If you didn't read the news yesterday, Valve has officially confirmed
that they've been working on making WINE, a Windows app compatibility layer for GNU+Linux, compatible with the latest versions of the DirectX rendering API, by converting them to the Vulkan standard on the fly. Suspicions were aroused when an open-source developer, Philip "Doitsujin" Rebohl, began developing DXVK
, the program that performed this feat, and reached great strides of progress in a relatively short amount of time - now Valve has confirmed that they've been founding his development by hiring him as part of their open-source graphics team, since last February. They've also released their own version of WINE, Proton
, with these changes integrated, and soon it will be shipped along with the Linux version of the Steam games client. How can this affect the gaming panorama in the near future?
- SteamOS is now a viable Plan B: this is exactly what Valve has been planning all along, since the initial release of SteamOS and the Steam Machines. Their initial plan involved incentivizing developers to port games to Linux natively, but seeing that the Linux market share was almost within the margin of error precisely due to the lack of existing games, they decided to take another way by supporting compatibility efforts for already existing software, in this case WINE. Not depending on Microsoft benefits both Valve (as they no longer depend on the whims of Microsoft, in case they push for UWP or a subscription service for Windows for example) and Windows users themselves (as SteamOS can work as a viable alternative to Windows 10, this will make Microsoft think twice before abusing its current position of monopoly with Windows).
- PC gaming can become more affordable: Imagine a world where building a PC no longer requires factoring an expenditure of up to $120 on an original Windows 10 license. With Proton and DXVK, this world is about to become possible, and would put PCs on par with the cost of a PS4 or an Xbox One - a boon that would mean a second breath for the Steam Machine project. In the future, this could even make certain form factors for gaming consoles viable, such as portable devices, stick computers, and even existing smartphones if WINE/Proton is successfully ported to non-x86 chipsets.
- It's all based on free software: Valve has released Proton and DXVK as free, open-source software, which means not only Steam can use it as a base - now both community-powered efforts like Lutris, and commercial game stores like GOG, can leverage this workload and also release games on the Linux platform. Thanks to the joined efforts of free software developers, like the team that built WINE and DXVK, and industry standards groups like the Khronos Group, which built the Vulkan cross-platform graphics protocol, it's now possible to unshackle PC gaming from a specific operative system. Sure, for the software freedom purists it'll be more of a honeypot trap, using free software to run proprietary games from a proprietary games store with DRM - but the best part is, it doesn't need to be the case if adopted by other stores and community programs. All in all, this may not be the last piece that heralds the Year of the Linux Desktop, but it's making it become a closer goal, and the fact that there's another viable option is, by itself, great news.