You’ve probably seen the recent news about Linux and Steam. Valve is hiring Linux developers left and right, and has made serious performance gains with Left 4 Dead 2. With a very high-end machine and a 32 bit OS, Valve was able to get 315 frames per second on Linux. If you don’t know, that is a lot of frames.
After this work, Left 4 Dead 2 is running at 315 FPS on Linux. That the Linux version runs faster than the Windows version (270.6) seems a little counter-intuitive, given the greater amount of time we have spent on the Windows version. However, it does speak to the underlying efficiency of the kernel and OpenGL. Interestingly, in the process of working with hardware vendors we also sped up the OpenGL implementation on Windows. Left 4 Dead 2 is now running at 303.4 FPS with that configuration.
315 FPS may seem like a bit of overkill, but keep in mind that a stable framerate can lead to better gameplay. A Linux version of L4D2 could have larger maps with more zombies and on-screen effects, all while remaining more stable. The true beauty of the port is that they haven’t even worked on it for too long. The Windows version of L4D2 is constantly being tweaked, but still suffers from issues on even the best hardware. The Linux version is getting insane speed and they aren’t even finished working on it. Part of the reason is Linux using OpenGL instead of DirectX, and there is just far less bloat on Linux. The guys making Overgrowth have been proving why developers should use OpenGL for ages now. Getting more out of hardware is always great.
Although Linux may have a bit more success with more Source games and Steam on the OS, don’t expect things to take off too fast. Every year is always “the year people actually start using Linux”, and it never happens. The community is too fragmented between distributions, and even the user-friendly Ubuntu has serious issues that make regular desktop usage a pain in the ass. Even when Vista was a complete disaster, not too many people made the switch.
Steam on Linux also faces some slight opposition from Stallman and the Freemen, who basically don’t want a non-free platform like Steam on Linux at all. Steam compromises the free software association’s integrity, even though it would actually give people a reason to use the Operating System.
I suppose that availability of popular nonfree programs on GNU/Linux can boost adoption of the system. However, our goal goes beyond making this system a “success”; its purpose is to bring freedom to the users. Thus, the question is how this development affects users’ freedom.
Nonfree game programs (like other nonfree programs) are unethical because they deny freedom to their users. (Game art is a different issue, because it isn’t software.) If you want freedom, one requisite for it is not having nonfree programs on your computer. That much is clear.
You may not agree with Stallman, but he pretty much laid the groundwork for GNU, and he still has a very loyal following of rabid Linux developers. I think that we deserve the freedom to install whatever programs we want on your computers, Linux or not. I’d also like to see a large library of games on Linux, giving me an actual reason to switch from Windows. Having Steam could get the ball rolling on that.