I don't know if anything is different really, the DRM part of steam is not used by all games on steam, (But it is used by Valves games and a few others), games that use the steamworks DRM cannot be launched unless steam is running and unless steam is in offline mode they will require an internet connection to start. (You can disconnect while playing though unless the game has additional DRM aswell (Ubisoft likes to pull shit like that and add further restrictions on games bought through steam)
Just out of curiousity, what does steam do that's functionally different from Origin? I mean, I've had no problems with Origin. I've had problems with SimCity, but Origin performs almost identically to Steam. Origin/Steam are just delivery mechanisms. I don't see why they are relevant to a game's servers being down. There are plenty of games on steam that have bad launch days. We are starting to conflate issues, and the general negative EA bias is starting to show.
Because Steam(mostly) does it right. I don't really mind DRM per se, I just hate crappy, bugged out DRM. Which is to say of DRM. I don't consider Steam to be more inconvenient than "please insert disc to play". If most DRM looked like Steam, I don't think there would be a lot of hate for it.
I think steam is more convenient than "please insert disc to play", or even DRM free games from for example gog.com simply because steam makes accessing my games from any computer, anywhere, easy and the DRM doesn't get in my way. (I've never even noticed it).
It is 2013 now so i don't have a huge problem with the always online requirement itself (I am always online anyway), but if i pay for a product and/or service i do expect it to be delivered at the date and time promised to me, there are no excuses, there is no such thing as an unexpected initial rush, with digital distribution you know exactly how many copies you've sold and you can stop sales in any region at any time. Blizzard failed with D3, EA failed with SimCity and i don't even care if Ubisoft fails or not anymore (I don't buy their games because of their past DRM fuckups and both EA and Blizzard has to be careful or i'll stop buying their games aswell).
If EA wishes to go down the always online route they need to commit to it, servers need to be up and running and can't be taken down just because a game is getting old, To get my money they will have to prove that they can deliver, not just on launchday but also 10+ years after launch.
DRM free games on steam can be launched without launching steam (by going into the game directory and launching it from there).
Sim City is an EA game, it is EA that fucked up and you were the one who brought up origin, i never mentioned it, Steam was brought up because it got critizised for requiring a connection to start games in the past not as a comparison to origin.