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'Windows 8 is a catastrophe' says Steam boss Gabe Newell

"I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space," says the creator of Steam and Half-Life, Gabe Newell.

Nick Hide Managing copy editor
Nick manages CNET's advice copy desk from Springfield, Virginia. He's worked at CNET since 2005.
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Nick Hide
3 min read

"I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space." Thus spake the prophet of doom, Gabe Newell, boss of online gaming behemoth Valve, maker of the Steam store and beloved smash hits such as Portal and Half-Life. A man whose multi-billion dollar success is founded on the openness of the PC platform. So what's his problem with Windows 8?

"We think touch is short-term," Newell said, speaking at an event in Seattle covered by AllThingsD. "The mouse and keyboard were stable for 25 years, but I think touch will be stable for 10 years." Windows 8 is built around a new touch interface called Metro, which makes your desktop into a Windows Phone/Xbox-style collection of moving boxes.

How bad is it? "I think we'll lose some of the top-tier PC [manufacturers], who will exit the market," Newell predicts. "I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people."

But touch is optional, unless you're on a tablet. More worrying for an independent software retailer is the closed-shop system used by Windows 8 RT, the limited version written for tablets running on ARM chips. RT tablets will only be able to run software bought from the Windows Store -- just like the iTunes App Store on an iPad.

Your normal desktop version of Windows 8 will run any old junk just like before -- but the Windows Store will be front and centre, and the natural place for most people to go for their games and programs.

That's bad for original ideas, according to Newell. "In order for innovation to happen, a bunch of things that aren't happening on closed platforms need to occur. Valve wouldn't exist today without the PC -- [nor] Epic, or Zynga, or Google. They all wouldn't have existed without the openness of the platform.

"There's a strong temptation to close the platform, because they look at what they can accomplish when they limit the competitors' access to the platform, and they say, 'That's really exciting'."

That means working out a way of bringing Steam to Linux. "The big problem that is holding back Linux is games. People don't realise how critical games are in driving consumer purchasing behaviour. We want to make it as easy as possible for the 2,500 games on Steam to run on Linux as well.

"We are looking at the [PC] platform and saying, 'We've been a free rider, and we've been able to benefit from everything that went into PCs and the Internet, and we have to continue to figure out how there will be open platforms.'"

I'm not entirely sure I'm convinced by his argument. The App Store has seen the most spectacular blossoming of creative independent game making since games came on cassette tapes. It's a closed market, but the barriers to entry are so low and the number of users so high that it's made no difference. And in turn, it's spurred development on open platforms like Android and Steam.

Will having a highly visible marketplace on every Windows 8 PC help or hinder makers of good-quality low-priced software to find customers? I think it'll help. But we can all agree on touch, that's bonkers. Disagree in the usual places.