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Alienware's Steam Machine is "Steam ready" but will ship without SteamOS or controller

Alienware Alpha is a $550 Steam Machine we looked at earlier this week , during which we noted that SteamOS, the backbone of the system, isn't quite ready . That, and the inclusion of Windows 8.1 in the system specs, understandably led to some existential questions about whether a Steam Machine without SteamOS is really a Steam Machine at all; and the answer, according to Alienware, is "yes."

"It's absolutely Steam-ready," Alienware Global Marketing Director Bryan de Zayas told Joystiq at E3. "It's not that we're bypassing Steam. It's critical. They have the majority of the digital downloads."

De Zayas said that Valve has been "fully supportive" of its process, and Alienware in turn supported Valve's decision to delay the OS and controller after it decided they weren't ready. But it wasn't prepared to push back its own machines to wait for Valve to catch up, either, and so the system is coming out, sans SteamOS , in time for this year's holiday season.

Even though the Alpha is Windows-based, de Zayas clarified that users won't actually have to deal with Windows if they don't want to. "They can go straight from boot, straight into a custom UI," he said. "If they want to even bypass the custom UI after the first boot, they can go straight to Big Picture mode."

Alienware's description of the unit states that it's SteamOS and Steam Controller ready and "designed to easily integrate" with them when they launch in 2015. In the meantime, is it still a Steam Machine, trapped in a larval state? Or is it now just a fancy little PC? And how do we tell the difference? For a platform that was supposed to simplify PC gaming, this sure does seem to be getting complicated.