Valve is planning to introduce beta versions of its SteamVR platform for Mac OSX and Linux users within a few months.
One thing’s for sure, if you’re a PC user wanting to indulge in a spot of immersive entertainment right now, the choice of operating systems on which you can do so are mostly limited to just one. Windows dominates the VR PC landscape right now and that looks set to continue for a while longer. However, Valve will soon move to encourage a diminishing of that monopoly, as it plans to bring SteamVR – the company’s Steam-integrated VR platform – to both Linux and Mac OSX platforms within the next few months.
The initiative was revealed by Valve’s Joe Ludwig during a talk at this year’s developer-focused Steam Dev Days event in Seattle last month. During the talk, Ludwig outlined the company’s view that VR should be as open to innovation as possible, touting the benefits for the long term evolution of virtual reality and how Valve, with OpenVR, are trying to keep what Ludwig calls platform “gatekeepers” from (as they see it) stifling progression in the VR space. Additionally, Ludwig stated that it’s been listening to developer and user feedback during SteamVR‘s first year in consumer hands, and says that they’ve heard clearly that a version of SteamVR is wanted on other operating systems.
Ludwig presented a screenshot (seen at the top of this article) of SteamVR running on Linux (distribution undefined), powered by the open source graphics API Vulkan, in turn powering an HTC Vive VR headset. Ludwig goes on to say that “we’re actively working on support for both OSX and Linux and we hope to get support for both of them into a beta in the next few months.”
This is news that will likely delight both open source operating system enthusiasts, Apple fans and Windows detractors alike. However, be aware that although even when these SteamVR OSX and Linux betas drop, application support for those operating systems are still limited. The vast majority of applications that integrate SteamVR right now, are rendered using the Microsoft DirectX APIs – these as you might expect are exclusive to Windows operating systems. In order for a game to run on an OS other than Windows, the game needs to support a graphics API, such as OpenGL and its successor Vulkan. Those games are limited in number right now, although Valve’s move to open up the possibilities for companies to offer versions of their titles to run on other platforms, may now encourage others to emerge.
The debate on the relative benefits of open platforms versus proprietary will rage on of course, but if you’re interested in Valve’s view of the VR landscape both now and in the future, take 20 mins to watch Ludwig’s presentation (embedded above) as it clears up some long standing confusion on just how ‘open’ OpenVR and it’s required SteamVR runtime components are.
In the mean time, Oculus have gone on record stating that any plans for Mac OSX support are “on hold” and the company’s founder has voiced vocally his reservations about the platform, namely Apple’s hardware lineup and its ability to meet the demanding rigours of rendering virtual reality applications.