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GNU is Not Unix DRM Games

How Will Steam on GNU/Linux Affect Software Freedom? 580

rms has published his thoughts on Steam coming to GNU/Linux. He notes that the availability of proprietary games may very well help spread GNU/Linux (but the FSF prioritizes spreading software freedom). And, you're better off at least having a Free operating system instead of Windows: "My guess is that the direct good effect will be bigger than the direct harm. But there is also an indirect effect: what does the use of these games teach people in our community? Any GNU/Linux distro that comes with software to offer these games will teach users that the point is not freedom. Nonfree software in GNU/Linux distros already works against the goal of freedom. Adding these games to a distro would augment that effect." Or: How will the FOSS community affect Valve? Already they've contributed a bit to the graphics stack, hired a few folks from inside the community, etc. But Steam also makes use of DRM and distributes software in ways that are opposed to the ideals of many in the FOSS community (and even the wider Free Culture community). Given Gabe Newell's professed love for openness, might we see their company culture infiltrated?
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How Will Steam on GNU/Linux Affect Software Freedom?

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  • Cue the trolls... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ynot_82 ( 1023749 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @06:44PM (#40811999)

    ...who intentionally confuse the freedoms of the user with the freedoms of the proprietary software developer.

  • And you are why... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 29, 2012 @06:44PM (#40812001)

    Linux has failed on the desktop for the past decades and will continue to fail on the desktop in the future decades.

    Face it the ONLY thing bringing Linux to the desktop currently is GAMING.

    Would you prefer Origins on Linux or Steam? Frankly I would prefer neither as both are VERY ANTI COMPETITIVE but Linux needs something and this could be it.

    • Let's all remember the driving force behind the VCR...

    • by SwedishPenguin ( 1035756 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @06:58PM (#40812121)

      Why has it automatically "failed" simply because it's not on every Tom, Dick and Harry's desktop? GNU/Linux (aside from the GNU arguments for saying GNU/Linux, the presence of Dalvik/Linux (Android) makes it necessary to distinguish between the variants) has been my primary desktop for ten years and my only desktop for six years, for me it has been very successful.

      I think Steam on Linux could be a good thing, but it's certainly worth taking rms's warnings to heart: GNU/Linux being popular is certainly a good thing, but not at the price of destroying the Free Software movement.

    • by binarylarry ( 1338699 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @07:06PM (#40812201)

      Has Linux really failed on the desktop?

      It's really only been a grass roots movement, without serious backing from a company like Microsoft or Apple (or Google). Expecting a linux-based desktop to just explode without a huge marketing push is ridiculous.

      For example, there have been other Linux-based phone operating systems. Non of them got very far until Google started pimping Android and it took over the market in short order.

      Lets see Google or some other large company push a nice Linux desktop, say Ubuntu (or Valve ;) ), and see if it fails.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 29, 2012 @07:25PM (#40812395)

        Canonical is very likely to push it farther than other companies - they actually take care to work with OEMs and make new projects, not just rebrand Gnome or KDE. This actually gives them a face and sets them apart from a crowd. Add to the fact that they are working with Dell in India and China and possibly, again on the Western market soon. There actually are machines distributed with Ubuntu and they are pushing it further.

        If there's one thing that's needed, it's marketing now. Advertising the machines, having them suggested to customers in stores (as well as having them in stores), that's the kind of thing that could push Ubuntu to a neccessarily high market share. 10% would be enough to matter to big companies. It won't bring us Office (yes, it's needed by some buisness), but it will make others turn - probably the ones that distribute for Mac as well right now.

        Valve might help this - if they do push it and Source engine games end up on Ubuntu, and if they do work with other devs and convince them it is worth it, then we could see the 200 million users by 2014 as Mark Shuttleworth promised.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by cynyr ( 703126 )

          I don't really want Cononical making new projects. They have a history of doing things in ways that are very hard for the rest of the eco-system to adopt. How many Ubuntu projects are available in Gentoo/Arch/Mandriva/Debian?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 29, 2012 @06:45PM (#40812005)

    frankly, i don't see the point why some of us should be ideologues in the community. it's divisive and it may not allow for greater efficiency. I'd go with what Linus said "whatever works best"

    • by bky1701 ( 979071 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @08:03PM (#40812699) Homepage
      This comes up every time some proprietary software company comes to Linux. Every time, someone who doesn't get it wrings their hands about "ideologues" being "divisive" without realizing that the ideals these people are supposedly ideologues for are exactly the ones that caused Linux to become a viable OS, in the face of multi-billion dollar corporations constantly trying to eliminate it. The fact that people actually believe in something does not make them ideologues, especially not when they are repeated proven right.

