It looks like Chrome OS could become the next big platform for Steam.
After reporting from earlier this year suggested Google was working to bring Steam to its desktop operating system, 9to5Google reports it uncovered how the search giant will accomplish the goal. The publication has tracked a new project in the Chromium open-source code. Chromium, for the unfamiliar, is the open-source foundation for Google’s Chrome browser and Chrome OS.
This project, called ‘Borealis,’ appears to be a virtual machine for Chrome OS, similar to the ‘Crostini’ project. Crostini is how Chrome OS currently runs Linux apps, which works by running a complete Linux distribution — in other words, a full Linux-based operating system — within a virtual machine.
Unlike Crostini, which uses the Debian Linux distribution, 9to5 reports Borealis is based on Ubuntu. Further, 9to5 reports that Borealis will integrate with Chrome OS in a similar way to Crostini.
On top of that, 9to5 says that Borealis differs from Ubuntu in one key way — it includes a pre-installed copy of Steam.
Gaming on Linux has come a long way thanks to Valve and Proton
If you haven’t been following Linux and gaming recently, it’s worth knowing that it’s come a long way. Largely, this is thanks to Valve — the company behind Steam — which has been proactive in making Linux gaming a reality. For example, Valve developed Proton in conjunction with CodeWeavers. Proton is a compatibility layer that helps Steam on Linux run games originally built for Windows. A recent video from Linus Tech Tips does an excellent job of running through the differences between gaming on Windows and Linux, including a look at Proton and how it works. Proton will likely be crucial for any Linux-based gaming system, including Chrome OS.
Although Proton should work with all major varieties of Linux, Steam’s install instructions suggest Ubuntu is the recommended distribution for gamers on Linux. This is likely also why Google is building out Borealis with Ubuntu instead of adapting Crostini to work with Proton.
It remains unclear if Google plans to move Chromebook owners from Crostini to Borealis, or if the two will coexist. However, that latter option is unlikely since it’d take up additional storage space.
Steam will come to Chromebooks with 10th Gen Intel CPUs first
9to5 also spotted a recent code change submitted to the Chromium Gerrit — an online collaboration tool for sharing, reviewing and submitting code to Chromium — that indicates which Chromebooks will get Steam support first. Internally, Google is testing Steam support as ‘hatch-Borealis.’ ‘Hatch’ is a base codename that refers to Chromebooks with 10th Gen Intel Core CPUs like the Lenovo Flex 5.
Ultimately, it looks like Google is getting close to bringing Steam — and therefore gaming — to Chrome OS in a serious way. It may come as a surprise considering Google is also working on its own cloud gaming system, Stadia. Regardless, it looks like high-end Chromebooks with 10th Gen Intel CPUs will be among the first to get access to Steam on Chrome OS. What remains to be seen is if any currently available Chromebook has enough power to run modern gaming titles, or if this will lead to an influx of ‘gaming’ Chromebooks. Further, this could encourage more support for gaming on Linux as a whole, since that also means getting the Chrome OS crowd.