Thursday, 6 October 2011

Second Life: Residents Vote For Realistic Mesh!

Mesh has been a long time coming to Second Life and now it has finally arrived it has proved to be incomplete and it has not exactly grabbed the interest of the majority of residents as the "must have" new feature. For reasons perhaps to do with upload price, entry requirements and higher than expected prim cost, not to mention incompleteness, it has kind of fallen as flat as a pancake in the laps of the residents. On the flip side of the mesh coin is yet another oddity that brings into question the motives and thinking at Linden Labs yet again. The more vocal residents of SL are often accused of resisting progress and yet we now read of an example where residents are actually clubbing together to pay a bounty to Karl Stiefvater, better known as Qarl Linden from his days at the Lab, to develop a parametric deformer, which will cause mesh clothing to fit the avatar shape and move with it more realistically.

Typically, Linden Lab's response to the question of producing a parametric deformer has been one of muted interest. They would like to implement one but it's a maybe, one day, if ever kind of response. In frustration residents have taken the matter in hand and turned to Stiefvater to give them something they actually want while the Lab coldly continues on it's merry way. Rod Hubbles promised the rest of 2011 would see the Lab tackle the serious problem of lag which has reached the point of rendering Second Life sims virtually unusable for many but rather than coming out in support of the resident's initiative he has shown he is just as blinkered as his bosses, preferring to make big noises about introducing server-side bot technology and throwing out a little spin about SL growth.

Why hasn't Rob given encouragement to the residents by making a statement in support of the their initiative?

Well, Linden Labs doesn't exactly have a reputation for listening to its residents and it comes to something when some 1800 users have declared their wish to see a parametric deformer developed and even put their money on it when it would have cost very little for the Lab to do it. It's not like they aren't in good profit given the high cost of Second Life services - profitability that was partly achieved by sacking one third of their staff last year I might add.

Stiefvater was, of course, a victim of the Lab's cost cutting when he got sacked so its ironic that the residents are now turning to him to develop this feature for them  and, given that he was instrumental in bringing many new tools and ideas to Second Life, including sculpties (he also had a hand in creating digital effects for the Matrix movies and 300), it strikes me as foolhardy in the extreme to let this brilliant talent go. We know there is politics involved - there always is with LL - but Qarl did take the view while at the Lab that he should work on things the residents were asking for, and voting for. With this initiative they will surly vote with their money too and Qarl is right there with them to take on the task. But, whatever, it is clear Linden Labs will never really bow to resident pressure no matter how much they say they listen. They have got their own plans and that's the bottom line.

Thankfully, Open sim is not governed by corporate greed and this feature will undoubtedly benefit the open Metaverse as well and could even lead to more content creators abandoning Second Life in order to work in a less restricted environment at a fraction of the cost. Residents organizing fund raising to get features they want strikes me as a form of true democracy where people vote with money. So, while Linden Labs may look down on this kind of initiative as threatening their business there are many others that see it as a positive step towards greater freedom in virtual worlds. Linden Labs bosses are not ignorant but they do have tunnel vision and the money to go where they want to go. The only question is how many will be left travelling with them?

 Link to Maxwell Graf for more on Resident's initiative here

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Second Life Lag: Let's Do The Time Warp!

Since the start of the year many sims in Second Life, mine included, have suffered what has been dubbed, Time warp lag. Typically, it comes on like a storm which lasts for five minutes or more. During that time movement is impossible and even chat freezes. It is not the normal kind of lag like running on the spot, slow movement and delayed chat. This is total freeze up and it clears just as suddenly as if nothing had happened. It can happen at any time of day but it's happening more often and is a daily occurrence. Not all sims are affected yet but I noticed that more are reporting the problem where, a few weeks before, they had not experienced this problem at all.

There is a JIRA report on the issue here, and another here but, typical of Linden Labs, unless enough people view the JIRA, vote and comment on it, it gets low priority. So, while this problem affected less sims a few months ago, the numbers have been increasing. What makes this particularly difficult is that support tends to buck pass and simply quote the JIRA issue and Linden Labs is working on it.

Well, be that as it may, it's no consolation to the sim owners trying to get on with their business when the buck gets passed and nothing is resolved and, what's more, the problems are not just limited to lag spikes. In the pursuit of Mesh and the development of Viewer x2/x3 Second Life has been virtually in a state of beta for the past year with weekly server updates causing no end of problems for paying customers from failed scripts to loss of content from the sims. It is hard enough to run a role play game as I do in Second Life and meet the expense (Second Life is expensive!) and then, on top of that, coupe with the problems being forced on us for the sake of the kind of progress Linden Labs believe we or, should I say, they need.

Imagine your a pirate sailing along happily blowing other ships out of the water and suddenly, without warning you boat is stuck like you hit a sand bank. The only reason you know you didn't run aground is because your avatar is frozen too and you can't even post a few words in chat. You are frozen and the mini map may even turn red. If you are lucky you wont actually crash and maybe 5 minutes later you find all is well again and the ship moves off like nothing had happened. Imagine similar happening in a variety of situations. Well, this is what it is like for many in Second Life presently and it didn't just start yesterday. It's becoming a long standing problem along with plenty others for the sake of so-called progress.

Using Open Sim or Aurora we accept it is alpha software and many problems can arise but Second Life is 8 years old and, given the high cost, customers might be forgiven for expecting the foundation of the software to be stable enough to withstand further development. Clearly it is not and rolling out new code every week is taking it's toll. Moreover, it is trying the patience of customers to breaking point which I am sure is contributing to the decline of Second Life.

The Linden Grid has lost over 500 sims in the past year including some well loved old timers. I personally closed two sims several months ago and scaled back because of the lag and other issues I felt are damaging my role play game, loosing me business from my content sales and loosing me players too. I now run just two sims because I want to keep my game afloat or I would close them too. The money saved I now invest in two servers to run both Open sim and a separate Aurora grid for evaluation purposes with a view to moving the game to the open Metaverse eventually or, at least, running it in parallel with Second Life. But I have to say, while the physics in Open Sim is still not on par with Second Life, I do have control over my grids and can be sure they are well resourced for what I pay, and, fact is, I pay a lot less for a lot more.

Linden Labs just don't get it. In my experience few people are excited about Mesh, or Display names, or Viewer x2/x3 but perhaps some techy geeks are and, no doubt, some content sellers looking to make money out of it are. I think there is more excitement about bouncing boobs and wobbly butts in fact but, seriously, the vast majority in my view would settle for less if it means an unimpaired user experience. More is less when it don't work properly and spoils what is tried and tested. And that is a simple fact because less is more if the user is content. Second Life growth has been static for several years and I rather suspect people are voting with their feet and going elsewhere which is not good news for those of us who struggle on.