      No one can, will, or should stop Steam from coming to Linux. It will never be put in the repos of mainstream distros, and should not be, but that has little relevance to anything. But even if they can't do much about it, that doesn't mean the people who say there might be downsides are insane zealots. It means they might very well understand why Linux has stuck around for as long as it has better than you do.
    • Exactly.

      I use open source software. I like open source. I even believe in using it.

      But I do those things because open-source, generally, produces better results. I don't think it's ethically better - I have no problem using proprietary software, or even releasing my own work under non-"free" licenses.

      Games are one of the most common exceptions, and I believe that is because that are an art, not a science. Making the best web browser, or text processor? That's a science - you can define concrete rules to det

  • by HalAtWork ( 926717 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @06:48PM (#40812041)
    There are plenty of free game engines out there, we don't need all of them to be free. The assets will never be free either, and that's the product in the end, that's what the game is all about.

    The engine being free would make supporting the games in the future easier, but with the underlying architecture of the platform being open and well documented, it isn't impossible.
    • Re:It's ok (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert&slashdot,firenzee,com> on Sunday July 29, 2012 @08:04PM (#40812701) Homepage

      You could also consider, that basic software features like an OS, a web browser etc are something that everyone requires these days and should very much be free.
      On the other hand games are purely for entertainment, noone *needs* games. Them being non free isn't significantly harming anyone.

      And instead of games being free and open up front, perhaps the ID approach would be acceptable for all concerned. Let them make their money from the game up front (its hard to argue that ID games haven't been successful), and then release the source later so that everyone can benefit from it. This was also the original spirit of copyright, give the author time to make money from his work and then release it so everyone can benefit later.

      I love quake as a game, i bought a copy when it came out and thanks to the source being open i can still play it today without resorting to emulation. As an added bonus, the graphics look much better than they did originally.

  • Who gives a shit? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @06:49PM (#40812045) Homepage

    I say this as a free software developer: At some point, you just want software and don't care about the politics. Not everything has to be political -- just look at Chick-Fil-A as an example of how this way of thinking can backfire.

    I play games for entertainment, not to make a political statement. Let's keep the two worlds separate.

    • by Gaygirlie ( 1657131 ) <[moc.liamtoh] [ta] [eilrigyag]> on Sunday July 29, 2012 @06:52PM (#40812073) Homepage

      This is more-or-less what I was thinking: it's perfectly fine and reasonable to push for 'Free' as long as it doesn't take anything away from you, but if you lose something -- access to software you've paid for, the ability to do things you want to do, etc. -- then what's the point? Many F/OSS - supporters hold the idea that 'freedom' must be pushed on to people, even if it means losing actual freedoms! That is inherently illogical.

    • by binarylarry ( 1338699 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @07:01PM (#40812153)

      I totally agree.

      Games are at the far fringes of a software stack. As you get further from the core (kernel / critical userland) free/open source software becomes less important.

      Games are also different from most open source software, as they aren't a tool to do something. They're an artistic expression as well as a software program.

    • I play games for entertainment, not to make a political statement. Let's keep the two worlds separate.

      You can't do that. Everything is a political statement and in a capitalist system (let alone a mercantilist one) where you spend your money is your truest vote. If you give money to Valve for closed-source software in a closed-source ecosystem (Steam) then you're voting for more of the same.

      With that said, where there's no Open or Free alternative, you're also voting for more games like the ones you buy. So, carry on, just understand what you're doing when you spend money. I'd rather give money to Valve tha

      • Blowing mod points here....

        1) paid, non free, games that people actually enjoy is far preferable to the current swath of trash games available on Linux. Every time I say this, some fanatic links me to the same horded list of the same crappy linux games and says they are good. No. Not to people who *really* game.

        2) there are tons of peopl like me who have been dying for serious good games to come to linux so we can spend less time supporting microsoft and more on an OS we find valuable (linux).

        3) I don

  • by FranTaylor ( 164577 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @07:04PM (#40812183)

    Free software is most certainly an admirable goal.

