If you follow gaming news, you've probably heard of Steam OS — Valve's new operating system for dedicated gaming PCs. It's Linux-based, designed for use in the living room, and completely free.
Unfortunately, it'll be a while before Steam OS is ready to pose a challenge to Windows on gaming computers. Because it's Linux-based, the significant majority of the games in Steam's catalog won't run on SteamOS — though Valve's using technical trickery to work around that — and the software itself is still in beta testing. The first "Steam Machine" consoles from PC manufacturers aren't expected to ship until late this year.
So are you out of luck if you want to see what SteamOS is like? Not at all. If you've got 30 minutes to spare, you can get SteamOS up and running in a virtual machine, which will let you explore Valve's operating system without ever leaving the comfort of your Windows desktop. The installation process is pretty convoluted, but you won't have any trouble if you follow our step-by-step guide.
Note: SteamOS is beta software under active development. The steps in this guide were written for the latest version of SteamOS (update 96), but may not be accurate for future versions of the software. Consider yourself warned!
Download SteamOS and VirtualBox
There are two pieces of software you'll need before we can begin.
At about 1GB, SteamOS is a pretty big download so you should start that first. If you Google "Steam OS," the first few links go to outdated installation files. The file that you want is available in the Steam Universe group on Steam's forums. (Future SteamOS updates will be available on the group's homepage.) Click on the "installer ISO and ZIPs" link, then select to download the SteamOSDVD.iso file. This file simplifies the installation process substantially over some earlier releases, so even if you've downloaded SteamOS in the past, it's worth downloading the newest version.
You'll also need VirtualBox, the free virtualization software from Oracle.
Create a virtual PC
Now, you'll use VirtualBox to create a virtual computer onto which you'll install SteamOS. If you've never used a virtual PC before, you can think of it as a "computer simulator." It uses some of your computer's CPU cycles, memory, and hard disk space to create a computer-in-a-window that acts just like the real thing. It can even run an operating system other than Windows, such as Ubuntu or (in this case) SteamOS.
Install VirtualBox — leaving all the default options selected — and when it's finished, run the program. Click on the light blue New button in the upper left corner and a new dialogue box will open up, which will walk you through the setup process.
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