Monday, February 15, 2016

Turn your Ubuntu 12.04 LTS into SteamOS (kinda)

(from the This is a cool trick department)

When I first heard about Steam for Linux, I immediately looked at their website and decided to try it.  Here's the specifications from the original page:

Steam for Linux requires the following:
  • 1 GHz Pentium 4 or AMD Opteron with 512 megabytes of RAM and 5 gigabytes of hard drive space, or better
  • Internet connection (Cable/DSL speeds recommended)
  • Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, fully updated
  • Latest graphics driver
  • NVidia driver support - For recent cards (e.g. series 8), you will need to install 310.x. For older cards, driver 304.x supports the NVidia 6 and 7 GPU series. To access these drivers, first update your cache and then install the specific driver you need from the list in Additional Drivers.
  • AMD driver support - For recent cards (e.g. series 5 and above), we recommend installing the 12.11 driver. For older cards, Catalyst 13.1 Legacy supports the HD 2400 Pro card and is the latest for the 2 and 4 GPU series.
  • Intel HD 3000/4000 driver support - you will need to use the latest Mesa drivers, Mesa 9 or later. For installation instructions, see here.
So -  I added a new hard disc to my Windows gaming system, and created a stand-alone Ubuntu 12.04 LTS installation.

Then - I heard about SteamOS.  It's built on Debian - like Ubuntu.  I was curious what it was like, but - hey - I'd already fine tuned my Ubuntu system - and I didn't feel like re-inventing the wheel.

That's where it stayed - until tonight.

I saw an article or two about Marc Deslauriers and a project he'd been working on:

"I've rebuilt a couple of #SteamOS packages in a PPA for Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. They add a "SteamOS" session that runs Valve's compositor and starts Steam in big picture mode."

There was an explanation of what this means here:

This had instructions on how to install it:

but they only work for Ubuntu 14.04, so here's the 12.04 instructions. 

NOTE:  Try this at your own risk.  It worked for me - but I can't guarantee it will work for you. Nor can I provide any tech support if your system is rendered unusable.

Enter these three commands in a terminal window - each sudo command should be one line - don't add any extra line breaks:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mdeslaur/steamos
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install steamos-compositor steamos-modeswitch-inhibitor steamos-xpad-dkms

This will add a SteamOS login to the Ubuntu login screen.  Selecting it will launch Steam in Big Picture mode without the overhead of a normal Linux window manager.

I haven't fully tested this yet.  It seems to be behaving itself - I'll update this post as I find out more.  And - you can always remove it by

sudo apt-get remove steamos-compositor steamos-modeswitch-inhibitor steamos-xpad-dkms

and your system will be back to normal, pending a reboot.

UPDATE:  After running in SteamOS mode, then rebooting and starting Unity, my Ubuntu 12.04 LTS system lost the use of the Volume Up, Volume Down and Volume Mute keys on my multimedia keyboard.  This was a real head scratcher - none of the online guides seemed to work - and some of the fixes were downright dangerous.

I finally got my keys back by following the advice here: and deleting my ~/.pulse directory.  You'll want to reboot immediately after doing this.

Apparently, running in SteamOS mode disables the volume keys.  Deleting the ~/.pulse folder and rebooting recovers it safely.  You'll just have to reset your audio output next time you log into Unity/Gnome.

UPDATE 2: I finally upgraded to 14.04 LTS.  There's an additional package you can add - plymouth-themes-steamos.  This is only available for 14.04 LTS and 16.04 LTS - I had to leave it out for 12.04 LTS.  So - the instructions would be the same as above but with the extra package.  e.g.:

sudo apt-get install steamos-compositor steamos-modeswitch-inhibitor steamos-xpad-dkms plymouth-themes-steamos

It doesn't change a lot - but there's an extra SteamOS splash screen.

Also - I haven't had to delete the ~/.pulse directory in 14.04 LTS - my keys have continued to work - so that's nice.  I don't know if it's the change in videocards since I wrote this originally - had AMD, now nVidia - but it does seem to set the sound to HDMI even if I had headphones or analog selected.  But - that's easy enough to set once you go back to the Ubuntu desktop.