Go beyond gaming: How to download non-gaming apps on Steam Deck

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The Steam Deck is a great handheld for playing PC games away from your desk, but it’s also a rugged rig that can do so much more. Thanks to its Linux-based SteamOS, you can download from thousands of non-gaming apps like Discord, web browsers, email, retro game emulators, and more. Although the process can be convoluted and a bit finicky (depending on your comfort level with Linux), the steps themselves are simple to follow.


Why download apps from Steam Deck?

You can do a lot of things with the Steam Deck. You can connect the console to a TV or monitor or stream PC games directly to the device. To get even more out of the handheld, you can also run various non-gaming applications.

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. This is how Valve was able to attract Linux users over the years and how hundreds of games were made available to play on the console.

This compatibility layer also makes it easier to install non-Steam games on your Steam Deck. Users use the system to download emulators to play retro games, for example. You can also download the Microsoft Edge browser and get Xbox Game Pass working. While the latter is a bit complicated at the moment, Microsoft engineers are working to simplify the process.

You can also download apps to get the most out of your Steam Deck. I 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 editing and capturing photos (which I needed to complete this guide) and for customizing the look of your Steam Deck’s desktop mode.


Where non-gaming apps will be saved

(Credit: Carli Velocci)

Before you start downloading new programs, you need to know where they will end up on your Steam Deck. If you go to Libraryyou will see a tab titled Not Steam. There should be nothing right now. You will, however, get a pop-up stating that Valve is working on an easier way to access games other than Steam, but that’s the place for now.

It also gives you the option to install a shortcut to the Google Chrome web browser. You can do this to get a feel for how the process works, but it’s not necessary to install apps.

Apps will only install to internal storage – not any expandable storage you may have – so make sure you have enough space on your Steam Deck. If you don’t have enough space, uninstall some games before moving on to the next section.


Download apps from Steam Deck

switch to desktop mode

(Credit: Carli Velocci)

To download programs outside of Steam, you need to enter desktop mode. Hit it Steam button, then head to Power > Switch to Desktop to access the Deck office. It will take a few seconds to switch, but when it does, you’ll see what looks like a PC desktop screen.

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steam desktop mode

(Credit: Carli Velocci)

Suppose you want to download Discord for your Steam Deck. It’s one of many detectable apps, so it’s easy to find. Just press the Discover icon in the lower left corner (it looks like a shopping bag).

Discover the store

(Credit: Carli Velocci)

Here you can search for any program by typing it in the search bar or browsing categories (including games) by tapping Apps. Since we know which application we want to download, we will simply type “Discord” in the search bar. Once the app appears, tap the Install button. Your app will now be downloaded, but you still need to make it appear under Library.


Add apps to your library

steam showcase

(Credit: Carli Velocci)

Once the application is installed, you can return to the desktop and click on the Steam icon. This will launch Steam in desktop mode. From there go to Games > Add a non-Steam game to my library. Now just click on the app you downloaded and press Add selected programs.

non-steam apps

(Credit: Carli Velocci)

If you click on the Return to game mode on the desktop, you will be returned to the SteamOS interface after a few seconds. If everything went as planned, you can come back to Library > Non-Steam to see your new apps in the appropriate section of your library.

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