Open Source Game Operating Systems

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By Strypey in Disintermedia [1]:


"The next question is what are you going to play these libre games on, Windows? PlayStation? In answer to this question, there has been a drive to generally improve the experience of playing games on a GNU/Linux operating system, whether the game code and art are free or proprietary. Progress has been reported on sites like,, and (no new posts since 2014).

Building on the growing interest in GNU as a gaming platform, a number of projects have emerged to create gamer-orientated distributions. An early attempt was Gamix (last release was 2007) a Mandriva-based distro created by PagoPago Software developer Eli Tomlinson so that his games could boot on a PC without needing to be compatible with the existing operating system, the same way a LiveCD/DVD/USB allows users to boot directly into GNU/Linux without installing on the hard drive. Another offering was GameDrift, a commercial product from Dutch company Linos which supported Windows games using a licensed version of Crossover Games; a proprietary middleware built on WINE. A similar project that it still active is PlayOnLinux, an application for playing Windows games on WINE which can be installed in your existing GNU/Linux. Other gamer-orientated distro projects that have come and gone include Supergamer and the LiveGame distro, which like Gamix, was intended to allow gamers to boot directly into their games without installing them. Curiously, development on all these projects (except for Gamix) seems to have stalled around 2011.

The big news over the last year or two in GNU/Linux based gaming OS is the SteamOS, the Debian-based distro packaged by Valve to run Steam Machines, first released in November, 2015. As of March, 2016, the current version is 2.0, based on Debian 8.0 Jesse, released in April, 2015. It seems like SteamOS is basically just GNU/Linux used as a free sandwich filling between the proprietary hardware on the bottom, made by a variety of vendors, and on top, Valve's proprietary game store, Steam, for which the OS and machines are named, and a stack of often DRM-encumbered proprietary games. Optimists are hoping that SteamOS will give PC gamers a sufficiently reliable libre alternative to Windows that they will also start to hanker for libre games, and get behind the movement towards libre hardware.

LinuX-Box? FreeStation?

"With GNU/ Linux well established as a server OS, and rapidly maturing as the desktop for communications, office applications, and even multimedia work (Dyne:Bolic, Pure:Dyne, UbuntuStudio), the holy grail of free culture now is the free gaming platform.

A truly free gaming platform needs to be assembled from the ground up to include:

  • Kick-ass, free-as-in-speech hardware designed around the graphics and audio processors
  • a free code kernel designed around the demands of 3D graphics, and surround sound
  • networking designed to optimise the cluster-processing of virtual worlds, and in-game tools like Mumble for chat

bleeding-edge free software gaming engines

  • and remix-friendly artwork, narrative, and character elements, liberated by free cultural works licenses, like CreativeCommons-Attribution-ShareAlike.

Once we get the gamers onside, it's game, set, and match for the free PC. If we can succeed at most of these things, free culture is the winner on the day.

A few good attempts have been made. The Pandora gaming handheld runs a version of GNU/ Linux, and will soon be succeeded by a newer handheld console called the Dragonbox Pyra, which was announced in 2014 and may start shipping pre-orders later this year. Respect for software freedom looked to be a fairly high priority for the Pyra team, although discussions on the Trisquel forums report mixed results. Another device running GNU/Linux mentioned in that thread is the GCW Zero, which was successfully crowdfunded on KickStarter, and is a handheld console akin to the PlayStation Portable.

Also crowdfunded on KickStarter was the OUYA console which runs Android/Linux. The choice of Android was made with the idea that game development on the proliferation of Android-based devices being sold (phones, tablets, set-top boxes, home media servers on Rasberry Pi etc) would provide a much wider variety of games for the OUYA, and reduce the risk for anyone wanting to develop games specifically for the OUYA, because they would also be easily portable to other Android devices. However, sales of both consoles and games weren't high enough to cover the venture capital being poured in, and OUYA was sold to Razer in 2015. It's future is uncertain.

As mentioned in the OS section, the next big thing for libre gaming hardware are the Steam Machines. There will be range of hardware form factors, from traditional tower gaming rigs to console size boxes, all running the SteamOS distro of GNU/Linux. This creates an opportunity for libre hardware companies to create a Steam Machine with fully free hardware, and for a group of developers to create a DRM-free, free code, game explorer like Steam, which offers downloads or online play of libre games, and links to easy ways to fund libre game creation. Once these projects reached a usable state, it would be possible to create a 100% freedom-respecting game machine.

Free Code Emulation

Emulating older game platforms which are being gradually obsoleted by their owners is a hot topic at the moment, with some manufacturers throwing whatever patent, copyright, or trademark litigation they have to hand at emulator developers, while others hand out permission and even documentation as freely as ID Games handed out the source code for Doom, once they had built a new generation of titles on a newer gaming engine.

The Pandora is able to emulate a number of older game platforms, including arcade machines, and some pre-8-bit, 8 bit, 16 bit, and 32 bit consoles. A multi-platform emulation software project, Open Emu (BSD), formerly OpenNestopia is available only for MacOSX." (

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