Months after its release, the Steam Deck It seems to have established itself as a product, with much greater acceptance than the Steam Machines had at the time. However, Valve’s device, which on the outside is a hybrid console with a format and layout similar to that of the Nintendo Switch, is actually a true Compatible PC running a standard Linux operating system.
The Steam Deck works by default in the game session with the Steam client, however, it also has a Desktop Mode that starts a session with the KDE Plasma desktop, which stands out for its Windows-like layout and its wide possibilities of personalization. since said Desktop mode the user can use SteamOS 3 as if it were such a device, which opens the door to using the device as if it were a normal PC.
At the time we already covered what KDE Plasma is, the project that supports it and some of its virtues, of which we can mention the low use of resources and the respect for privacy proclaimed by the project, which are added to the aforementioned possibilities. of personalization. Since the virtues of KDE Plasma are exposed, we are going to delve a little into what the Steam Deck brings to the level of desktop technologies.
Did you know that SteamOS 3 is a standard GNU/Linux operating system?
It should be no mystery by now that SteamOS 3, the operating system that comes pre-installed on the Steam Deck, is pretty much standard GNU/Linux that derived from Arch Linux and with immutability properties.
The concept handled by SteamOS 3 has some conceptual similarities with Linux systems from the RPM spectrum such as Fedora Silverblue/Kinoite and openSUSE MicroOS, which in addition to being immutable, try to separate applications from the operating system. The fact that an operating system is immutable means that the file system is in a high percentage read-only and that, at least initially, it cannot be modified by the user, not even with administrator permissions (root in Linux).
Beyond the use of Steam’s own interface and immutability, since it is a feature that has become mainstream recently in the world of Linux, veteran Linux users should find it quite familiar on a general level., and it is that at a technological level SteamOS 3 is nothing really special when using KDE Plasma as a desktop, systemd as a framework for services, the standard graphics stack of the system present in all distributions (AMDGPU in the kernel, RadeonSI for OpenGL and RADV for Vulkan) and Flatpak as the primary means of installing graphical applications. Other things like the directory tree and configuration files are in roughly the same places.
With all this data on the table, it is not unreasonable to consider the Steam Deck as the device that has at least reduced the fear that many had of using Linux in a home environment. There are few things in SteamOS 3 that are not present in other distributions, especially if we stick to the desktop interface.
Flatpak and the value of freedom
The fact that the Steam Deck is perceived as a console can be misleading, since other devices such as PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S also use x86_64 processors from AMD. Sony and Microsoft consoles are closed devices that greatly limit the freedom that the user can exercise over them, however, that is not the case with the Steam Deck, which can change the operating system to Windows with no other limitations than the normal ones on a PC, but that is a detail that we are not going to delve into.
As we’ve already said, SteamOS 3 is a standard Linux operating system, with all its pros and cons, although it’s somewhat machine-focused, so it might not be very graphics-friendly. NVIDIA. Among all the features for desktop stands out Flatpak, a universal package format officially community in origin, but driven primarily by Red Hat.
Although Flatpak is officially decentralized, it is de facto centralized through the Flathub repository, which has emerged as an essential resource for all those users who use the package format. SteamOS 3 implements Flatpak as standard, which makes it easy for the user to add additional repositories for more apps or alternate compilations thereof.
As a consequence of the ease that is made when adding additional Flatpak repositories, the user may find that SteamOS 3 is not only less limited than “traditional” video game consoles, but it is also a more open platform than iOS. and even Android. It is true that Google’s mobile operating system has always allowed the addition of third-party stores, but the process is not as simple as setting up repositories in Flatpak, while iOS is paving the way for third-party stores due to a possible defeat in court.
Retaking Flathub, the repository that has de facto centralized the distribution of packages and applications in Flatpak format, it has a growing catalog in which it is possible to find everything, including office suites, drawing applications, image manipulation, video editing, etc. As a consequence, the Steam Deck is fully capable of performing the function of a PC without having to resort to another operating system.
The user can find within the Flathub catalog applications such as LibreOffice, ONLYOFFICE, Google Chrome (although it is not an official package), the Krita drawing application, the GIMP image manipulator, the VLC media player, the Audacious audio player, the Audacity audio editor and Kdenlive and Shotcut video editors. In short, the user can not only turn his Steam Deck into a computer for office automation and other basic uses, but also into one for multimedia production.
Going a little deeper into Flatpak
Flatpak is a universal package format for Linux. Its goal is to provide a framework for graphical applications that can be run independent of the distribution. Since it only covers graphical applications, it does not support the execution of services nor is it capable of supporting kernels or the drivers associated with it, although it does support user-space drivers (OpenGL, Vulkan and OpenCL) through Mesa compilations in said format. .
In addition to being a universal framework for provisioning and installing graphical applications, Flatpak aims to be easy to configure, use and maintain, so, at least with the default configuration, it updates applications automatically and on the fly, although From time to time it doesn’t hurt to take a look at the software store, Discover in this case, to see if any updates have been left behind due to requesting additional permissions, a situation that fortunately is solved with the push of a button.
However, there is a widespread misconception among users around Flatpak, and that is the fact that the applications are completely self-contained. Although the packet format has isolation (sandbox) as one of its flags, the reality is that its way of working is not far from what could be called “traditional packaging”, so applications in Flatpak format also have their dependenciesmainly from GNOME or KDE runtimes and freedesktop, the latter being, in addition to a Flatpak runtime, the project that defines the de facto standards of the Linux desktop and the one responsible for Mesa.
One of the goals of the Flatpak is to separate applications from the system, a function that is further emphasized on immutable operating systems such as Fedora Silverblue/Kinoite, openSUSE MicroOS, and SteamOS 3, where it plays the role of the primary pathway for installing graphical applications. The separation of applications from the system is a benefit that is also obtained with mutable systems (those that give permission to write to any part of the filesystem), so it opens the door to combining a Debian Stable with the latest versions of applications, which in some contexts can come in very handy.
Conclusion: your Steam Deck is good for more than you think
Despite its console look, nothing prevents you from mounting the Steam Deck as if it were a PC and using it as an office equipment or multimedia production, among other tasks. For this it is not necessary to change the operating system, but simply to start exploring the catalog available in Flatpak format.