I, in common with many others in Second Life, run a role play game because that is what I enjoy doing. I engage in scripting, building and content creation but making money is not what I am there for. If I can offset costs then great. It helps a lot. I am able to contribute to the Second Life community at partly my own expense but when I find I am meeting more of my $1000 a month budget due to circumstances beyond my control then I have to question it. I cut back, as I said, several months ago to reduce my SL budget to $600 a month so already LL has lost $400 and, of course, it means less money being spent on content too. I am sure I am not alone in this because I know a lot of people in Second Life including other sim owners and we share pretty much the same experiences and similar views about Linden Labs. Just another fine example of Linden Lab's blind dictatorship can be read here on Soror Nishi's blog.

Linden Labs are profitable at the moment. They made in the order of 100 million dollars profit last year. For my money they could have set up a separate grid "Second Life II" to roll out viewer x2/x3 and Mesh, etc, in their own time. "Second Life I" could have been left on viewer 1x and kept a whole lot of people much happier. People would have then had the choice to move to SL2 when they felt comfortable with it. In time SL1 would close if SL2 gained the bulk of the residents. We all know the horror stories of going on vacation only to find the hotel is still under construction, well, this is how it feels in Second Life these days - a grid still under construction!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Aurora Sim, The Astra Viewer and Mesh

News recently blogged by Inara Pey here revealed that a new sister project to  Aurora Sim has been initiated to develop a viewer that is being designed to specifically support the platform's features. The developers had not intended for this to become public knowledge presently due to it's highly experimental nature but Inara appears to have noticed it on the Aurora github and the fact it supported Mesh prompted her to try it out in Second Life and report her findings and offer some pictures on her blog.

As I am now involved with Aurora Sim and responsible for the weekly news reports I have posted an official notice to Aurora Sim  News which makes it clear that the viewer is not intended for general use, is not a stable release and is available mainly to team developers and testers working with it. Of course, the fact it supports Mesh caused something of a stir on Twitter after Inara Pey blogged about it but all that really happened was Latif Khalif, who develops the Radegast text viewer and recently joined the viewer team, decided to make a quick Windows installer so people could check out Mesh and the Astra viewer dose handle it pretty well. However, this rather over shadows the real purpose of the viewer.

Aurora Sim team were already working with Imprudence/Kokua devs as sister projects in order to get support for Aurora Sim features in the viewer but Aurora has been developing rapidly and there has been some delay in being able to carry out tests. Moreover, given the present uncertainty since the announcement by the Imprudence/Kokua lead, Jacek that she is to retire from the project in September, a group of viewer developers who support the Aurora Sim project decided to launch their own version based on Astra.

There is not a lot I can say at this time about the new viewer but it is based off of the Singularity viewer from Siana Gearz with many features & functions brought in from Imprudence & other viewers. It supports Mesh but not MOAP (Media on a Prim) presently and the developers are working on adding download functions and other features. Revolution Smythe told me a while back that when they finish the generic properties module this will allow new properties to be added to objects very easily. The module will send the information about all new properties it has to the viewer and the viewer will have a new panel in the Build tools window, which will show all of the properties, so that they can be edited easily. "Its annoying to go add each and every property manually into the viewer." he told me, "This would allow an easy way to add things to the viewer." So here we get some idea what the viewer should eventually handle.

There is also some change to the grid manager in the present experimental version of Astra which is the beginning of support for an idea I proposed to Revolution Smythe that would make it easy for users to find grids and allow grid owners to add their grid to a central database which the viewer can call data from. However, there is a great deal of work to be done and things change quickly so I can do no more than speculate on the official launch release. The viewer may even have a new name by then but, in any event, the current viewer releases remain experimental and are not intended to be in general use.

Monday, 15 August 2011

SpotON3D: Patent Challange to Open Sim?

Since I published my last bog entry about SpotON3D's application for a patent on Open Sim in a browser a furious row has been continuing which accuses SpotON3D of effectively trying to hijack the open Metaverse by attempting to patent key features in blatant disregard for the open source community and the hundreds of programmers who have dedicated a huge amount of their time and skill for little or no reward. In a recent meeting on the SpotON3D grid called with just three hours notice, co-founders, Tessa Kinney-Johnson and Stevan Lieberman, a patents attorney, gave limited answers to questions put to them by the few who turned up. However. far from settling the concerns of the community, Leiberman revealed the company is seeking more patents totaling five presently but has not ruled out filing for more. All of the patents relate to the emerging 3D Web.

In a recent article on Hypergrid Business, however, Lawrence Pierce questions the motives of those most vocal in condemning SpotON3D and asks why 3D Web related patents filed by IBM has not drawn the same reaction. In December 2010, said Lawrence, HB ran an article indicating that IBM had filed a patent on sim design methodologies here. He noted it drew little reaction from the Open Sim community and certainly none of the outrage characterized by the controversy focused on SpotON3D but he failed to mention that last year Deva Canto ( a core developer and inventor of Hypergrid) had already warned Here that patents could pose a serious threat to the open source development of Open Sim.

Ilan Tochner of Kitely Virtual responded, "While many big corporations hold patents relating to virtual worlds, those companies very rarely try to enforce them against small businesses because the money they could get from licensing would be far less than the potential PR damage that going after small businesses can cause them." He went on to say, "Small companies, however, do frequently try to extract patent licensing fees from small businesses that can't afford the legal costs of protecting themselves. SpotOn3D is a small company that has explicitly stated they intend to do go after other small businesses once their patents are granted."

OSgrid, which is Hypergrid enabled, has served the Open Sim
communty from the beginning and allows anyone to attach
their standalone sim.
Vanish, who runs Opensim Creations, also commented "Personally, the thing that's pushed this over the edge is SpotOn's history of using every chance they get to advertise their own products, combined with taking the platform (OpenSim) their whole enterprise is built on for free and for granted, while calling their own improvements and innovations too valuable to contribute any of them back to the project, and finally filing for patents that could effectively prevent others to contribute a similar technology of their own to the OpenSim project, which would effectively stifle OpenSim itself."

Lawrence Pierce dwells on the wider issues surrounding patents and dose not explore the reasons why the Open Sim community is apprehensive. He appears to take the view that those opposed to SpotON3D's patent bid are just motivated by competitive interest while ignoring the fact that many other advocates of a free and open Metaverse have strong reservations about SpotON3D's aims too and have done since they first announced what their business plan, grid structure and objectives are in a notice to SLUniverse Forums Classifieds back in June 2010. In that announcement Tessa states "By design, SpotON3D is setup to interlink Virtual Environs and Grids in an organic fashion, linking them together via a common gateway, enabling avatars to travel seamlessly from one Metaverse to another." That is clearly a reference to Hypergrid. She goes on, "With context sensitive memberships (reference to Open centralized Avatar IDs), built in Web Window interface (reference to Browser plugin), the ability to purchase items that deliver to multiple grids (reference to multi-grid vendor system) and in essence replicate their inventory legally and responsibly, users can experience a rich network of grids that form the emerging 3D Web." She goes on to list various individuals and business interests that endorse SpotON3D, amongst which I noticed Mana Janus of the OpenSim Hippo Client (the browser plug-in uses a modified version of the light weight Hippo viewer) and Mana has also been posting comments in support of SpotON3D recently.

