Valve has officially announced Steam and Valve's games will be released for the Mac in April. And in the midst of Apple fanboys running around and shouting "in your face!" to PC gamers in response to the age old PC gaming argument, I was actually doing some critical analysis of what this all means.
There are a few major shifts in Steam technology required to make a native client on a Mac. One of those is Webkit support since Internet Explorer's rendering engine on the Mac hasn't been updated since version 5. Webkit, for those unaware, is the same rendering engine used in both Safari and Google Chrome. This is a major bonus for both the Mac and Windows gamers out there. We'll finally have a decent browser experience within the Steam client. Very exciting stuff.
OpenGL is the most obvious required change as Microsoft shows no interest of sharing the DirectX API with any other platforms. OpenGL means the Mac will be rendering all of the Steam games using an open standard rendering engine. Yay! More standards! This also means that we are one step closer not only to a native Mac client, but also the greater potential for a native Linux client as well.
Ok. I won't get too far ahead of myself. There's still quite a bit that needs to be considered before a Linux client can be developed. The source code would need to be modified to include support for various Linux distributions as well as Windows and Mac code. This is not an easy task as any cross-platform developer will tell you. Linux is incredibly diverse and there are far more obstacles to overcome than that of Windows or Mac. But at least we are a couple steps closer.
A Small Plea to Valve
I'm incredibly excited for this new release. It's been a couple months since I've powered on my Windows machine for some good ol' fashioned gaming. Partly because I see it as such a huge inconvenience to start up another system just to play games. This could certainly change my gaming habits for the better. But there is one thing that could hold me back and other Mac enthusiasts just a little. The User Interface.
Brian and myself talk often of how awful the UI is even on the Windows platform. I can forgive the breaking of Microsoft UI standards just because it's such a common practise in the Windows world and nearly every app breaks the UI standards, but on the Mac it's a very different story. Application developers and users of third party applications really take pride in showing off Apple UI standards and how pretty and uniform everything is.
Valve could really drop the ball on this native Mac client if it doesn't look like it belongs on my Mac. I hope that they understand this is a major part to the success of any application on an Apple platform. There's a reason I feel an aversion to any Adobe Air applications on my system. It's because they really don't feel like they belong. They look weird don't perform like a regular Mac application is expected to.
It has been brought to my attention that I'm even more out of the loop than I previously thought. After examining the beta on my Windows machine, it turns out that Webkit has already been implemented and the UI has been refreshed and is looking great. Though, I must point out it still doesn't conform to any UI standards, so I'm a little concerned with how this will look on feel on a Mac, but I am hopeful.