    But if market forces and existing conditions mean that proprietary software is the most expedient way to get the software delivered to the customer, then that's what will happen.

    Valve gets Linux bugs fixed, and they can make legitimate and credible arguments for things that should be changed about Linux. There is no doubt that they are contributing to the long term health and stability of linux.

    If the vendor has proprietary software and the customer finds it to be the best solution, the job of the operating system is to get out of the way and allow the customer to do what he wants.

    • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

      When it comes to RMS.. not really.

      This is actually a surprisingly rational opinion from him (he at least acknoledges that there is some good to this..), but at the end of the day he is still an extremist.

      • It's actually a big backtrack for him

        When he sat down to write emacs, he sat in front of an HPUX system and used the HP C compiler and the HP linker to build his free software.

        At the time he had no problems with this apparent contradiction.

        Now that free software is self hosting, he can adjust his attitude.

    • by dkf ( 304284 )

      If you're a zealot, it's never possible to be pragmatic on the topic of your zealotry (that's pretty much the definition of "zealot"). Thus, to a Free Software zealot it is clearly impossible to be pragmatic on this topic: they feel that if it isn't Free, it's Wrong and so should be resisted with all possible effort. (I don't know if RMS is quite this zealous, but some of his adherents certainly are.)

      Thankfully, such people are a small (but vocal) minority. For everyone else, pragmatism is indeed the best a

  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @07:05PM (#40812191) Homepage Journal

    The goal of GNU and the FSF was never to lock out commercial providers, but to provide a free core system. Nothing is being broken, stolen, taken away, or rescinded.

    The whole article is nothing but pseudo-pedantic flame bait.

  • A paradox? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I don't follow the politics of Linux so please bear with me. Couldn't this be a paradox because Steam coming to Linux could be a game changer, pardon the pun, for mainstream adoption but could it not open up patent claims against it? While Microsoft, for instance, is currently having a benign attitude towards Linux with their Hyper-V support in the Kernel, couldn't they go into attack mode and wheel out patent claims if they feel their MS Windows Gaming/XBox platforms threatened by Steam on Linux?

  • by FranTaylor ( 164577 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @07:14PM (#40812299)

    that emacs and gcc were written on HPUX systems

    what's the "lesson" to be learned from these programs?

  • The title of this article is begging the question because it assumes (without evidence) that having Steam available on GNU/Linux will affect software freedom. I'm not saying that it won't, but I'd prefer to see some evidence instead of just taking it for granted that it will. Much better would have been simply, Will Steam on Gnu/Linux affect software freedom?
  • Valve has opened up all of their games to the modders, accusing them of not being free is ignorant.

    • Re:Not free? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Paradigm_Complex ( 968558 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @07:42PM (#40812533)
      There is a very specific definition of "free" being used in this context; opening up the software to modders in the fashion Valve has does not qualify. The wikipedia article [] on the subject explains it well. The importance of this definition of "free" and what could or should be done about it is what the debate here is revolving around; the definition of what does or does not qualify is well established by this point.
  • The last straw (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @07:24PM (#40812381)

    I see this as a great thing because games is pretty much the last reason I have for a dual boot system. Anything serious I do under Linux as its a far better tool, but some of my favorite games are windows-only so I still need a windows partition around. Assuming they start to port most windows games to Linux too, I can finally dump my windows partition.

    I know gaming won't change any minds in corporate IT depts, but at least it may encourage non-technical users to try Linux at home. It seems that a large reason corporates have for justifying continuing to force their employees onto Windows is that "everyone is more familiar with Windows than Linux". Lets hope steam on Linux can help to change that too.

  • by should_be_linear ( 779431 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @07:29PM (#40812427)
    I consider games not to be "software" for some time, it became part of entertainment industry, like films or music. It is created by large studios where programmers are only one ever smaller part of team. For this reason, I consider Steam equivalent of YouTube: channel that enables me to consume commercial entertainment, on my free OS, that remains fully GPL (minus GPU driver).
  • Not much (Score:5, Insightful)

    by humanrev ( 2606607 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @07:52PM (#40812603)

    In terms of software freedom, Steam won't affect much itself. The client is proprietary and as far as I know, every single game featured on Steam is proprietary (although stuff like the iD games can be run using replacement open source engines), but basically it's all one big closed-source pot. It will bring more attention to Linux and maybe some more commercial games, but that's about all.

