Initiating a game on Steam will annoyingly pause all of your active downloads but at least there's been the option to alt-tab your way back and manually resume downloading. It's a workaround that shouldn't need to exist, and Valve is finally making progress here.
A recent Steam client beta update adds the option to let games download while a game is running. There's only one small problem: the feature is on a per-game setting. So it's still not as seamless a process as it could be. The update also includes improvements to the user interface, Big Picture mode, and the Steam client for Linux -- find the list below or at that link.
Add ability to limit what time of day Steam is allowed to automatically update apps
Add option to let other games download while a game is running (this is a per-game setting)
Add download regions for Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Ottawa in Canada
Add 'Copy all text to clipboard' context menu option in the System Information dialog.
Steam client UI
Improve downloading status text at the bottom of the main window
Added ability to opt into game betas and edit launch options
Added Inbox item under Linux if your machine requires a reboot due to OS level updates
Fix infinite loop of Cloud sync error dialogs on game launch
Fixed mouse cursor being visible during startup animation even if it hadn't moved
Fix paste pasting stale text.
Fix Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V in client-hosted web page text controls.
Fix incorrect foregrounding of a blank window in some -silent startup cases.
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