Monthly Archives: February 2013

Investigating Steam for Linux

Valve recently released the final, public version of their Steam client for Linux, and the Linux world rejoiced. At least, it probably did. The announcement was 2 weeks ago on Valentine’s Day and I had other things on my mind, so I missed any fanfare. When framed in this manner, the announcement timing becomes suspect– it’s as though Linux enthusiasts would have plenty of time that day or something.

Valve Steam logo

Taming the Frontier
Speculation about a Linux Steam client had been kicking around for nearly as long as Steam has existed. However, sometime last year, the rumors became more substantive.

I naturally wondered how to port something like Steam to Linux. I have some experience with trying to make a necessarily binary-only program that runs on Linux. I’m fairly well-versed in the assorted technical challenges that one might face when attempting such a feat. Because of this, whenever I hear rumors that a company might be entertaining the notion of porting a major piece of proprietary software to Linux, my instinctive reflex is, “What?! Why, you fools?! Save yourselves!”

At least, that’s how it used to be. The proposal of developing a proprietary binary for Linux has been rendered considerably less insane by a few developments, for example:

  1. The rise of Ubuntu Linux as a quasi de facto standard for desktop Linux computing
  2. The increasing homogeneity in personal desktop computing technology

What I would like to know is how the Steam client runs on Linux. Does it rely on any libraries being present on the system? Or does it bring its own? The latter is a trick that proprietary programs can use– transport all of the shared libraries that the main program binary depends upon, install them someplace out of the way on the filesystem, probably in /opt, and then make the main program a shell script which sets a preload path to rely on the known quantity libraries instead of the copies already on the system.

Downloading and Installing the Client
For this exercise, I installed x86_64 desktop Ubuntu 12.04 Linux on a l33t gaming rig that was totally top of the line about 5 years ago, and that someone didn’t want anymore and handed down to me recently. So it should be ideal for this project.

At first, I was blown away– the Linux client is in a .deb package that is less than 2 MB large. I unpacked the steam.deb file and found a bunch of support libraries — mostly X11 and standard C/C++ runtimes. Just as I suspected. Still, I can’t believe how small the thing is. However, my amazement quickly abated when I actually ran Steam and saw this:

Steam Linux Client -- initial update

So it turns out steam.db is just the installer program which immediately proceeds to download an additional 160+ MB of data. So there’s actually a lot more information to possibly sift through.
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