The references to key features of the emerging 3D web include Hypergrid, Open Avatar IDs, Browser plugin and multi-grid vendor system are all possible targets for patenting and Tessa has made it clear in comments to this blog they will be controlling what viewer can be used too. Moreover, in January of this year, SpotON3D, in a press release, announced, "SpotON3D is most happy to announce our partnership with the Phoenix Viewer team in creating a Phoenix-flavored viewer just for SpotON3D Web Worlds!" In the same statement they listed the following key features...

1. Our BoostCloud dedicated servers to let you entertain up to 125 users without impacting your neighbours, or they you.

2. Our Universal Registration, Avatar & Inventory System

3. SpotONSynergy and Double Dutch Delivery system backed by PayPal® using real USD to create a truly portable economy system

4. Integrated SpotOn3D EZPrezTools and much more coming at you this year.

Above, in the SpotON3D statement they say they are developing a "Phoenix-flavored viewer just for SpotON3D Web Worlds!" And it so happens that Phoenix, which is currently the most widely used TPV (third party viewer), only lists Second Life and SpotON3D in it's grid list when there are much bigger grids like InWorldz and Avination. Moreover, I read that SpotON3D are actually employing some members of the Phoenix development team to work on their viewer and, clearly, there appears to be a partnership or working relationship with Mana Janus too. The statement concludes with, "The teams look forward to the exciting changes that will undoubtedly take place as the Phoenix team helps to further develop SpotON3D’s network of Web Worlds and associated grids." Here again we see SpotON3D staking a claim to the 3d Web when they refer to "SpotON3D's network of Web Worlds and associated grids" SpotON3D's network of web worlds is at the centre, the hub if you like. The associated grids are on the outside paying licence fees for any amount of patented features that the Metaverse depends upon to exist at all. Those who don't want to pay for a licence to connect with each other run the risk of a law suit. So, it adds up to one thing; you can pay SpotON3D licence fees or use their grid services which puts you inside their network. If you chose otherwise then patents will ensure you will never experience anything that can be described as free Metaverse.

Here, the people behind SpotON3D clearly state their long term aims and ambitions...

"CEDA Holdings, the parent company for SpotON3D, began development of their SO3D Grid Systems in November of 2008. With the help of a team of dedicated programmers, web developers, modellers and grid experts they've succeeded in creating an exciting new experience that answers many of the complex problems seen in their contemporaries, with a ten year vision for the development of the 3D Web. SpotON3D's secure and business centric focus caters to an augmented reality experience that embraces existing 2D web assets, real world meeting functionality, attracting a diverse pool of users from the business, academic, technology, and artisan communities online. Short term goals are to provide a stable beta grid platform for early adopter businesses and organizations to use, either as a member of the SpotON3D grid, or on their own affordable private label grids. The long term goals are to create the infrastructure to enable these professional grade grids to interconnect via the SpotON3D's client, a blend of open source and proprietary software."

If there is any doubt the statement above is in their own words for the record. Their long term goals are to create the infrastructure to enable grids to interconnect via SpotON3D's client and, a wealth of ready made open source to utilize as they strive to bring it about. Their statement pays no acknowledgement to the countless hours of unpaid work put in by the developers of Open Simulator, without which they could not achieve any of their goals. It totally ignores the pioneers too who have worked to developed the grids and community, made the content, sent in the bug reports and publicised the whole idea of a free and open Metaverse these past four years. Like robber Barons it appears like, SpotON3D are simply doing the dirty deed and attempting to take over the open Metaverse, or control it, by utilizing a legal devise. The patent.

Novagrid is based on Aurora Sim and is also Hypergrid enabled allowing connections freely to OSgrid and other worlds. Nova sets a model for commercial grids in that they offer low cost hosting for as little as $10 a month and permits anyone to connect their own standalone without charge.
 Lawrence Pierce has written an interesting article but, in my view, he totally fails to understand what the community is worried about and prefers to rather dismiss the whole issue as competitive interest between competing virtual world companies. Well, that may be in part true but it is not the whole story. The whole story goes something like this...

Open Sim has been in development for four years. In the beginning it was just a haven of dreamers and code geeks then came the Open Spaces fiasco when Linden Labs used bate & switch tactics (as they were described) to force though a price rise with the introduction of Homesteads. This out-priced small users who built their labour of love virtual homes and small worlds on Open Space sims. Nineteen hundred servers got returned and land Barons and opportunists bought up the rest at knock-down prices. This resulted in the first wave of refugees seeking affordable sims in the few start-up grids based on Open Sim. Very little worked well at that time but a small community did come into being. These people persevered and overcame the problems of working with alpha software, and many contributed back one way or another. The free Metaverse had a very shaky beginning.

As time passed more things began to work and the platform became more stable. More people abandoned Second Life attracted by the lower costs and the sheer freedom to explore and express their creativity without corporate overlords breathing down their necks telling them what was good for them. Some of us did see that patents could snuff out the dream in it's infancy and we blogged about it warning what could happen. Even I did not notice SpotON3D until now which goes to show how much anyone was interested in their business model. SpotON3D had announced their intentions two years ago and, unfortunately, no one really took them seriously because there has been big talk before from start-ups who promise great things on the back of alpha software and it rarely meets with approval or acceptance.

In recent times Open Sim has become more stable and the level of innovation has grown which is a testament to the pioneers that have seen it through the bad times. Today, Open Sim, the platform and infrastructure of future virtual worlds, be they forked versions like Aurora Sim or as yet unknown developments, are on the threshold of providing the open source software on which to base a truly open, and connected, Metaverse. But, just as the dream is about to come true, the patent Jackals are gathering.

SpotON3D could have kept their source secret. Everyone would have understood that but seeking patents on key components of the free Metaverse to stop competition is clearly going to hurt innovation and impose higher costs through licensing on a community that has been there under Linden Labs. The unemployed, low income people, stay-at-home carers and the disabled are amongst the many that have found an affordable virtual haven to express their creativity and escape the stress of the real world for a few hours. Sure there are commercial grids which have software they keep secret but even Avination CEO and core developer, Melanie has stated her intention to open up to Hypergrid. And InWorldz lead developer, Tranquility has said if the community asks for Hypergrid then we will try to fulfill their wishes. Neither talks in terms of controlling the free Metaverse. There is room for both commercial and none-profit concerns but not for patent Jackals. There are some brilliant coders working to build this free and open Metaverse and they will find a way over those patents. Mark my words!

