Steam Deck Software and Games Explained: What is SteamOS and Proton?

Source: Valve

Valve’s handheld, the Steam Deck, is now official and has thrown people into a frenzy. Fortunately, that’s for good reason since after all, Steam isn’t used to selling watered-down games like you might find on the Nintendo Switch.

The Steam Deck is truly a pocket PC, in the vein of something like GPD Win devices. But it doesn’t work on Windows 10 (or Windows 11). At least not out of the box. You get SteamOS and Proton, terms some may be familiar with, but to others it may be foreign. This does not run Windows, but you can start a Windows game on it. Confused? This is what we are here for.

What is Steam OS and Proton?

Steam bridgeSource: Valve

The Steam Deck isn’t Valve’s first attempt at gaming hardware. Remember the Steam Engines? No, probably not. The Steam Machine was Valve’s first attempt at a game console, and it ran its own software called SteamOS. But there was nothing magical about the hardware, just like there is nothing magical about the Steam Deck.

Steam engines were PCs that ran a different operating system. The Steam Deck is a PC that runs a different operating system, especially Linux. Steam Deck will ship with SteamOS 3.0, which Valve claims is an Arch-based Linux distribution with the KDE Plasma desktop environment. If that doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry. But remember the Linux part.

Proton is a compatibility layer that translates Windows games into something Linux can play.

What about Proton, then? Proton is a compatibility layer that lives in Steam, and it’s been around for some time. If you’re running Steam on Linux right now, you have access to Proton. What Proton does, in its simplest terms, is allow you to run Windows games only on Linux gaming PCs.

It’s not an emulator either – that’s an important thing to remember. These games work through the Proton Compatibility Layer, which translates Windows APIs, like DirectX, into something Linux can understand, like Vulkan. Proton is open source and contains at its core a fork of WINE (Wine Is Not an Emulator), which is a compatibility layer for running Windows software on Linux.

Valve has an official whitelist of games it supports with Proton, but you can activate it for any game in your Steam library and try it out. It could work, maybe not, but Proton has come a long way and for most games that work well, you would never know you weren’t playing Windows. Best of all, you’re not limited to just one version of Proton; old versions may persist because sometimes newer versions break certain games and features.

There are even custom versions of Proton. It’s Linux, after all.

What games you can and cannot play on Steam Deck

Vapor protonSource: Windows Central

Ignoring the hardware limitations of the Steam Deck, there aren’t many games that you won’t be able to play. Or rather, games that you won’t be able to to try and play. The proton can work wonders, but there are things it cannot do.

For example, using Proton, you can play Control on Steam at high frame rates and high graphics settings with a controller or keyboard and mouse, just like playing Windows. There will be a little impact on performance, but if your hardware is good enough, you won’t know it.

Proton unfortunately cannot help you with anti-cheat software.

But you can’t play Destiny 2. Not because Proton isn’t up to par, but because Destiny 2 has anti-cheat software, and anti-cheat is the bane of the Linux gamer right now. . The same goes for titles like PUBG and Apex Legends. You just can’t get them to work because anti-cheat won’t work properly on Linux. Hopefully, Steam Deck and Valve’s continued push with Linux might give developers a boost, but we’ll believe it when it does.

However, it’s still not clear, even when you enable Proton for all games. Fortunately, the Linux gamer crowd is a committed bunch and there is a community database that will be of great value to Steam Deck owners. ProtonDB collects performance results from the entire Linux community, detailing experiences with different versions of Proton on different hardware, different distributions, and even any special tricks that can be used to improve a game’s performance.

There’s a lot we don’t know about what the Steam Deck experience will be like, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a ton of tweaking. Valve should do a lot of the work for us, but even if it doesn’t, there are tools out there that can help you out.

Non-Steam Games on Steam Deck

Linux gamesSource: Windows CentralEpic Games, GOG, and Ubisoft Connect all run on Linux.

Obviously, the big game with Steam Deck is the Steam ecosystem. And frankly, while Steam isn’t necessarily the best example of what Linux usually stands for, Valve deserves all the credit for its continued commitment to the platform. After all, Steam Deck was just announced, but the Linux-based quality has been improving for years.

But what about playing other PC games on Steam Deck, like those from Epic Games or GOG? It’s possible. GOG sells some native Linux games, but Epic Games does not. However, where there is a will, there is a way.

In Linux, where there is a will, there is usually a way.

On Linux, there are a few tools that are already well established that allow playing Windows games outside of Steam. WINE is the driving force behind it all, but there’s also Lutris, a popular game manager, and more recently the Epic Games cross-platform, Legendary, and Heroic Games Launcher tools.

Since Steam Deck is just a PC running Linux, there is no reason imaginable that you can’t install any of these tools and install games from GOG and Epic Games, or even Origin, Ubisoft Connect, or Battle. .Net. These can all be installed on Linux using Lutris.

You can even run Windows on a Steam Deck

Of course, you can also just bin SteamOS entirely and install Windows. Without a keyboard, it won’t necessarily be the best portable experience, but if you wanted to, you sure can. It’s worth noting that Valve says you can connect any accessory to it as long as it’s USB or Bluetooth compatible, so there’s a chance you can connect a keyboard and mouse to it!

Valve recommends against erasing SteamOS for Windows, but designer Lawrence Yang told IGN it is possible. The optional dock, which has been announced but does not yet have a release date, can also help you connect the Steam Deck to a monitor or other device.

“We don’t think people should be locked into a certain direction or a certain set of software that they can install,” Yang said. “If you buy a Steam Deck, it’s a PC. You can install whatever you want on it, you can hook up whatever peripherals you want to it. Maybe a better way to think about it is that it’s is a small PC with a controller connected as opposed to a game console. “

Cloud games on Steam Deck

Xbox 8bitdo xCloud controllerSource: Jez Corden | Windows Central

Cloud play is one thing, and while the APU inside the Steam Deck looks pretty decent, it’s still not going to hammer Cyberpunk 2077 at maximum settings. Cloud services like Google Stadia, NVIDIA GeForce Now, and Xbox Game Pass have really started to make sense.

Valve could officially partner with one of these services and integrate them into Steam Deck. But even if they don’t, it’s a Linux PC; it will run a Chromium based web browser. Microsoft Edge is even on Linux these days.

The major cloud gaming platforms are now all available as web apps through Chromium browsers, so there’s no reason not to believe you can enjoy it on the Steam Deck. Using Steam’s built-in controller could be a tricky point, but Steam supports just about any controller you can think of, so you’ll always have an alternate option.

And while these aren’t cloud games, Steam Remote Play will definitely be a part of Steam Deck. If you have a Windows gaming PC on the same network, you will be able to stream any Steam game to it.

Steam Deck is a big step forward

Source: Valve

Handhelds are becoming more and more popular, and obviously the Nintendo Switch is the king of the handheld console. But Valve is still the undisputed heavyweight champion of PC games and hosts some of the best PC games, and for something like that to work, it had to come from them.

Using its own software is smart, especially for the intended use of just grabbing it and playing your Steam games. It won’t be a complete success, but Proton is so good it will be more than enough.

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