There's been plenty of talk about the likes of Valve over the past few months, with many indicators that 2013 is going to be a big year for Linux gaming. Whether that's Ouya or Valve's new console we all have plenty to be excited about (and those of you who own a Raspberry Pi already have the building blocks to build your very own living room media centre/console emulator machine).
But you needn't wait until later this year to start playing well-known titles on Linux. The Steam on Linux beta is open to all, and the library of games is expanding all the time (there were 62 at the time of writing).
The big pull of Steam is that you have one consistent portal from which to download games, see what games your friends are playing right now, participate in gaming forums and compete on one consistent online platform.
The good news for Linux fans is that Gabe Newell (the head honcho at Valve, the company behind Steam) is less than enamoured with Windows 8. For this reason he's pressing ahead with Linux support, and will also be using it as a platform for his upcoming console. This should mean that Steam titles such as Counterstrike, Portal and others will be coming to Linux, and this in turn may well attract other developers when they see there is a real market for games on Linux.
So... how does it behave? Well, that's wholly dependant on how you've configured your system. The screenshots on this article show Steam running on a 64-bit Ubuntu system using a proprietary AMD graphics driver. If you want to copy this setup you'll need to run the following commands in a terminal window before the deb file will install (those of you using 32-bit systems can ignore this part):
sudo dpkg --add-architecture i386 sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get install ia32-libs
I also chose to install 'ubuntu-restricted-extras' so flash elements and fonts would work without flaws, and also installed the latest experimental graphics driver. After this you should be able to simply double-click the supplied
.deb file to install via Ubuntu Software Centre
If you're using another distro such as Fedora or OpenSUSE, then take a look at this link from Valve for distro-specific instructions.
As per the Windows and Mac versions of Steam, simply head to the 'Library' section of your Steam window (once the client has done its various updates). To all intents and purposes the client behaves in exactly the same way, though you should take care to ensure you're not purchasing games you don't have operating systems for in the store page!
I personally didn't notice any difference in performance between Windows and Linux ports of the same games such as World of Goo, FTL:Faster than Light, Trine 2 and Team Fortress 2. This is fantastic from the user's point of view as you certainly won't be mocked by your Windows-wielding counterparts.
In fact, there are reports that in some cases such as Left4Dead2 the Linux port is actually faster than the Windows one!
Also, don't think you'll be missing out in multiplayer terms. Games such as Team Fortress 2 use the same servers as the Windows and Mac ports, so your choice of platform shouldn't affect your ability to play online with friends.
If you've invested in the Humble Indie Bundle you should find your titles available via Steam on Linux. Simply login to your Humble account and follow the instructions to make use of your Steam key.
It's great to see Linux finally being treated on equal terms by the world of gaming. Though there's plenty of work left to do on Valve's part and it'll be some time until we see major commercial game makers porting their games across (I'm personally hoping Firaxis port Civilization V!) this is a perfectly serviceable piece of software ready for anyone to try out.
If you want to see Steam on Linux Beta in action, there's an excellent video review here.