Steam is a game distribution service by Valve that is something of a hybrid between a cloud based service and a desktop client. The software connects to Valve's servers over an Internet connection, and provides updates, fixes and downloads for games. Games can be purchased and downloaded through Steam. Even if the games are purchased over traditional distribution channels, such as the Orange Box set (Team Fortress 2, Half Life 2 and Portal), the games can still be maintained using Steam. Steam also provides the framework for multi-player gameplay and to make sure that there is no cheating or "H4X" software or scripts, commonly used and abused in multi-player environments such as Counter Strike.
Steam was primarily played on Windows based machines so far. Recently, users who have been going through the individual files downloaded by Steam, have spotted a bunch of icons with the prefix "osx_". The icons are just for the close and minimize menu. Additionally, some members on the Steam forums spotted OSX specific menu code as well (if you have Steam, and are interested, the code is in C:\Program Files\Steam\resource\menus\
osx.menu). This got a few fans thinking that Valve was preparing Steam for Mac users as well. The buzz built up when Valve sent out teasers to different Mac based websites and blogs, with images that presumably show the installation sequence of Steam for Mac. The image shown above was sent to www.macrumors.com, and shows Half Life protagonist Gordon Freeman sporting a Mac logo. The only explanation from Valve for mailing these images to these websites was a tantalizingly cryptic "In anticipation of an upcoming announcement from Valve."
This was close on the heels of the March 5 announcement by Valve on the upcoming release of Portal 2. Judging from the leaked images, Portal 2, Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2 are likely to be the games available for Mac OSX. Valve is known for coding philosophies that make their games pretty portable. With the various platforms available, this may be a case of too little too late for Mac users who are interested in gaming. Mac users know that gaming is not an option when they decide to go in for one, and the platform cannot easily compete with the established options available. On the other hand, it would be interesting to see a number of Mac styled gaming accessories, and the fact that these are not out yet just goes to show how much of a surprise this development was.
The idea of bringing gaming to Macs over the cloud however, is not new. Steam will most probably run the games on the host machine itself, which it can achieve because of the robustness of it's code. For some time now, OnLive is a service that is working on bringing gaming to any platform that can connect to the Internet (Macs, Mobile Phones etc), using a cloud service that computes on the cloud, but receives the inputs from the host machine.