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The Linux Foundation is today announcing that Valve, the video game company that operates the world’s most popular digital games distribution platform, has joined its ranks.

The partnership might have seemed surprising just a few months ago. Linux has never been a particularly gamer-friendly operating system, and much of Valve’s success has been found on Windows. But lately the gaming company has started building a gaming ecosystem of its own, and it’s using Linux to do so.

Valve’s attempts to use Linux as a foundation for its own gaming platform began earlier this year when it announced that Steam, its online games marketplace, would debut on the operating system. Then it announced SteamOS, a Linux-based operating system that would be used to power a variety of video game consoles, including one developed by Valve itself. Joining the Linux Foundation is simply the logical next step for the company — and its presence might just help Linux appeal to more consumers.

“The big problem that is holding back Linux is games,” Valve CEO Gabe Newell said in July 2012. “People don’t realize how critical games are in driving consumer purchasing behavior.”

Newell was right to point out Linux’s relative consumer obscurity. The operating system is said to have just 1.56 percent of the desktop market; even BlackBerry represents a larger slice of the smartphone market. But that isn’t to say that the Linux Foundation is disappointed by its inability to attract as much consumer attention as other platforms — quite the opposite, in fact. As the foundation’s executive director, Jim Zemlin, says:

You may never have heard of Linux, but if you own a television, if you own an Android phone, if you trade a stock on the New York Stock Exchange, if you ride an airplane with air traffic control, if you withdraw money from an ATM, if you do a Google search, if you read a book on a Kindle, you’re using Linux. We don’t explain ourselves to consumers that much. It’s the products built on Linux that tell the story.

Now the foundation will be able to point to yet another product category based on its work, and Valve can continue to support the open technologies that Newell praised last July: “We are looking at the platform and saying, ‘We’ve been a free rider, and we’ve been able to benefit from everything that went into PCs and the Internet, and we have to continue to figure out how there will be open platforms,’” he said.

Joining the Linux Foundation, using the operating system to build its own gaming platform, and continuing to support Linux gamers despite their relatively insignificant numbers will allow the company to do just that. A partnership that would have seemed odd at the beginning of this year now seems anything but.

[Image via Valve]