Because Valve underestimated the complexities of developing a specialized operating system, SteamOS has been delayed until, let's say 2015. However, if their other software projects are any indication, seeing the platform launch before 2017 would be pretty amazing. Unfortunately, unlike their normal inability to estimate the scope of a software project, this one has hardware partners losing money every day the platform is delayed.
At E3 2014, Steam Machine partner Dell announced that their Alienware Alpha console would release without SteamOS this Holiday if the platform was not ready for primetime. As expected, the platform is not ready and Alienware has officially given up waiting for its release, putting the living room PC up for pre-order, with a shipping date this month.
Rather than SteamOS, the Alpha will ship with Windows 8.1 and Steam Big Picture pre-installed. This decision will come as a blow to Valve CEO Gabe Newell, who famously said Steam games wouldn't run on Windows 8. Another part of the Steam Machine platform that is missing is the controller, which Dell has decided to replace with an Xbox 360 controller for the Alpha. Based on what we have seen of the odd design of the Steam controller, this is probably a huge upgrade for owners.
One of the big benefits of the operating system switch is the incredible increase in game availability. In using SteamOS, had it been ready, the console would have had access to approximately 11 percent of the Steam game catalog. By dumping SteamOS and going Windows instead, the Alpha will have access to 100 percent of the Steam game catalog. Yes, you read that right: by not using Valve's own OS you will gain more access to Valve's game catalog.
Also, with Windows 8.1, you gain access to the entire Microsoft library of games, both desktop and modern. This includes content from Valve competitor EA Origin, as well as anything available in the Windows Store, whose collection of games and media content is far greater than that available for Linux (the basis for SteamOS). No matter how you slice it, this transition from Linux to Windows appears to be an upgrade.