Saturday, 30 July 2011

SpotON3d to Patent Open Sim in a Browser!

SpotON3d has released a browser plug-in that enables you to enter fully functional Open Sim virtual worlds including the ability to build and create content. This puts it ahead of the competition by a long margin. Up until now it looked like Unity was going to dominate the browser plug-in market for the 3d web but Mesh-enabled Unity3d requires content to be created in advance and downloaded. No one has yet been able to enable the Second Life building functions. I took a look at the SpotON3d browser plug-in after reading about it on Hypergrid Business and I was truly amazed how well it performed. I could even tab to other web pages and back while the viewer continued to function just fine.

Gaga arrives at the Welcome sim at SpotON3d grid

I went to the SpotOn3d web site here, signed up with my avatar name, Gaga Gracious and selected a starter avatar. After downloading the plug-in I was into to the Welcome sim, politely greeted and given some Landmarks. I took off to the freebie store and did some shopping which, I discovered all happens on a web page which comes up inside the viewer window where I could click to get what I wanted. I did a skin change and dressed in a new outfit then set off to explore. The source of the viewer is Hippo which is pretty light but tacked onto the side like SL viewer 2 are a bunch of buttons that open a side window for various purposes including managing account, Land Store, Help and Web Sales. It was not my preferred way because I dislike Viewer 2 but the important thing was this all worked seamlessly and in a browser.

Dancing at Club54
So, I took a trip (I did crash a few times on the SpotON3D grid) and eventually ended up dancing out of boredom at Club54. I never came across another avatar on my travels after leaving the Welcome sim. However, this plug-in could change all that because, for the casual web surfer, this was really quite easy and, unlike Kitely where you still have to download a full viewer separately, with this you don't. The plug-in download is pretty small but bigger than the Kitely plug-in and, once installed, opens up a browser page where you can register a name and chose your avatar. Once you have clicked the verification link sent to your email address then you can simply return to the login page at the browser and the fully functional viewer is activated. You just login and away you go.

Gaga is a hopeless flirt but she dose find time to sail,
build, script and make stuff. This is all
on OSgrid and Gaga demonstrates the browser
can handle building just fine.
I was pretty amazed by it and, though it did seem a little slow, it really was not that bad. I was able to rez a prim to edit, change clothes and appearance fine. Everything basically worked. Finally, I logged out rather than quit the screen and was presented with a SpotON3d splash screen and, at the bottom, all the buttons expected on a Hippo viewer including the grid list. Of course, I entered the addresses for a number of grids including OSgrid and both my Open Sim and Aurora grids. OSgrid was fine and so was my own Open Sim grid. I could login to them and everything functioned just the same as if I had opened a full viewer. I was able to log into my Aurora grid too but, Aurora having advanced features like variable sim sizes met with problems. On a standard region all went well though so, presently, the browser plug-in is good for SpotON3d obviously, and other Open Sim grids but there would need to be a new version for Aurora that handles it. But that is true for most current viewers too because only Imprudence and Astra are designed to enable the features of Aurora. Anyway, I logged into Nova grid which is Aurora-based and everything was just peachy. See some of the pictures. I could even use all the top menus and even change environment settings through all states from sunrise to sunset and night.

Arriving on Aurora-based Nova grid

Environment settings
I am not sure but it might not be possible for anyone else to develop this for others grids since SpotON3d appear to be seeking a patent. The developers are using open source code in the form of the Hippo viewer which is actually downloaded to your PC as part of the plug-in package and then the viewer is launched inside a web page using a browser plug-in built on the FireBreath open source toolkit for creating cross-browser plug-ins. I actually know very little about SpotON3d other than they have something going with the Phoenix viewer developers which I noted don't offer any other grid addresses in their grid list besides Second Life and SpotOn3D. What I do know is that they run a large proprietary grid and host other grids too. They have their own vendor system and deliveries can be made to any grid on their servers but not outside their network. They also offer a cloud service for running events where a heavy load is expected for short periods. What I get from SpotON3D is that they appear to be separating their grid services from the rest of the open Metaverse and I don't just mean a single proprietary grid like Avination or InWorldz. I mean they are the provider of multiple grids and asset services within a single all-embracing network which they claim to be a 3d web.

Arriving at Second Life
A row has already broken out about the patenting of the plug-in where it has been pointed out that the technology is not new and was invented by a small start-up company called InDuality backed by IBM around four years ago. Since then others have used plug-ins for browsers to launch other versions including Unity3d-based worlds. The CEO of Kitely Virtual, Ilan Tochner has been particularly vocal on the blog network and has asked for the patent number under which it has been filed but so-far that has not been given. Patents and copyright issues have always been seen as threat to the open Metaverse where any one company could effectively shut off the open source development projects if they patent something that no one is able to find away around. The owners of any such patent could end up monopolizing the 3d web and impose their terms for licensing that would, of course, prevent other companies and none-profit concerns from offering competing alternatives.

Gaga in another avatar enjoys a touch of eastern promise and sailing with pirates on the Barbary Coast

With all that said however, a plug-in for launching a viewer in a web browser wont of itself prevent continued development of Open Sim or Aurora or, in deed, the third party viewers since all that is being shut off without seeking a licence from SpotON3D is one particular means to deliver the virtual experience, albeit potentially a powerful one. Kitely is probably SpotON3d's nearest rival in all this since Kitely has built it's business model on delivering cloud-based Open sim worlds to the public and it stands to reason they might be in the process of coding a similar solution. But, in any event, I have no doubt that the ability to seamlessly experience virtual worlds in a browser has the potential to vastly increase adoption and it would be a bitter blow to all those coders dedicating their time and effort for free to bring about an open Metaverse only to have one company that, in this particular case, has contributed nothing back monopolize an important part of it. Kitely do, at least, contribute code back to Open Sim and are not seeking patents that might do damage. They also actively respond to feedback where SpotON3D, as far as I can see, appear to be entrenched in there own plans rather like Linden Labs of Second Life.

