Steam client drops support on macOS, but adds it on Linux
Signs of the times: Linux's compatibility improves, while x86-32 recedes from Apple
Valve Software's latest update announcement for the Steam client contains news for both Mac and Linux users – and the portents should concern not only gamers.
The latest update on the Steam client mentions several improvements for Linux users – but it also links to an end of support announcement for users on macOS 10.13 and 10.14. Those releases aren't supported any more, and that marks the end of the line for 32-bit games on Intel Macs.
It is not an instant 100 percent cutoff. The client, and the games, will keep working for now – but there will be no more updates, and if it or the games installed using it, break, well, that means gamers will be on their own. The underlying reason for dropping these releases is that Google's Chrome no longer supports these macOS releases, and Steam uses Chrome internally.
Chrome 113, released back in May, was the last version to support High Sierra and Mojave. Now, the last current browser for these old macOS releases is Firefox 115 ESR. The Reg FOSS desk uses a 2011 Mac mini as a video-playback device on their very much non-smart-TV, and we're now streaming via Firefox. MacOS 10.13 is the last version this aging but reliable beastie officially supports. For the time being, it still works fine, but it reaches its end of life next September. At that point, we plan to try Open Core Legacy Patcher in order to keep a current browser. (Incidentally, this applies to users of Windows 7 and 8.x too.)
MacOS Mojave was the last version to support 32-bit applications on Intel Macs. Catalina (macOS 10.15) and later versions will only run 64-bit code. So while updating to a newer macOS version is an option for users of slightly newer Macs – such as this vulture's 2015 iMac – and you can then get newer releases of the Steam client, that means losing all your 32-bit apps. And while this writer is not much of a gamer, we are told that a lot of games are still 32-bit and won't be updated. That was the main reason that Canonical backed down on dropping 32-bit support back in 2019.
Meanwhile, it's good news for Linux gamers. The latest Steam client fixes several bugs in the Steam Overlay which allows gamers to chat, make in-game purchases and so on – including a built-in web browser.
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That, we suspect, is the main reason that Valve is dropping support for OSes on which Chrome is no longer getting updates. When the news of no more Chrome updates broke, we saw many recommendations in Mac forums that people switch to alternative browsers, including Opera, Vivaldi, Brave, and others. This misses the core point: these are all based on the Chrome engine, and if Chrome stops getting updated, then its engine does too, and as a result, so do all apps that use that engine. That means all browsers that use it, as well as apps such as the Steam client. The only option now is Firefox, or other browsers based on it.
Valve's latest hardware survey shows declining numbers of Mac users (the growing black band at the top of the Mac chart). Meanwhile, the estimated numbers of Linux gamers, while still low, are growing.
Apple has valid reasons. One is that it no longer sells x86-based Macs, although X86 apps still work thanks to its Rosetta 2 translator. This can offer very good performance, but one of the things that makes it feasible to maintain is only supporting one x86 architecture: x86-64.
The entire x86-32 platform is declining, and moves like this will cause steps in that gradient which will accelerate the process. We suspect that in another release or two, macOS will drop support for x86 Macs altogether. The declining numbers of people still running 32-bit code are such that Intel even proposed the idea of a 64-bit only CPU architecture, x86S. In light of these things, we suspect that this will possibly cause Linux vendors to reconsider their 32-bit support as well. ®