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Valve fires up SteamOS, its bid for living room PC gaming

In a highly anticipated announcement, the creator of the Half Life series and Steam gaming portal details its strategy for dominating the living room with a Linux-based OS designed for televisions.

Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET

Game developer and digital distributor Valve has already seen massive success with its Steam portal -- so much so that it is wrapping that software up in its own Linux-based operating system, called SteamOS and designed for televisions. The goal: dethrone the home console kings in favor of a PC ecosystem.

"As we've been working on bringing Steam to the living room, we've come to the conclusion that the environment best suited to delivering value to customers is an operating system built around Steam itself," Valve says on its official SteamOS page. "SteamOS combines the rock-solid architecture of Linux with a gaming experience built for the big screen. It will be available soon as a free stand-alone operating system for living room machines."

The move to make its software free and licensable by anyone is a pivotal move in the company's power grab for the living room, which started well over a year ago with rumors that Valve was designing its very own PC-console hybrid dubbed the Steam Box.

Those efforts hit a high note at CES in January when Valve mysteriously unveiled prototypes of such a machine and met with hardware partners. Meanwhile, Valve founder and CEO Gabe Newell has been vocal about his plans to make the jump to the big screen and about the competition he sees in mobile gaming-focused companies like Apple.

Along the way, however, Newell handed down scores of layoffs, restructuring Valve for this moment. One such high-profile firing was Jeri Ellsworth, a designer of Steam Box-supported game controllers. Employees referred to these decisions as a "great cleansing."

So it would appear Valve decided to make software as important as the physical Steam Box machines it's been focused on -- if not more important. Valve announced in March that it was planning to ship Steam Box prototypes in three to four months, but it's unclear whether that strategy has changed.

As for the capabilities of SteamOS, the service will allow in-home streaming of a user's entire Steam library of Mac and Windows games. It will also include family sharing and family restriction features to fully accommodate living room gaming.

SteamOS will also come equipped to combat Microsoft's and Sony's well-developed media offerings that span cable box plugins, NFL deals and a multitude of streaming services. Valve's take will include music, movies, and television, though the company simply states it is "working with many of the media services you know and love" and has not provided details as to how any media sharing or streaming will operate.

"SteamOS will be available soon as a free download for users and as a freely licensable operating system for manufacturers," Valve said. We can expect more details from the company in the coming days as it has two more announcements slated for this week.

The next announcement has a countdown set for Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 10 a.m. PT, whereupon the company may unveil its own Steam Box hardware to debut SteamOS.