With friends in a UFO, Gaga enjoys Sci-Fi too!
Kitely have shown how virtual worlds can be delivered easily and cheaply to the netizens who enjoy virtual worlds for escapist pursuets in role play, gaming and social interaction. Creativity is at the heart of much of what the open Metaverse is about. SpotON3D has developed yet another useful tool for delivering the virtual experience effectively and easily to this growing market. There is room for everyone to profit by developing technology and services but it would be a rum deal to take what the community has given freely and patent something that would turn it into a monopoly for one company. Deva Canto, inventor of Hypergrid, warned about this over a year ago here and I picked up on it in my article first published on Chapter & Metaverse blog, "Free Metaverse vs Patented Monopoly" then re-printed it here. In this case there is no real threat to Open Sim development in itself but the implications are abundantly clear. There is a clear and serious threat to the development of a free and open Metaverse if a patent like the one sought by SpotON3D succeeds. Others are likely to follow.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Content for Open Sim and Aurora Sim Grids

Since I have been getting a lot of hits on this blog I though perhaps it would be a good idea to add some page links at the top with useful content for my visitors. There is actually a lot of grids in the free Metaverse and, as I wrote before here, it seems a shame to me that the viewer developers don't do more with the grid list function to help promote them. After all said finding grids to visit can be difficult for noobs and I am sure many simply chose from the grid menu and don't add grid address' themselves. It's not hard to add an address and most, if not all, web sites run by grid operators generally do explain how but how much better would it be if when you open a viewer you find a search box as well as a menu of suggested worlds?

I spoke to Rev (Revolution Smythe, lead developer of Aurora Sim) about this and he said he favoured the GRID HOP list and, as he is working with viewer developers one hopes something will happen soon. I have, in fact, been asking for this for over a year from the Imprudence developers and, while they have been accepting grid details ready to launch something, it has not happened yet and given the team seems to be bogged down with finishing Imprudence 1.4 and getting onto Kokua I am not exactly holding my breath. Anyway, for the benefit of my readers I am adding my own list to the METAVERSE link which will include some useful information about most of them and a picture and discription for the larger grids.

The next link I am adding - VENDORS - will keep a listing of web sites offering both commercial and free content that can be used in Open Sim and Aurora based grids. Of all the web sites I looked at I think Sunny Whitfield's Total Avatar Shop stands out as one of the best for low cost high quality creations. Sunny supplies to many grids including InWorldz, Second Life, OSgrid, Alpha Towne, Virtual Worlds Grid, My Open Grid, New World Grid, and Kitely. I am sure there are more too but she will deliver to almost any grid if requested and even go to the grid personally to make a delivery. This is what makes Total Avatar Shop one of the best in my view so the site features right at the top of my list.

Another site I like is Opensim Creations run by Vanish Seraph of The store front is run as a none-profit outlet catering to Open Sim residents and anyone may list content on the site if it is being offered free or with a small licence fee attached. The virtual goods come mostly in the form of XML files that can be uploaded to your grid using the Import feature of many viewers including Imprudence and Hippo. The site also offers OAR files of complete regions including terrains, landscaping, objects and textures. Even scripts are included.

Many of the grids now offer content direct from listings on their own sites which may be delivered in-world or come as XML or OAR downloads. I don't want to leave anyone out so all these will be listed too. There are some grids that don't offer direct sales from their web sites in order to encourage residents to shop in-world so they only advertise stores that have outlets in their grids. I am not sure if this is a good thing or not, especially for Opensim-based grids. I think it is damaging in Second Life as more people buy from Market Place and have goods delivered in-world rather than shop in the stores and malls that are run at great cost. Certainly, from what I have seen many of these SL merchants are closing their stores for lack of buyers while transferring the main thrust of their business to the web. AvWorlds, a newish Opensim-based grid, has taken the brave decision to protect their merchants so their site only carries adverts direction customers in-world.

Next one along is TEXTURES. I am always on the hunt for good textures and make many myself as and when I need something I can't find. I make templates too for clothes but if I find a site offering them at low cost it will get a mention for sure. Anyway, I am listing some great freebie sites and I shall add some I know offer a licence or permission to use them in Open Sim and Aurora.

Finally, I have the RESOURCES link which will list anything including but not limited to scripts and other useful stuff I have to offer myself or find on the web. For example, I am very much into sailing a boat in Second Life and on my private closed grid. In fact I have two grids running on fairly powerful virtual servers. One runs an Opensim grid and the other, Aurora. For a while now I have been evaluating and comparing both platforms with a view to eventually opening one of the grids to the public. Aurora is hot favourite presently. It runs smoother and faster than Open sim and is feature rich while Opensim is actually quite lumpy so to speak. Anyway, Revolution Smythe has told me he plans a big upgrade to vehicle physics soon so I am expecting some improvement in sailing my boat.I want to offer my boats to users so the RESOURCES link wiIl be a good spot to offer this kind of thing.

The HOME link just brings you back to the blog of course which is always moving on as I write more about the free Metaverse. The other links are static pages making them easy to get to without having to search through the blog if I posted stuff there. I hope the links will be useful and I will try to keep them up to date and add new links and content as I find it. If you know of a site or run one and would like it included in the links then please do leave me a mention on the comments together with the site address. I will visit and take a snapshot of the home page and do a little write up for the link.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Aurora Sim Security: a Mirror World

Aurora sim has been advancing at break-neck pace since I last wrote about it and, with the release of 0.4, the platform now supports IWC (Inter Worlds Connector) in grid mode enabling travellers to teleport between any Aurora-based grid. To bring more compatibility between Aurora and Opensim, on which it is based, Revolution Smythe (lead coder of Aurora team) has released a bridging module too which enables Opensim users to Hypergrid to Aurora sims and back. Even the problem of porting content back and forth now seems to have been solved since before anything brought to Aurora couldn't be taken back to Opensim. It's breathtaking really to think how far the project has progressed in so short a time given that Opensim has taken four years so far. In just ten months Aurora has reached a state of advanced Alpha but security-wise it is, in fact, already far in advance of Opensim. For me it is almost too much and too fast to really grasp all the concepts. But there is a strangeness about Aurora that draws you in. It's like science fiction and everything you wanted in a virtual world unfolding before your eyes. Makes you feel like a stranger in a strange land.

Gaga joins the meeting on Nova grid. Revolution Smythe is the guy with the spiky blue hair but don't be fooled by appearances. Rev is a genius and a frantic coder with a knowledge of Open sim and Aurora second to none.

Revolution Smythe admits to not being a fan of Hypergrid since he considers it seriously insecure and IWC is intended to improve the security but, in any event, a lot more Opensim grid owners will be thankful for the HG bridge regardless of the security issues and we can expect more connection as a result. The Aurora team have said in their founding statement that they want to remain compatible with Opensim as far as is possible and the HG bridge will help to ensure that. Of course, there is a lot more to Aurora sim than HG or IWC and, with the decision to put Open Simulator project under the direction of the Overte Foundation, more cooperation between the projects is expected too. An example is the recent inclusion of the llCastRay(), a patch that will help improve the shooting of bullets, etc.

