Collabora Details How SteamOS 3.0 Works on the Steam Deck

SteamOS Steam Deck

Collabora’s Simon McVittie published a blog post today to detail how the SteamOS 3.0 operating system works on Valve’s recently launched Steam Deck gaming handheld.

Earlier this week, Valve officially launched the Steam Deck gaming device, which is powered by a new version of the SteamOS operating system that ditches the Debian GNU/Linux base for the rolling-release Arch Linux distribution and adopts the awesome and modern KDE Plasma desktop environment.

No! SteamOS 3.0 is not out yet for the general public to install it on their personal computers, but if you’re curious to know more about it, Collabora tells us that their major contribution to SteamOS 3.0 was to help with the implementation of seamless system updates.

According to Collabora, Steam Deck comes with two system partitions, with two different versions of SteamOS. These partitions are used alternatively when upgrading the operating system to a new version, and there’s also a smart bootloader that automatically selects the newer SteamOS version or falls back to the previous one in case of a boot failure.

“When upgrading, a new operating system image is written to whichever partition is not currently in use, before rebooting the system. A specialized bootloader module then automatically selects the newer operating system and boots into it. If the upgrade was successful, you continue to use the new OS, and the previous system partition is reused for the next upgrade,” explains McVittie.

As you probably already know by now from various reviews on the Web, the SteamOS 3.0 operating system features a so-called Desktop Mode that lets you turn the gaming handheld into a portable desktop computer if you connect it to an external monitor, as well as mouse and keyboard peripherals via the integrated USB-C port.

But Collabora also tells us that SteamOS 3.0 features a Developer Mode that lets experienced Linux users access Arch Linux’s pacman package manager to install various packages and the full power of the KDE Plasma desktop environment. The Developer Mode works by putting the system partition into read/write mode instead of the read-only mode that’s enabled by default for regular users.

That’s how SteamOS 3.0 works on the Steam Deck, but, on the desktop, it will work like any other distro, and I can’t wait for Valve to release an installable ISO image to take it for a test drive on my laptop for some Linux gaming. Stay tuned to this space for more news about SteamOS 3.0.

Update 03/03/22: Collabora tells us that they we use a combination of RAUC (update client for embedded devices) and desync (alternative casync implementation) to implement a block-based seamless system update mechanism in Steam OS 3.0.

Image credits: Valve (edited by Marius Nestor)

Last updated 2 years ago

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