    Now, the only problem I can see is that bringing Steam into Linux will mean another selection of users will becomes used to the idea of DRM (Steam) and having games tied to a single point of failure (Steam), whereas before they were used to having installers that you could backup and install without requiring verification from a third-party. But anyone who's read my posts know I'm beating a dead horse here - I've said it all before about the dangers of keeping all your eggs in one basket, but from what I can tell, games are a special class of software in which this isn't really a concern. It's not crucial or necessary software, so a hypothetical scenario in which you can't play anything due to issues with Steam verification in a longer term scenario don't phase people much.

    TL;DR : Steam on Linux will increase Linux's perception in the gaming world, increase its usage base for a bit (at least until some people go back to Windows because it runs some particular tool they didn't realize they needed before throwing away Windows after being swept away in the hype), but it won't do shit for software freedom.

  • Games & Freedom (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Coeurderoy ( 717228 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @08:01PM (#40812685)

    RMS probably somewhat inadvertently made a very interesting remark.
    He separates the Game Art from the Game Software...
    And admits that Game Art could be "non free"...

    One of my current activities is designing Gaming Maths, the way the maths are made has a strong impact on the enjoyment (or lack of) any game.
    I would argue that the "artistic" as opposed to "software" component is just as great as the artistic component of the graphics.

    I also think that there is a fundamental difference in Gaming apps versus Infrastructure or Activity Apps.
    If I provide a text processing system or an OS or an Identity management app, all user data trapped into these applications are naturally "content" owned by the user, and it should be normal for the user to be able to share it just as s/he wants.
    And it is immoral to force them to be promoter of their software if they want others to be able to read their presentation, or share files, etc...
    But Gaming datas are for the most part relevant only in the game, and although some elements like "avatar design" might be usefully standardized, most parts should not been seen or manipulated outside of the game, because it would destroy the interest and artistic integrity of the game.
    Having the "freedom" of adding 10000000 flogotz to my flogotz count is meaning less, and if I really want I could just lie about having found the amulet of yendor...
    Reading the source code of a game is interesting, but I do believe that the social contract between a game designer and a tool designer is very different, and not just for the game graphics.

    Therefore I think RMS can be assurer that at the end Valve opening to Gnu/Linux is not just neutral but a real gain.
    And I think that instead avoiding to speak about it, it would be better to explain that:
    There are interesting free games that you can use to play and to learn "how it is done"
    There are interesting tools like Ogre3D to help you write games.
    And there are non free games, it is somewhat frustrating because it might need something you do not have (if you processor is a MIPS it will probably not run), but it is very different from a non free Tool, and you are welcome to it.

    And hopefully game designer will work with the various communities to make sure that the coverage is as global as possible, and not just as "economically optimal"....

  • by Rolman ( 120909 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @08:47PM (#40813045)

    I've worked for both TI and the games industry all my professional life. With very limited exceptions I'd say Free Software and video games are not really compatible with each other. In fact, most of the time game companies are allergic to openness out of necessity.

    The video game industry is tough and fierce. Much of the competitive advantages of any large studio come directly from the propietary technology they develop for their own games or the engines they license to other studios. Unreal Engine is a very good example of this.

    Game companies, from the biggest manufacturer to the smallest studio, are plagued with trade secrets, patents, copyrighted code and tools that can't just be combined easily with their open counterparts. I don't see Valve's culture 'infiltrated' anytime soon because of this.

    I think it's great for Linux users to be able to play games without having to boot Windows. But that comes with a compromise: not many advanced users install Ubuntu for their primary computer and I really doubt the software components and drivers needed to run Steam will be well supported in any other distro. Fedora, RHEL and Debian, for instance, have a policy of not including proprietary drivers or patent-encumbered software in the installation disc/image. It may be harder for the users of those distros to make it work.

    In conclusion, it's a big win for the Linux user community but not so for the Free Software community.

  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Sunday July 29, 2012 @08:56PM (#40813131)

    It's strange that free software, which is supposed to have all these advantages over proprietary, is so threatened by something as simple as the availability of some games on Linux.

    Steam will be in some repos and not in others, valve will make a double click installer, and the only people who will care will be "freedom zealots" and a few people who chose the wrong distro and have to google how to install steam.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus