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Steam Linux likely to not support future versions of Ubuntu [updated]

Update: “Thanks to the huge amount of feedback this weekend from gamers, Ubuntu Studio, and the WINE community, we will change our plan and build selected 32-bit i386 packages for Ubuntu 19.10 and 20.04 LTS,” Canonical have now said.

Steam’s Linux version will not support future versions of popular and newbie-friendly distribution Ubuntu, Valve have said. The news came after Ubuntu’s makers said they’d drop 32-bit as of the next big release in October, which sounded like it would leave the great many 32-bit Steam games unplayable. Valve said they were now planning to “switch our focus” to another Linux distro. Ubuntu have since pivoted to say they’re not dropping 32-bit, they’re just going to stop updating it, which is better but still a bit of a dead end.

“Ubuntu 19.10 and future releases will not be officially supported by Steam or recommended to our users,” Valve codeman Pierre-Loup Griffais tweeted on Friday night. “We will evaluate ways to minimise breakage for existing users, but will also switch our focus to a different distribution, currently TBD.”

This came after Ubuntu makers Canonical announced on Tuesday that “i386 architecture will be dropped starting with Eoan [Ubuntu version 19.10].” The statement seemed pretty straightforward.

Ubuntu losing 32-bit support would mean losing a whole lot of Steam games. While the Steam client software has a 64-bit version and would be able to run, many of the games on Steam are 32-bit and would become unplayable. Which is a prospect, y’know, Valve likely don’t much fancy.

As GamingOnLinux pointed out, Ubuntu seem to be walking their statement back a bit.

“I’m sorry that we’ve given anyone the impression that we are ‘dropping support for i386 applications’,” Canonical’s Steve Langasek said over the weekend. “That’s simply not the case.”

He says they’re only dropping updates to 32-bit libraries, meaning they’ll be stuck at an older version. He added that “There is every intention to ensure that there is a clear story for how i386 applications (including games) can be run on versions of Ubuntu later than 19.10,” though he didn’t tell that story. That’s the sort of thing you should sort out before vaguely announcing sweeping changes that’ll make huge companies plan to abandon your system.

So what will actually happen? MYSTERY. Freezing 32-bit support at an old version isn’t nearly as bad as what Canonical definitely did originally announce, but it could cause problems down the line. I would not be surprised if Valve continue with that plan to “switch [their] focus to a different distribution” given that Canonical are losing interest in something that’s important to gaming on Linux.

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Alice O'Connor

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