The Breakthrough: Linux, Video Games and other Breakthrough Technologies

UPDATE: Really good article realated to this: Why Valve’s SteamOS Could Be Revolutionary – Valve’s SteamOS and Steam Machines could have big implications for Silicon Valley and Hollywood.


On the 5th of October 1991 a fellow by the name of Linux Torvalds released something called the “Linux Kernel”. Way back then computing was seen as an elite closed world, populated by intelligent boffins in white coats, hovering over expensive corporate computer systems and closed source software development. Microsoft Windows had already established itself on PC systems as the latest Graphical User Interface. In fact Windows came to be seen as the computer. Many people would refer to their system as Windows, seemingly ignorant of the fact that the underlying hardware is operating system agnostic. Windows had become God in the PC computing world. Any other contender was seen as simply heretical to what most people defined the PC as. In fact the distinction between the marketed idea of “a computer” and how Linux defined the use of the a computer, was to become a heated debate not without some religious overtones of spiritual freedom versus worship of the holy “creator”, Microsoft.

So now we have reached this massive watershed today, Nov 4th, 2013, and lo, the detractors have gone very silent, VERY silent indeed !

Why is this ? Well, what we are seeing in computer land is certainly not isolated to Linux and open source software. We are seeing breakthroughs in many areas … various technologies, scientific outlooks, society, culture, money … and video games.

“Paradoxically, it is at the point of diminishing returns of an existing technology when it is most difficult to consider alternatives. Institutions that grow up with a technology become too established, too uniquely adept at their technology to consider alternatives. Alternatives are outside their area of expertise. Established institutions prefer to modify, augment or find new applications for their technology rather than to search for ways to go beyond their technology. Historical evidence shows that this refinement approach does not guarantee sustained market superiority (Innovation, the Attacker’s Advantage, R. Foster, 1986). If an existing organization wants to avoid its own obsolescence, it must be willing to explore alternatives.”

Breakthrough Technologies (NASA), Breakthrough Technologies (AVG Aerospace).


“As technology evolves, a given device or method will reach a point when it can no longer be improved. At this point it has reached the limits of its underlying physical principles. To exceed this performance limit, a totally different device or method with different underlying physical principles is required. Examples:

The limits of sailing ships were exceeded with steam ships.

The speed limits of propeller aircraft were exceeded by jet aircraft

The altitude limits of aircraft were exceeded by rockets

The travel limits of rockets will be exceeded by… (to be determined)


This process has been progressing with the release of Android in 2007. Android proved the commercial viability of open source and Linux while maintaining the open and free access to the actual code. Some commentators may disagree with this due to some of the proprietary and closed source nature of Android. But without allowing mobile phone companies some leeway in protecting their IP and closed source hardware, Android would never have become successful. Other areas of success have been Linux based internet servers and Linux based embedded systems. Now what used to be “the unthinkable” is happening. Nvidia is working with open source developers as a result of its agreement with Valve. Gabe Newell used to work for Microsoft and the first few versions of Windows. He, no doubt has read things like Innovation, the Attacker’s Advantage, R. Foster, 1986 and it is not some impotent risk taking against the arrows of outrageous fortune that he and Valve have announced SteamOS, and the have ignited the potential for a whole new area of video game development. Which is based on a Linux that is breaking through  the “diminishing returns” of Microsoft and Windows. In may ways this has all been inevitable, or was it ? Maybe this process always has to entail an enormous amount of work and tireless vision as it has done in the areas of aeronautics (propellers to jets) or from sails to steam. Even the name of Valve’s video game distribution platform betrays some of their deeper market knowledge and planning. Classically Microsoft have failed to “explore alternatives”, preferring to “modify, augment or find new applications for their technology”. Just like in any other field they have become the levelling off curve that has reached the limits of its performance with the closed source approach and limits of its style of dovetailing into prevailing social attitudes and fast changing social outlooks.

