Windows 8 is a 'catastrophe,' says Valve founder and former Microsoft employee Gabe Newell

An interview about gaming takes an interesting turn after Valve CEO Gabe Newell, who himself has 13 years of Microsoft experience under his belt, speaks candidly about the upcoming Windows 8 operating system.

The former head of Microsoft Game Studios, Ed Fries, interviewed Valve co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell at a reception at the Casual Connect game conference this week in Seattle. As expected, much of the interview revolved around developments at Valve and Newell’s opinion on the future of gaming, but at one point the outspoken Newell ripped Microsoft and Windows 8, calling the upcoming OS a “catastrophe.”

Venture Beat has an edited transcript of the interview if you’d like to read it in its entirety, but here’s what Newell had to say about Windows 8:

“I think that Windows 8 is kind of a catastrophe for everybody in the PC space. I think that we’re going to lose some of the top-tier PC [original equipment manufacturers]. They’ll exit the market. I think margins are going to be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, it’s going to be a good idea to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality.”

MORE FROM THIS AUTHOR: Why can't Microsoft innovate with Windows 8 as it is with Xbox 360?

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Obviously, Newell is passionate about the PC. The man worked on Windows in a past life and relies on a healthy PC gaming ecosystem to help keep his company afloat. I think Mr. Fries may have caught Gabe on a bad day though. I think we can all agree that Windows ME and Windows Vista were disasters, and yet Microsoft’s OEM partners survived. Although today’s economy isn’t very healthy, even if Windows 8 tanks, it’s not going to take down any major OEMs. As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, Microsoft launching its own line of Surface tablets has put off some OEMs, and while relationships will surely be strained with some of them, I don’t think Microsoft is going to force any to close up shop. Margins have already been destroyed in the PC space, but Windows 8 isn’t responsible. The race to build cheaper and cheaper PCs in an unsteady global economy are what killed margins.

Ed Fries (left), Gabe Newell (right). Image Source: VentureBeat

Also to keep in mind, the Windows Store and Windows 8’s Xbox Live integration are somewhat of a threat to Valve's Steam platform. That surely can’t sit well with Newell.

With that said, I agree with Newell that working on alternatives is a good thing. He goes on to say, “We’re trying to make sure that Linux thrives. Our perception is that one of the big problems holding Linux back is the absence of games. I think that a lot of people — in their thinking about platforms — don’t realize how critical games are as a consumer driver of purchases and usage.”

Pushing for more robust Linux support by game developers and hardware vendors, who must write and optimize drivers for the OS, is great. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know I’m not too keen on Windows 8 in its current form; I’d love to be able to leverage a streamlined Linux distro on my game systems at some point.

I don’t, however, think that’s going to happen anytime soon. In fact, I’m willing to bet games will run better on Windows 8 once the initial kinks, which are common to any new OS, are worked out. Microsoft just announced in a post on the Building Windows 8 blog titled “Hardware accelerating everything: Windows 8 graphics,” that the OS more intelligently leverages GPU resources and uses some new DX11.1 features to speed performance in a number of key areas. That’s going to force the big GPU makers to ensure their drivers are stable and optimized to properly render items that are part of the OS, which will ultimately benefit gamers.

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