As the internet held its breath and the countdown reached zero, speculation in the RPS chatroom reached fever pitch. And after the announcement was made, John bellowed, "I PREDICTED THAT!". He did, you know. Valve are releasing an operating system, SteamOS and this is what we know.
As we’ve been working on bringing Steam to the living room, we’ve come to the conclusion that the environment best suited to delivering value to customers is an operating system built around Steam itself. SteamOS combines the rock-solid architecture of Linux with a gaming experience built for the big screen. It will be available soon as a free stand-alone operating system for living room machines.
The fact that this is actually happening is important in and of itself but I've picked through the announcement page for the most relevant pieces of information. I'm also going to have a swift ponder about how much it'll affect me (probably not a great deal).
1) It's an open, 'collaborative' system - "With SteamOS, “openness” means that the hardware industry can iterate in the living room at a much faster pace than they’ve been able to. Content creators can connect directly to their customers. Users can alter or replace any part of the software or hardware they want. Gamers are empowered to join in the creation of the games they love. SteamOS will continue to evolve, but will remain an environment designed to foster these kinds of innovation."
2) It's built on the foundation of Linux. Combined with all of the 'living room' features announced, this means that a Linux-derived system may well have better support for big screens and cross-device play than Windows. If you see Microsoft staring at the ground, they're probably looking for one of the balls they dropped.
3) SteamOS is free and is coming "soon". Because Valve operate in the screeching chaos between two different timelines, that could mean anything.
4) Everything that Steam already does will also be part of SteamOS and available on SteamOS machines. That could well mean 'PCs with SteamOS installed' but the next of Valve's three announcement seems likely to be the long-rumoured SteamBox. Here's what they have to say about support for the Steam catalog(ue). "Hundreds of great games are already running natively on SteamOS. Watch for announcements in the coming weeks about all the AAA titles coming natively to SteamOS in 2014. Access the full Steam catalog of over nearly 3000 games and desktop software titles via in-home streaming."
5) The next part could be important. "In SteamOS, we have achieved significant performance increases in graphics processing, and we’re now targeting audio performance and reductions in input latency at the operating system level. Game developers are already taking advantage of these gains as they target SteamOS for their new releases." Forget the 'significant performance increases' for now, it's the support for developers that might bring about the most long-reaching changes. Providing a platform and a ready-made marketplace for developers to target, built to be independent and open, could alter the methods by which developers find visibility and support through Steam. My feeling is that, right now, this is a more exciting announcement for developers than it is for consumers.
6) Do we care about the living room experience? It's not important to me. The TV is what other people look at while I'm playing games. Valve say this: "Finally, you don’t have to give up your favorite games, your online friends, and all the Steam features you love just to play on the big screen. SteamOS, running on any living room machine, will provide access to the best games and user-generated content available." I've got a pocketwatch and a record player in my living room - can't wait to play Team Fortress on 'em.
7) Streaming. This could have been the headline announcement. "You can play all your Windows and Mac games on your SteamOS machine, too. Just turn on your existing computer and run Steam as you always have - then your SteamOS machine can stream those games over your home network straight to your TV!" They even used an exclamation mark!
8) And what will that third announcement be - a certain game, perhaps? Exclusivity to SteamOS maybe? We'll know soon.