After months and months and even more months of waiting, it appears that we may finally get our first look at native Steam gaming on Chrome OS in the very near future. Affectionately known as project ‘Borealis’, the containerized version of Steam has been in the works for nearly two years and it was initially thought that Google was targeting mid to late 2022 for a release. With Chrome OS 96 just rolling out and the next iteration of Google’s desktop operating system not due until January of 2022, it’s fairly clear that this target was missed but that’s okay. I’d rather see a fully baked product released than a buggy piece of software that sours users to Chrome OS.
Anyway, in its early development, I presumed that ‘Borealis’, a.k.a. Steam on Chrome OS, would simply be an optimized version of the Steam application that would install and run inside the current Linux container. Over time, we learned that Google was actually creating an entirely new container designed specifically to house Borealis and that it should run independently from the Debian container currently available in Stable Chrome OS. This makes more sense as Google can retain control of the Borealis container and keep it neat and clean for running Steam. Presumably, users will never actually interact with the container like you can with the Linux terminal.
Through a little experimenting, I was able to get the Borealis app installed on a device a few weeks back. Sadly, Steam wouldn’t launch but the installer was there and my guess is that it will eventually be replaced with a Steam icon that will prompt the installation of Steam. No terminal. No command line. Just an application in a container that looks and feels like any other native application. That’s purely a postulation on my part but I’d wager a cup of coffee that’s how this thing pans out.
Back to the point. Yesterday, Android Police’s Luke Short unearthed an upcoming flag that should add Borealis to Chrome OS in its first, tangible Beta form. As you can see in the screenshot below, two flags have been added to this commit. The first of which will add a “beta-channel” Borealis flag to Chrome OS. the comment goes on to clarify that this is unrelated to the Chrome OS Beta channel. Instead, this is Beta Borealis. That other flag is Borealis-related but not directly related to the first flag.
The related commit for these flags has already been merged which means that it should show up in the next Canary Channel update. Chrome OS Canary is the testing ground for all new features and it updates frequently. Sometimes, updates will roll out every couple of days while other instances see multiple updates in a single day. That means that we could see the Borealis flag make an appearance any day now. I keep my main device in Canary so you can bet I’ll be checking for updates throughout the day in anticipation.
All that said, I wouldn’t expect to see Borealis ready for a public release for a few more weeks if not months. The Canary channel is currently on version 98 and the Stable release of 98 isn’t planned for launch until February 3rd. If Chrome OS 98 is the target, this gives Google two solid months to get everything zipped up. Hopefully, things will go smoothly. With the recent work being done on Vulkan and Proton, there shouldn’t be much left to do in the way of developing the Borealis container. It will mostly boil down to tweaking the container as it rolls out to a wider variety of Chrome OS platforms. Stay tuned as we continue to track Steam on Chrome OS.