Valve has made a surprising, but definitely welcome, announcement for Steam users. They are taking the Steam Deck’s UI and carrying it over to Steam’s Big Picture Mode.
Big Picture Mode is a special mode for Steam exclusive to the Steam client on desktop computers. In Steam Big Picture Mode, all settings and options are enabled in such a way that you can access them, change those settings, and even launch games, using only a video game controller. Working in conjunction with Steam Controller configuration, you can use any controller that you are able to connect to Steam with this mode.
Furthermore, Big Picture Mode changes the layouts of the user interface completely. The interface is generally easier to view from a distance, and it should be intuitive to find your way around the menus, in the same way that you could look around a PlayStation or Xbox menu to find the setting you want using your own controller. Steam has put more effort into Big Picture Mode than most people would consider necessary. They even used it to enable the same split screen co-op for Portal 2 that is available for console players who own the same game.
However, the Steam Deck is on a completely different level. To enable Valve’s ambitions of escaping their dependence on Windows as a platform, Valve created its own Linux based operating system, to power its own mobile gaming platform. That Linux based system can also run games that were programmed for Windows, thanks to Proton, the bespoke compatibility layer Valve has spun off from WiNe.
Valve has continued to update this OS as they have dealt with the Steam Deck’s supply issues. At this point, they have already matured a console-like experience on their platform. Steam Deck even has a desktop mode, and there are ways to add non-Steam games on it.
Now, that Steam operating system is free to use and install on desktop computers, in several different ways. Valve has an official SteamOS installation setup available to download themselves. Unfortunately, this is an older build that no longer matches what is on the Steam Deck now. Most users who have been dabbling with this have been using HoloISO, a bespoke ISO built by a fan that allows you to install SteamOS 3, the most recent version of the OS, onto any computer of your choice.
While that is an option many gamers are using now, most people will of course prefer to keep Windows on their one PC machines they have. If they can’t buy or dabble with multiple computers, they will still be using the Steam client on their one PC, and the games they already have installed. For those people, Valve is now bringing over the Steam Deck UI to their PC client instead. Really, it’s only fitting that they do so. Valve took what they learned with Big Picture Mode when they built the Steam Deck’s UI. So they should also carry over what they’ve built on the Steam Deck and share it with their Steam client users, who still represent most Steam users.
That Steam Deck UI isn’t quite ready for primetime on Steam’s PC client yet. With this in mind, Valve is asking fans to join the beta so that they can get it tested and ready for general release in due time. If you’d like to help them, you can learn more here.