists, I don’t think the same ability exists in the store. So, if you’re interested in a game, you’ll have to select it and then move to the tab that provides OS support information. It’s a clunky design, that’s for sure, but one that Valve will undoubtedly fix soon.

In time, SteamOS will allow for the streaming of Windows games from another PC in the house, but that functionality is not present in this beta. This is one feature I’m anxious to test out though, as I’d love to see how it compares to GameStream on NVIDIA’s SHIELD.

Because the SteamOS interface is the same as Big Picture, there’s not too much more that can be said here, except that I think it’s a great, fluid interface that offers a minimal overall learning-curve.

If you’ve never used Big Picture before but are now curious, you can simply click the option for it in the top-right hand corner of your Steam client. If a gamepad is plugged in and active, you can control the interface with it instead of a keyboard and mouse.

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How to use the steamos desktop

Rob Williams

Rob founded Techgage in 2005 to be an ‘Advocate of the consumer’, focusing on fair reviews and keeping people apprised of news in the tech world. Catering to both enthusiasts and businesses alike; from desktop gaming to professional workstations, and all the supporting software.

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How to use the steamos desktop

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

What happens if you’re gaming on your desktop Windows PC, but want to continue the game from a different part of the house — or even out of the house? If you’re using Steam, Valve’s PC gaming destination, you can get around the first part of this dilemma by using Steam Link, an in-home game streaming solution that uses your local network. And now, there’s a way around the second as well — with some caveats.

Valve has been perfecting its in-home streaming solution for five years now, so there’s plenty of polish in the setup process. However, the Steam Link Anywhere feature, which is part of the latest Steam Link beta (and which was only announced last month) lets you stream your game from anywhere using an Android device or a Steam Link box with an internet connection. Right now, this is a feature best suited for power users, so don’t be surprised if you can’t get it to work well. In addition, the mobile app is currently only available to Android devices (sorry iOS users).

So, let’s get started on setting up Steam game streaming from one PC to another, or between your PC and your Android phone.

Make sure you’ve got a good router, or wired ethernet

This should maybe go without saying, but your network needs to be robust — if your Wi-Fi is weak, slow, congested, or there’s too much interference, you won’t see great results. With a wired ethernet connection on both ends, Steam streaming can feel practically seamless inside your own home, but it can be completely unplayable with a poor wireless link. Just keep that in mind.

  • Desktop client beta setup, part 2.
  • Steam Link mobile app beta setup.
  • Mobile setup, part 2.
  • Mobile setup, part 3.
  • Desktop client beta setup, part 3.

Setting up your Steam beta client apps for streaming

  • Before you do any streaming (in-home or otherwise), you’ll probably want to download the beta version of the Steam desktop client for the most up-to-date experience. If you want to stream games to your phone, download the Steam link beta client to your Android phone using this Google Play Store link. If you’re streaming to another Windows computer, all you need is to have the Steam beta client installed there as well, with no additional software required.
  • Next, update your desktop Steam client to the beta build (it should be dated March 13th or later). You can do this by clicking “Steam” in the upper left corner of the client window. Select Settings > Account and then click the Change button under “Beta participation.”
  • Select “Steam Beta Update” from the drop-down menu. Confirming this selection by clicking “OK” and it will prompt a restart of the Steam client. Wait for it to restart before going to the next step.
  • If you’re streaming to an Android phone, go to the Steam Link app settings on your phone and select “Other Computer.” A four-digit PIN will appear on your screen that you’ll enter on the desktop to complete the pairing process. If you’re using two PCs, you won’t need to pair them in order to stream in-home; just sign into the same account on the same network.
  • Using the desktop Steam client, from the “In-Home Streaming” menu, select “Pair Steam Link,” and then enter the code seen on your phone. Make sure you’re on the same network, and follow the setup wizard until the pairing process is complete.

How to use the steamos desktop

At this point, you could start streaming, but first I’d recommend that you set a four-digit PIN to secure your connection between any remote apps and your PC. After all, you’re handing full remote control over your computer to another device, so you should practice good security measures. Here’s how to set a PIN for Steam Link:

  • On the same “In-Home Streaming” settings page from earlier (within the beta desktop client), select the “Set Security Code” button.
  • Next, set a four-digit PIN by entering it into both fields, then click on the “OK” button.

From now on, whenever you attempt to stream in-home or remotely, you’ll be required to enter the PIN.

You’re finally through the beta setup process! As long as you stay logged in to both Steam clients, you should be able to quickly use Steam Link streaming when you’re on your own local network — or over the public internet, from your phone. More on that below.

To install SteamOS on Ubuntu 17.04

SteamOS is a Linux operating system, a fork of Debian Jessie and is specifically created to cater the needs of gamers who use Linux. It is built based on a solid Debian core and also optimizes it, hence gives you a living room experience. It is very simple to install SteamOS on Ubuntu 17.04 and this tutorial sheds light on it.

Installing SteamOS

The foremost thing to do before initiating your installation process is to update your repositores. Use the following command for the following purpose.

Once it is done, you can install the SteamOS package as follows

After this stage, you need to download few Debian packages. Make use of the following command.

Once these packages are downloaded, you can install them by using the gdebi command. Use the following command to install those gdebi packages.

You can now install those debian packages with the help of gdebi as follows.

After completing all the steps above, you need to reboot your system.

How to use the steamos desktop

Once your login screen appears, choose SteamOS as a default desktop environment as the following image.

How to use the steamos desktop

Select it, your SteamOS will start its updating process

How to use the steamos desktop

After the update, SteamOS login appears on screen. Login with your steam account, if you don’ t have any, create one on SteamOS’ official website.

How to use the steamos desktop

How to use the steamos desktop

Once you log in, your screen appears as follows.

How to use the steamos desktop

The complete installation was covered in the above steps. Once installed, you can use SteamOS to play games with living room experiance.

How to use the steamos desktop

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Frequently asked questions ( 5 )

What software runs on SteamOS?

SteamOS is designed to run Steam and Steam games. It also provides a desktop mode which can run regular Linux applications. SteamOS makes use of the standard APT package manager for software updates; you can add third-party sources to your subscribed repositories to gain access to more applications. SteamOS currently provides a limited set of packages, but many Debian Jessie packages work fine on SteamOS.

What can SteamOS do?

SteamOS is a Debian-based Linux operating system by Valve Corporation and is the primary operating system for Valve’s Steam Machine gaming hardware platform.

How do I get fixes or new features in SteamOS?

All SteamOS machines are set to auto-update their OS from Valve’s public repositories on a regular basis through the standard Debian APT package manager.

Can I run Microsoft Windows games and applications on SteamOS?

No, SteamOS is based on Debian GNU/Linux and is not compatible with Microsoft Windows games and applications. However, SteamOS supports seamlessly streaming your games from your Windows computer; for more information go to this page for more information about Steam In-Home Streaming.

How do I get root access to SteamOS?

The desktop account can gain root access, but ships with no password. Before you can use this account to gain root access, you need to assign it a password. From the desktop session, start a terminal window and type “passwd”. Enter your new password twice. Now you can use the “sudo” command to perform privileged operations.

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Hey there. I’m in trouble.

I wanted to install a Solus MATE distro, because it is supposed to work well on older PCs. So I put it on a USB drive, and lauched a clean install. Erased everything that was there after a backup.

But when it was time to restart, the PC did’nt even see the hard drive. The only boot options are now the live USB drive, and the firmware boot.

So I tried restarting without the USB drive inserted, and the computer did’nt even know what to do.

Not being a technical guy, I’m at a loss here. And it’s been a week! :/

I even posted questions on other Linux forums, but not luck so far.

I tried reformating the hard drive, but Gparted gives me a list of formats that is a mile long. I have no idea what those are.

But then again, maybe it’s not even a format problem?!