Opensim was developed under a BSD license which allows proprietary commercial use so other projects can be built on top of it and even forked versions of the platform which includes InWorldz and Openlife grids and, of course, Aurora Sim itself. However, the GPL license under which TPV (Third party Viewers) are coded does not allow derivative, proprietary commercial use and this was the reason for the six-month rule where contributors could not submit patches if they had been working on viewer code recently. Linden Labs are the owners of the Second Life viewer code and allow TPV coders to create their own style of viewer with added features. It is often said Opensim server code was back-ported from the viewer code but this is not strictly true since the platform code is all original and largely based on guess work about how the LL code works. But, I digress. Hypergrid is unique to Opensim and, apart from a brief period of collaboration with the Opensim HG protocol, Linden Labs has shown no interest since and, unsurprising really, the security - or lack of it - is a major factor.

Regular weekly community meetings are held on Nova grid which is Aurora based too. Not long ago just a few people came to these meetings but suddenly the numbers are growing.

There has been a lot of debate about HG security and most people are agreed it just can't be guaranteed in an open source project where anyone can make changes that are designed to steal content and infringe copyright. Revolution Smythe has stated the HG protocol is fundamentally flawed. Even by setting the Outward bounds permission to null which prevents content from leaving the grid in which it is supplied is only an attempt to plug the hole and the fact we see Avination - a grid owned and run by Opensim core developer Melanie Thielker -  has not yet opened their grid to HG demonstrates that commercial grid owners are still nervous about it. For grid owners who believe in a more Utopian Metaverse then the current flavour of HG is probably sufficient to satisfy them. They do, after all, share content freely and most would prefer an IP rights form of license anyway. However, business interests are growing more aware of the potential of virtual world platforms and they demand a high level of security for their virtual creations knowing content theft is a seriously damaging problem.

IWC takes a different approach than HG to security. HG works by calling content data from one sim to another. IWC, on the other hand, connects two grids together for the visitor. It is like the traveller has not really left their home grid and, though this is a very abstract concept and indeed complex, it actually offers greater security. What you appear to bring home you don't actually for it never leaves the grid in which it is supplied unlike HG where it does. And yet, you bought the content and have access to it, apparently, at home. Another way to describe IWC and, in deed, Aurora sim is to look at it as an integrated network of grids and sims. With HG in OS everything is separated. With IWC in AU everything is networked.

HG also allows avatar appearance to be called from the traveller's home grid which partly touches on the IWC concept but if you are allowed to take away clothing, skins and other body attachments inevitably they can be copied on the home grid. IWC calls the clothing, etc from the supplier's grid when ever you wear something that you bought or got supplied while travelling. The act of visiting and buying made your avatar part of the grid, or grids, you visit. Effectively, your content is spread all over the Metaverse but it looks like you have it all in one place - in your inventory which is not strictly true.

Mirror World...

Revolution Smythe is the inventor of IWC but even he admits it's still not a perfect solution but is much more secure than Hypergrid. Ideally, he told me, he would want to push to something else like Mesh Networking. With Mesh networks you are looking at the Metaverse grids a nodes which communication with each other. Each node is selfish and holds onto what its got but must act as a relay and collaborate to propagate data in the network. In other words it holds onto the content created there while sending data about the content over the network and relaying data from other nodes at the same time. Again, this is very complicated to understand, but perhaps a better way to look at it is if the nodes are like mirrors reflecting data. No matter where the traveller goes they will be visiting a node that carries data unique to their needs, to them, to their inventory. They are a part of the whole and never really own anything unless they created it. Content thieves can not steal a reflection.

What this could all mean for the future should not be under estimated. If Revolution Smythe and the Aurora team keep up at the rate they are progressing I am convinced they will have a platform that is so advance and secure that it's conceivable even Second Life could safely open it's vast asset servers  to the Aurora system if, of course, they both adopt the Mesh Networks concept. This would enable users who own large inventories which they have invested a lot of money in to use it anywhere in the network and finally Second Life residents would be able to travel. It would be good for Linden Labs and their merchants, and it would expand the open Metaverse creating a vast commercial market for virtual content. Linden Labs would just have to change their business model from renting virtual land (Sims) to providing data services.

It's quite something to see the clones of Rev come marching in!

1001 Bots...

Changing the subject to finish on, at the last weekly meeting on Nova grid attended by team developers and supporters, Revolution Smythe demonstrated the spawning of bots. It was quite a sight to see hundreds of bots which were all clones of Rev. Skidz, a core member, has also produced another great video which I am showing here. 1001 bots on a sim is quite an achievement!

Now, what would you do with all those bots?

Dose the epic battle for Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings come to mind?

Monday, 6 June 2011

Aurora Sim: A Brave New Virtual World

When I first read about Aurora sim back towards the end of 2010 when the project was first initiated I was impressed by the long list of improvements over core Opensim that the development team, headed by Revolution Smythe (Rev to his friends), promised. I was not only impressed but more than that, I was quietly intrigued. However, I remained skeptical that such a small team could deliver on their substantial promises considering that core Opensim, on which Aurora is based,  has been in development for four years, and while improved greatly in the last two releases, still lacks so much that is taken for granted in SecondLife. Aurora team basically set out to turn Opensim on it's head and reconstruct it from the ground up.

Coming from a background in role play as I do the visual experience and ability to immerse one's self into a virtual world are very important to me. I want a high degree of realism which is still by far and away lacking in SecondLife. I want the kind of quality graphics and responsiveness one gets from games running on PC and Xbox but without the actual game they are selling of course. In short, I want a virtual world that is broader in scope, has better scripting and features that support the themes gamers and role players try to build for themselves and their fellow players. What I came to realize as I got more into the work the Aurora team were doing was that they are game focused and this got my interest up. Revolutions Smythe explained to me that, in the fall of 2009 before he started Aurora, he built a game off of what was the base of Aurora today. The problem was the viewer software couldn't handle it, he said. Fortunately, the Imprudence viewer developers agreed to collaborate and, by changing the licence slightly from that which Opensim uses, Imprudence/Kokua and Aurora Sim became sister projects in October 2010.

