The Steam Deck (opens in new tab) is an incredible bit of hardware, but the software that underpins it is just as impressive. From long-running open-source stalwarts like the Mesa graphics driver and the Vulkan API to Valve's own Proton compatibility layer, the Deck only runs thanks to a lot of labour by open-source developers. Without them, the whole thing is just a big block of plastic.
Turns out that Valve understands that, because in a recent chat with the Verge (opens in new tab), Steam Deck designer Pierre-Loup Griffais mentioned that the company is paying over a hundred open-source devs to work on the various bits of software that keep the Steam Deck ticking. Valve has them working on stuff like Steam for ChromeOS and Linux, too (Griffais didn't mention macOS though, which makes sense given the way Steam seems to freeze in panic whenever I launch it on a MacBook).
Griffais said Valve's corralling of open-source devs is part of "a larger strategy to coordinate all these projects and set up kind of an overall architecture" for gaming on Linux. That is to say, Valve is using its technical and financial clout to herd the cats of open-source development in a single direction, in order to get Linux functioning as a viable alternative to Windows for PC gaming.
I was surprised when I heard about it. Valve is obviously committed to the Steam Deck, but working with—and paying—over a hundred devs to keep its open-source innards chugging along really puts that commitment into perspective. To people more involved in Linux and open-source development, though, it was less of a surprise. As various commenters in this Reddit thread (opens in new tab) attest, Valve has had a hand in an incredible amount of open-source tech at this point. Even Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds is on-record saying that Valve would "save the Linux desktop" (opens in new tab). Though it's worth noting he was at least a bit ambivalent about that.
It's not the only Deck-related news we've heard from Valve recently. We've also learnt that the company wants to bring back the Steam Controller (opens in new tab) (also, I have to speak my truth and tell you the Steam Controller was great, actually), and the Deck's designers dropped hints about a revised Deck (opens in new tab) with a bigger battery and better screen.
Even if Valve's dedication to Linux and open-source software is more about having an escape hatch from Windows than staunch dedication to free and open source principles, it's great that so many devs are getting paid for their contributions to the company's projects. Truly, 2022 has been the year of Linux on the desktop.