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The Steam Deck is a great handheld for playing PC games away from your desk, but it’s also a robust platform that can do a lot more. Thanks to its Linux-based SteamOS, you can download from thousands of non-game apps like Discord, web browsers, email, retro game emulators, and more. While the process can be complicated and a bit finicky (depending on your level of comfort with Linux), the steps themselves are straightforward to follow.
Why Download Apps to Steam Deck?
There’s a lot you can do with the Steam Deck. You can hook the console up to a TV or monitor or stream PC games directly to the device. To get even more from the handheld, you can also run various non-game apps.
The Steam Deck runs the Linux-based SteamOS, which uses a Proton compatibility layer to make games created for Windows PCs available to run on Linux systems, and therefore, on Steam Deck. It’s how Valve has been able to attract Linux users over the years, and how hundreds of games have been made available to play on the console.
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This compatibility layer also makes it easier to install non-Steam games on your Steam Deck. Users have been using the system to download emulators to play retro games, for example. You can also download the Microsoft Edge browser and get Xbox Game Pass running. While the latter is a bit complicated at the moment, engineers at Microsoft are working to simplify the process.
You can also download apps to get more out of your Steam Deck. I’ve already mentioned web browsers, but you can download Discord for chatting or OBS for streaming. There are also a ton of Linux apps for tasks like photo editing and capture (which I needed to complete this guide) and for customizing the look of your Steam Deck’s Desktop Mode.
Where Non-Game Apps Will Be Saved
Before you go off downloading new programs, you should know where they’ll end up on your Steam Deck. If you go to Library, you’ll see a tab labeled Non-Steam. There shouldn’t be anything there right now. You will, however, get a pop-up that says Valve is working on an easier way to access non-Steam games, but that this is the place for now.
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It also gives you the option to install a shortcut to the Google Chrome web browser. You can do this to get an idea of how the process will work, but it’s not necessary for installing apps.
Apps will only install on internal storage—not on any expandable storage you might have—so make sure you have enough space on your Steam Deck. If you don’t have enough space, uninstall some games before moving to the next section.
Download Apps on Steam Deck
To download any programs outside of Steam, you’ll need to access Desktop Mode. Hit the Steam button, then head to Power > Switch to Desktop to access the Deck’s desktop. It’ll take a few seconds to switch over, but when it’s done, you’ll see what looks like a PC desktop screen.
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Say you want to download Discord for your Steam Deck. This is one of the many discoverable apps, so it’s easy to find. Just hit the Discover icon in the bottom left-hand corner (it looks like a shopping bag).
Here, you can search for any program by typing it into the search bar or browsing through categories (including games) by hitting Applications. Since we know which app we want to download, we’ll just type in “Discord” in the search bar. Once the app pops up, hit the Install button. Now your app will download, but you still need to make it show up under Library.
Add Apps to Your Library
With the app installed, you can go back to the desktop and click on the Steam icon. This will launch Steam in Desktop Mode. From here, go to Games > Add a Non-Steam Game to My Library. Now just click on the app you downloaded and hit Add Selected Programs.
If you click on the Return to Gaming Mode icon on the desktop, you’ll be returned to the SteamOS interface after a few seconds. If all went according to plan, you can go back to Library > Non-Steam to see your new apps in the proper section of your library.