Aurora's developers set out with a broad set of ideas, the aim was to complete all that was missing from Opensim and the desire to bring about change that was not lead by developments in SecondLife alone. They replaced the Robust server, and underlining communication framework altogether. They rebuilt the scripting engine adding support for more functions including osFunctions and aaFunctions, and they are adding support for more scripting languages too including C# and VB. But there is so much more. "We are working on some advanced features," Revolution Smythe told me, "When we finish the generic properties module this will allow new properties to be added to objects very easily, such as the Cone of Silence (see video below), which disallows the viewer from seeing things inside the 'object'. The module will send the information about all new properties it has to the viewer and the viewer will have a new panel in the Build tools window, which will show all of the properties, so that they can be edited easily.  Its annoying to go add each and every property manually into the viewer." he went on, "This would allow an easy way to add things to the viewer, and in which any version of the viewer supporting the module would be able to see it. I fully intend to let the sim designer change settings so that the viewer sees exactly what they wanted to show like with setting parcels and altitudes for windlight (not LightShare(tm)). We have already added new settings like Region/Estate in Imprudence and we will add the ability to turn off the minimap and avatar name tags so that RPGs and things can run smoother (no cheating). You just have to lock the clients to Imprudence only which is easy with the viewer ban module (included)."

The unpredictable lady, Aurora Borealis dances in the night sky while Gaga day dreams about the shape of virtual worlds to come.
Aurora 1.0 was released early in 2011 and I reported my experience with it here at the time and, accepting it was a pre-alpha release, it really didn't do more than prove the concept and show that the team were in business. The next release a month or so later, Aurora 2.0, was a good general tidy up of the code with multiple bug fixes and something completely new, variable sized regions!

Looking towards a single 65k sq mt region from a massive
var-region on an Aurora grid up to 256 times the area.
Opensim has mega-regions which are clusters of sims where one sim is the parent and the rest are attached as child sims thus each region is still consuming server resources separately while with variable sized regions now under development in Aurora sim, or var-regions for short, they simply expand a single region up to 256 times a standard SL region area. That means that just one region is consuming server resources and, where it would take a lot of sims to build a really large space using the mega-region protocol, var-regions can expand to create truly massive spaces that would take hundreds of Opensim regions in a mega-cluster to create the same area. Aurora is already up to four times faster than Opensim. Also, by taking advantage of HTTP Textures, objects like buildings come into view more quickly too so increased performance like this lends considerable support to rendering such vast spaces.

Terraforming my Aurora standalone test sim was fast and smooth, better than I ever experienced in SecondLife or
even Opensim. I shaped equal to 3 standard sims on this 1024X1024 var-region in little over 5 minutes. The 
distant land is left flat to show the sheer scale of it. All that on single server too!

On May 21st Aurora 3.0 was released just seven months into the project which is both a testament to the concept and the sheer determination of the developers to make rapid progress. Windlight features have been enhanced and they surpass Opensims's Lightshare. You can see further than one region away. Groups, Profiles, Abuse reports, Search and so many of the things taken for granted in SecondLife and still absent or dysfunctional in Opensim are now working including more responsive land editing, an integrated backup system, an integrated combat system and true server side bots.

A Role Player's dream come true!

Imagine a city that builds itself with all the effects of traffic and the bustle of city life. Parts might be degrading while new parts are in construction, even city lights and neons flickering on and off, and transport hurtling along while everywhere bots appear and busy themselves as the anonimous populace. The nearest comparison is Sim City but this is something else. It is a living, breathing backdrop to a game world where role players can pursue their storylines in a realistic setting that surpasses anything you could ever expect from SecondLife or Opensim.

Imagine building the dark cityscape of Blade Runner on an Aurora 
sim where punks rub shoulders with Hara Krishas and replicants
are on the lose. Above you see the Gorean city of Ar on 
Role Play Worlds grid which Gaga visited last year. Now do this
build with the city builder module and see it come to life!
A plug-in like the city builder and bot engine will elevate virtual worlds closer to the experience envisaged in prophetic Sci-Fi novels like Neromancer and Snowcrash. One can imagine Blade Runner set in an Aurora sim world or truly astronomical spaces for role play games similar to Eve and other space opera genre. To that end Aurora has support for controlling the viewer, as mentioned above, to over ride settings so the visitor sees the world and interacts with it as the designer intended. The physics engine, ODE, though inferior to Havok, has received special attention and a lot of work giving more support for vehicles. Movement is smoother for avatars too including a smaller, lighter capsule that moves more realistically. Then there is the gravity effects that can be centred and have everything revolve round it. It will be a Star Trek fan's dream come true.

Improving Physics...

Demo of the bots on an Aurora sim 
Improving the physics are a key objective of the Aurora devs. It's not enough to be able to walk, run and fly. Vehicles have to function well too and be responsive to the sort of environmental effects associated with the real world and even the distant reaches of space. In SecondLife they have Havok which Linden Labs can afford the licence for. Opensim is limited to ODE without the kind of improvements done by the Aurora devs. It works and that is the best that can be said for it. The Opensim devs take the view it is for those using Opensim to obtain the licenses and upgrade the physics. They just don't see it as important as other things like Mesh and Hypergrid. In deed, Opensim devs, for all their work and dedication, they just don't appear to see Opensim as anything different than SecondLife even though time and again I have heard it said, Opensim is different. No, it's not. It has the same look and feel, too many of the same quirks, and yet is lacking some very basic stuff that is actually useful, and, after four years in the making, Opensim still doesn't function as well as SecondLife. On the other hand Aurora devs do see Aurora as different but they still want to retain and improve what is good and useful. They want to do better than SecondLife. They want to take it beyond the familiar paradigm so that virtual worlds really capture the imagination and lead to deeper immersion. There is no denying that physics remain a stumbling block but the Aurora team do recognize that good physics are an essential component of the core server code and, not to be beaten by the power of corporate money, they are considering more options.

Aurora devs think very little of ODE even though they have done a lot of work to improve it, work that should have been done by Opensim devs had they looked at Opensim as something more than a social/educational platform. It is one of the founding aims of Aurora devs to improve the physics and, recently, I was in on a discussion in which Navidia PhysX was mentioned. From what I gathered, Revolution Smythe has already done work to integrate PhysX but there was still a lot to do and another dev that has been working with PhysX separately was able to point Rev to new code sources and testing facilities. So the outcome of the conversation gave me reason to believe Aurora will move to a new physics engine before too long or they will continue to improve ODE far beyond it's present capability.

Project Wonderland Capabilities from Nicole Yankelovich on Vimeo.
The Cone of Silence implemented on Aurora sim is basically the same as Wonderland seen in the video and I suggested to Rev the cone might also block the viewer from seeing inside the object too which would give privacy on mature sims and serve to increase realism in the virtual world as well. Rev agreed and said he thought it can be done but we will have to wait a bit longer for that one. Perhaps they will change to name to Cone of Privacy too.

Apart from the problem of physics there is also the question of compatibility with Opensim. On the original features list they did state their aim to remain compatible as far as possible but, at present, anything ported to Aurora can't be ported back and, where initially hypergrid teleports did seem possible, they now aren't. The devs decided to disable HG on the premis that until HG stops being incompatible with itself (there are several versions all mutually incompatible with one another) there is no way it can be made to work properly in Aurora. However, the devs have now introduced their own version of HG called Inter World Connector or IWC.

