Steam on Linux: A Test Drive

OK, this post would have appeared several weeks ago, but Blogilo ate my first two  drafts.

Anyway, while I wasn’t looking, Valve went and released a version of Steam for Linux, meaning that there is now officially no reason to use Windows. At present, it’s only officially supported in the Debian strand, though there are rumours of Fedora, Slackware, Arch, and Gentoo versions in existence. I happen to be running Ubuntu 12.10 with full updates running on a HP Presario CQ57 laptop (dual-core AMD E-350 CPU, Gallium 0.4 on AMD PALM GPU) , so let’s take a look at how this service fares.

I downloaded the file from; it’s a simple .deb package, and clicking on it launched the installer via Ubuntu Software Center.

Ooh, proprietary software. Richard Stallman won’t be happy with me.

Since Steam is just a delivery service, I have to wonder why they went the proprietary route. They could have gotten a lot of good will from the Linux community if they had gone with a free (as in freedom) license; I suppose the GPL might cause issues with the games people want to release, but the Mozilla license would probably suit their needs quite well. Dropbox released the Linux version of their product under the LGPL, so there’s no special reason Valve can’t do the same.

Anyway, after carefully reading the EULA, I clicked on [Install]. It went quite quickly, but then this came up:

So I have to start the program to complete the installation? Sloppy, Valve. Very Windowsish.

And then this happens:

What the heck? I just installled it; why is it now downloading another 110 MiB? Why weren’t they included in the initial download? Bad Valve! This is distinctly sloppy, Windowsish work.

You’ll also notice that the installer puts an icon on my desktop. That’s fine for Windows, which has a stupid Start menu that gives every program its own entry in order of installation; this makes it hard to track down an individual program, so desktop icons that can be easily rearrranged are the way to go. Linux, however, smartly sorts the  various applications into categories and lists them alphabetically by name (or by program type and then name for your KDE users). Programs thus become eminently easy to find; hence, on Linux, I prefer to keep my desktop utterly clean and clear of all icons and other clutter, and this thing sticks out like a sore thumb. Well, it’s beta days yet; maybe the final release could offer the user a choice of adding a desktop icon, like many Windows programs do.

It seems like I’m going on at excessive length about one rather insignificant thing, and perhaps I am. However, there exists a Windows way of doing things, and several Linux ways of doing things, and the Linux ways are different to the Windows way. The Windows way is to give everything a desktop icon, and a common Linux way is to eschew desktop icons altogether. If Valve wants to succeed on Linux, they should try to do things in more Linuxy ways.

Anyway, after installing the stuff that should have been installed already, I get an error messsage.

How the heck is my package out of date? What the heck were you just installing? Bad Valve! Incredibly sloppy!

Well, I clicked OK, and it opened a terminal, asking me for my root password. I enter said password, and…

Ah, here we go! It seems to be using its own unique windows, rather than leaving those up to the operating system. I would guess they’re trying to have a consistent experience across GTK+  and Qt desktops. OK then, [Create New Account] it is.

And now they want me to agree to a subscriber agreement. This will probably warn me not to be a racist pornographer.

Well, no it doesn’t. Well, OK, it does, but that’s not the focus. It’s all about me agreeing not to copy, alter, or redistribute the program or the games I get from it, or to do any cracking. I also agree that they are not responsible for anything that might ever possibly go wrong with the software, unless the law says they are, in which case I agree that they fulfil no more than the absolute minimum responsibility.

Of note is that almost everybody has to act as if they signed this agreement in Washington. That’s a bit odd, since most users won’t be in Washington, but I guess Valve is trying to keep things simple for themselves by insisting that the agreement come under the laws of their home turf rather than those of wherever the recipient might happen to be. However, since I live in the EU, I instead am judged to have made this agreement in Luxembourg. Seriously, Luxembourg? Why Luxembourg? Ah, wait – due to EU law, it’s Luxembourg unless my home country grants a higher standard of consumer protection. Well that’s something.

And then there’s the privacy policy, which basically says they won’t share my data with others unless they decided to change their policy. Good to know.

And then I have so supply a username and password, after which it asks me for an email. I then had to open my email and click on a link to confirm my registration; this seems like an awful lot of work to go through to buy some games.

But anyway, after all that, I finally get into Steam proper.

Later on, when I tried to actually do some stuff, I got hit with another out of date warning; fortunately, I was able to sort that out with a simple sudo apt-get upgrade.

I logged back in and was greeted by this:

Ah… hah.

I clicked around and got some more weirdness:

Don’t know what that’s supposed to be about.

