This Friday, yup Friday the 13th Valve will begin shipping prototype units of the Steam Machine to 300 lucky people. Those selected will be notified around 5PM (EST) today that they will soon receive a prototype machine for testing purposes. They will also be awarded a special badge on their Steam Community profile.

In addition to this shipment of the prototype machines, Valve will release SteamOS to the world on Friday. It can be downloaded by anybody but only those well versed in Linux may want to give it a go until later in 2014. Valve promises to release additional details on this “soon.” Valve also regrets to say that while they originally planned to release the prototypes to the world, regulatory hurdles forced them to limit it to the U.S. only.

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The 300 selected beta testers are being notified today (at about 2:00 p.m. Pacific Time) that they’ll soon receive Steam hardware and SteamOS for testing. Each selected user is also being awarded a special badge on their Steam Community profile, indicating that they’re a beta participant. In addition, a number of games that run natively on SteamOS are being added to each selected user’s library.

We’ve had to make the difficult decision to limit our beta to the U.S. only, because of regulatory hurdles. This was not our original plan, and it means we can’t collect beta feedback from Steam customers world-wide, which is pretty unfortunate. All things considered, we’re sure it was the right decision, because the alternative was to delay the whole beta beyond the point when we’d be able to incorporate any feedback into the 2014 products. This decision only affects Valve’s 300 prototype units; the commercial versions of Steam Machines that are for sale in 2014 won’t be affected by this. More information on those will be announced at CES on January 6.

SteamOS will be made available when the prototype hardware ships. It will be downloadable by individual users and commercial OEMs. (But unless you’re an intrepid Linux hacker already, we’re going to recommend that you wait until later in 2014 to try it out.) We’ll post info soon about that. Oh, and stay tuned for the in-home streaming beta to begin soon, too!