This has led to the true breakthrough situation where something akin to UFO’s landing on the White House lawn has happened; Nvidia working with open source group Nouveau. To people not steeped in the history and law of computer land development that event may seem minor. But to those in the know, that event heralds a massive change that has taken over twenty years to achieve. What if you couldn’t open the bonnet of your car and fix your own engine ? Naturally you would probably be outraged to find non-tamper restraints over components, yet this is exactly the way the computer world has been working up until now. Initially companies thought that they simply could not make their money if they went into open source land. This was disproved by things like Android, and anyway, since the beginning, the open source software licences have been designed to allow companies to make money out of open source while insuring that the code is made open.

Now the avalanche has started. Some games like Bohemia’s ArmA Tactics and Natural Selection 2 as well as Valve’s entire product range (Half Life, Team Fortress) have been ported and are available for sale on Linux via the Steam platform. But more importantly it is the 3D engines (Steam ? Engines ? Steam Engine ?) that are now being ported to Linux in readiness for SteamOS. Crytek are porting CryEngine (Crysis and other games). Commentators on the internet sometimes seem baffled by this “risky” venture into Linux land, seemingly ignorant of well known market planning strategies (see above). All the indicators match up. the breakthrough has occurred and is occurring at the moment in many other fields actually. I don’t think it is any coincidence that gamers seek innovative social visions and commentary in things like Borderlands 2 and have also become frustrated with the usual stock of macho PC shooters. Innovation has been healthier in the console gaming field but that has also become increasingly restricted by Microsoft’s approach to game distribution and the raising of barriers to game developers who want to move beyond “AAA” title restriction of creative innovation. The gamers know they want to see creative breakthroughs in game design, in a world that is rapidly moving away from 20th Century Balkan-ism, towards rapidly opening vista’s of technological and creative innovation in the 21st century. In the movie industry there have been some innovators in the Fast and the Furious franchise or Riddick (Vin Diesel, et al) with social themes that remain mysterious to many still lost in 20th Century thinking. But it has been in video game land, where the kind of social observations are made that Political Correctness usually makes impossible, that gamers have found what they are looking for in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, Half Life or Borderlands and many other games.

So for me, the Valve announcement symbolises a wider change going on. For example look at the E-Cat “energy catalyser” or Electric Universe for just a couple of much maligned areas (as Linux used to be) with all the hallmarks of the breakthrough phenomenon. A historical process over the last 500 years (if not a lot longer some might argue) became established to the point where alternatives have been almost impossible to consider. But the “diminishing returns” of that paradigm have now led to the alternatives, in all areas, breaking through. This is not a coincidence and appears to be related to wider cosmic biological patterns of organic history and our place in an alive cosmos. This has been reflected in the much maligned “2012” phenomenon which has been an examination of the historical “breakthrough” process that has been examined in creative works like Star Trek and other Science Fiction. If you notice Star Trek never really defined how society gets to a point of solving poverty and war. Well, we are seeing HOW right now ! Right in front of us. It’s time to sit up and pay attention to The Breakthrough. What happens when you really get what you want ?

Sources used on this article …

Nvidia Working With Valve, Linux Community For SteamOS | Rock, Paper, Shotgun
[Phoronix] Wwise Engine Being Ported To Linux, SteamOS
Valve Announce Linux-Based Steam OS | OMG! Ubuntu!
Valve’s Lessons Learned: Porting Source Engine to Linux
List of AAA publishers coming to Linux? : linux_gaming
aaa windows games being ported to linux – Google Search
vote and support for AAA (or less) titles to be ported to Linux :: Suggestions / Ideas
Why SteamOS will challenge Windows for PC gaming supremacy | PCWorld
Crytek hiring to bring CryEngine 3 to Linux – GameSpot
Thoughts on how Valve will bring more games over to Linux? : linux_gaming
The pros and cons of SteamOS | PC Gamer
ExtremeTech » Gabe Newell made Windows a viable gaming platform, and Linux is next
If we consider Newell’s history porting Doom to Win to show it can be a gaming platf. – NeoGAF
Analysis: Can SteamOS drag the PC game industry over to Linux? | Ars Technica
Valve’s Newell: Windows 8 “catastrophe” driving Valve to embrace Linux | Ars Technica

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