I'm not talking about the new Surface tablets that
Those will probably be nice machines.
But geeks may instead be looking toward
They're expecting Valve to finally reveal a set-top gaming device -- dubbed the SteamBox after Valve's Steam network -- that will challenge the Xbox, PlayStation and Wii.
That may be wishful thinking. But either way Valve's bold moves highlight broader shifts in digital entertainment and will raise the profile of what may be the most valuable private company in the Northwest.
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical.
But the flavor of device you plug into the TV is becoming less and less important.
What you're really looking for is a way to connect to a network, to get your online entertainment services onto the biggest screen in the house. Some people connect their TVs to see
It's the spread of the cellphone model. We're not buying electronics as much as buying into a bundle of services, forming a relationship with a network that will extend through multiple gadgets.
This may be why Apple has held off on releasing a pricey TV set and instead just keeps improving its
Game consoles are still expensive, but they're increasingly designed to serve largely as gateways to the online networks and digital storefronts run by
Valve's Steam gaming network is just as big, but it's still landlocked on the desktop, unless you move a PC into the living room or cobble together a way to connect it to a TV.
Founded in 1996 by
But its biggest asset now is Steam, an online network for playing and distributing PC, Mac and Linux games. It has 50 million players in more than 200 countries.
Valve is so popular that when it issues an update to one of its major games, the downloads may account for 2 to 3 percent of the world's Internet traffic, co-founder
Valve has been using Steam to pursue new models of the game business, such as free titles that are supported with small upgrade purchases. Two years ago it began letting Steam users build and sell these virtual items themselves, which has since generated more than
Valve also has been tinkering with Linux for several years, in part because of employee interest in the open-source software.
The company has been working with
In February Valve released software enabling Steam to run on Linux and now has about 200 games available for Linux users.
Newell sees Linux as the last platform that's really open to future innovation, now that
"Linux really is the future of gaming," he said at a Linux conference in
It's fun to speculate on what Valve will announce. It may release a customized version of a Linux PC, optimized for gaming and entertainment. Perhaps it will begin offering living-room PCs running Linux. It could offer guidelines or kits to build your own, or launch a Kickstarter campaign to gauge interest in SteamBox production.
Or maybe it's something simple like making its slick "Big Picture" software interface for TVs available on Linux machines as well as PCs and Macs.
Either way Valve is using Linux in the servers that power its network.
A few years down the road we may not need any sort of set-top box. TV sets and
In the meantime, a SteamBox sounds really cool.
Brier Dudley's column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or email@example.com
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