Anyway, there are two modes of operation. Big Picture mode is very flashy, and looks like this:


It’s really annoying to use, so you’ll want to stick with the default mode. Clicking on Store takes me to a place with a big list of games on offer.

On this screen, clicking on the Linux tab takes me to a zone listing only Linux games. Let’s see what we’ve got here… ooh, Half-Life!

Well, I clicked on it and… had to wait for a while. Steam is rather slow.

This page gives me a bunch of bundle options, but unfortunately, they all cost money. I’m not one of those people who insists that video games should all be free, but it would be nice to get a demo. I might get this when I have some money, but for now, let’s see what else is available.

A bad design choice presents itself: I can only list 10 games at a time, and each time I want to list another 10, I have to slowly load a new page. Maybe have options to view 25 or 50 at a time?

Ah, here’s an interesting-looking one called Splice, and it has a demo. Let’s download.

Apparently the Splice demo isn’t available on Linux. Hmmm….

Fortunately I was able to find another game called Waveform that does have a Linux-compatible demo; downloading was a simple matter of clicking.

Steam installs its own menu item under Applications -> Games and Applications -> Internet. The Waveform demo also gets its own item in Applications -> Games.

Clicking on it launched a thing that connected to the Steam server over a period of about 20 minutes. Say, Valve, why is it the Ubuntu Software Center can download and launch games in a matter of seconds, while your service takes a third of an hour over the same connection?

But anyway, when all that was done, the game launched and played without any issues.
It’s a pretty cool game; I might even buy the full version some time. (Unfortunately, I can’t take screenshots of a game running in fullscreen mode).
So, final thoughts. Steam needs some work. It’s rather slow, and keeps having to download more files just to run. I’ll cut it some slack due to still being in beta, but we Linux people are, contrary to perceptions of Mac and Windows users, used to things just working. If Valve could sort out some sort way of using package management so that Steam grabs everything it needs in the initial install (you know, like all other programs do on a moderately modern desktop Linux distro, and I think the same might be true of BSD), that would be great. Say, Valve, that’s another reason to open source Steam, or at least the Linux port – not only will you get some good will from the community, you’ll be able to get some hackers to improve and efficiefy your program. Plus, some of them would port it to BSD and Amiga, so you’ll score another niche or two.
It’s also a bit annoying that most of the games aren’t available for Linux, and the majority are only for Windows – even the Steam version of Doom, which I have installed on my Linux box and run naitvely, so you’d think that would be a no-brainer (especially considering all modern Doom engines are derived from the original Linux port). However, since it’s only very early days yet, and this is just a beta, such a situation is acceptable; also, Steam on Linux is apparently doing better than on Mac.
UPDATE: Not long after I wrote the above post, Valve officially launched Steam on Linux, and it’s in the Ubuntu repositories. This means I was able to remove it by normal methods, then quickly and easily install via Ubuntu Software Centre or the command line; this went much smoother than the initial install, and should allow future updates to be handled by Software Updates. It also didn’t need to go through all the whole rigmarole of the initial install and booted a little faster, but that might be because it has the existing configuration files already present.

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3 thoughts on “Steam on Linux: A Test Drive

  1. I’ve been using Steam for quite some time now (on Windows) and I have to say – while all your points raised about how weird it feels that it seems to think Linux works just as Windows does (with the shortcut on your desktop and everything), unfortunately most points raised in the second half of your review aren’t Linux exclusive. They are just part of Steam.
    Steam’s store and browser are slower than a drunk Internet Explorer.
    Steam takes forever to start up games (well, the first time you start them anyways since it always installs some weird stuff – the Windows way. But even afterwards it’s kinda slow).
    The only thing I’m not sure about is that last thing you wrote about updates – you installed the game completely and afterwards it downloaded *more*? That seems weird to me. There are updates and every now and then Steam decides to swap to a new, improved data format which can lead to redownloading some parts of games, and yes, the download rate can break in sometimes (although for me it usually doesn’t) – but downloading after downloading never happened to me.

    • Yeah, I figured they were part of Steam; doesn’t mean they aren’t flaws. This is actually my first time ever using Steam so I was just writing down my overall thoughts.

      I did download another demo, of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and it didn’t try to download anything else; no idea what was going on there.

      Also, this didn’t really come across in the post, but once the games are downloaded, they work flawlessly. So the end result it good, but the process of getting it could use some work.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

      • You may thank Linkara for the Retweet 😉
        I understood that you were writing your overall thoughts, I just wanted to clarify which of the parts you described are specific for Linux and which parts are slow/weird/whatever because that’s just how Steam works – I don’t say that how it works is good, I just say that these special flaws are not a result of it running on Linux.

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