Inter World Connector...

IWC, they say, will be more secure than Hypergrid since security receives particular attention throughout the system. The details of IWC are still not clear at this time but what I gathered was that IWC generates a secure URL on the fly and there are varying levels of trust between grids that are both user and grid operator settable. These levels of trust range from full trust (level 4), where inventory can be sent to other grids with the avatar, down to nothing gets out (level 0). So, where HG has the Outward bounds setting in 7.1 it would appear Aurora has more options although I have no information yet what they might be. One assumes travelling avatars will keep their appearance in the same way that HG works where the skin, shape and clothes, etc, are called from the avatar's home grid so are not downloaded to the visited grid and can't be copied. In Opensim 7.1 grid owners can turn HG on but prevent items acquire on their grid from leaving it while the avatar can still travel with their same name and appearance. I can only imagine IWC will work in a similar fashion but with extra permissions. However, Rev has said it wont be compatible with HG.

Now, I have noticed that many people that are interested in Aurora are concerned about compatibility since they are, for the most part, familiar and probably comfortable with the way Hypergrid works even if they are less than happy with the function of Opensim itself. In deed, Hypergrid is not only an essential component of Opensim for many but without the means to travel via inter-grid teleports it's hard to see how any virtual worlds platform can ever lay claim to be the Apache of the emerging 3D web. Many users are running their own standalone sims attached to grids like OSgrid. Others run grids of their own too. In fact most grids run on core Opensim with a few exceptions like InWorldz and Openlife which have developed their own forked version so are probably too far removed to ever be able to participate in inter-grid travel anyway. If IWC is going to be incompatible with HG then, for many, that will be a serious drawback to adopting Aurora. However, when asked at a recent meeting on the Aurora test grid, the lead developer, Rev did say he could make a bridging module but he didn't say he would. In any event IWC has yet to be fully implemented so currently it remains an open question. But it is an important issue for many, me included.

Okay, so I want to show off the Trekie-style top again. I made it complete with my very own Aurora Sim logo specially for this photo shoot of Gaga on my standalone. Shame about the hair though but I don't have any full perms to download presently. Anyway, I want to make this a tribute to the brilliant coders at Aurora. 

Aurora is different in so many ways and yet remains open source. The developers are not content to build a bare nuts & bolts platform. They believe Opensim should have been more complete by now. All the devs have a long history in virtual worlds and started like most of us in SecondLife. They wanted better and brought their coding skills to Opensim in order change things and help build a truly open metaverse. Many have joined the Aurora team but still contribute to Opensim so there is still plenty of collaboration between the projects regardless of a parting of the ways. Most important to me is that they do seem to be listening to the community and, thankfully, they don't have to please any profit-hungry corporate overlords. They have similar views to the community and suffered the same treatment meted out by the blinkered mandarins that run Linden Labs. They tried hard to work with Opensim (and some still do) but the narrow focus thwarted their creative efforts to advance the code. They are visionaries and want more from a virtual world and they believe there is more to gain. My only worry is that while striving for perfection they don't lose sight of the hopes and dreams of the growing community that have already embraced the free Metaverse. If they throw the baby out with the bath water then Aurora risks becoming just another games engine. The socioeconomic model built by SecondLife is still part of the big picture while the virtual experience can and must improve. Connectivity is important too if the free metaverse is to thrive, and that requires a degree of compatibility in key areas especially content and avatar mobility across worlds. I have no doubt though that the Aurora team are on the right track and I believe the project will go far. And do it fast!

UPDATE [Aug 8th 2011] Aurora Sim has moved on considerably since the article above was publish. Currently we are using 4.1 which includes many bug fixes, improvemnets, IWC in grid mode and a Hypergrid Bridge module to connect with Open Sim grids. See more recent articles...

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Metrics: A Changing Metaverse

It was interesting to read  Hypergrid Business' monthly survey of the virtual worlds of the metaverse. SecondLife lost 41 regions while Opensim based grids collectively gained 1,102 for the top 40 grids. But HB is actually tracking 144 grids of which 80 report region counts. What is particularly interesting about these surveys is the picture it paints of the changing state of the metaverse which is in a real state of flux.

OSgrid and Kitely lead with significant gains in regions while  Avination, which rose so spectacularly in the early months of the year, lost regions and active users. InWorldz continued slow but steady growth and Meta7 closed due to legal issues. At the same time more grids came online. So it appears users are moving about a lot and new people are experiencing the free metaverse for the first time. The big loser of course is SecondLife which, while losing 41 regions might not seem much, has lost 500 regions in the past year.

There are so many options now compared to a year ago and the cost of setting up has dropped significantly too so it's no wonder Linden Labs, which still charges $1000 to set up a region and monthly tier of $295, is losing out. SecondLife still enjoys high traffic compared to Opensim based grids but no one really knows what the free metaverse traffic figures are. SL can report their traffic as it's all under one roof but the free metaverse is a partially disconnected cluster of small grids with no overseeing server to collect data.

Gaga checking a club out in Avination. Yeah, the dance pole works!

Hypergrid helps to connect grids but a lot of the grid owners keep it disabled to prevent content theft and, of course, partly to keep their residents on their own grid. Commercial grids of course are in competition with each other and since they rely on renting sims to users they obviously have a vested interest to operate on the same business model as Linden Labs which means a walled garden approach. And yet, even that is not stopping users from moving about no more than Linden Labs can prevent it's residents discovering what is out there in the free metaverse.

With the release of Opensim 7.1 at the start of the month things could be about to change still more. With 7.1 there is greater security to prevent content theft while still allowing users to travel to other grids with their same name and appearance. Once someone has found a place to call home (virtual home) and enjoy the community it offers they are less likely to travel so much but with 7.1 the barriers to travelling are reduced. What you spent on fixing up your avatar, for instance, wont be limited to the grid you call home so you wont arrive at some grid you visit looking like crap and having to rush around trying to find freebies to get fixed up for the visit. Moreover, you wont necessarily have to spend any more money to look as good as you did at home. Avatars are vain - believe it!

On the other side of the coin you probably wont be able to take anything you buy with you when you leave a 7.1 grid either unless the owner has the Outward bounds permission set to allow it. Most commercial grids, if they upgrade to 7.1 probably wont allow it anyway but that's not to stop you visiting to attend an event such as a music gig or dance with friends and just hang out. You might want to attend a business meeting or an educational class. Perhaps you are a role player in some ancient theme like Romans or the fantasy realms of Elves, Steampunk, etc, etc. And you set out to interact in war or peace with a neighbouring grid that follows the same theme. It's really little different than teleporting to a neighbouring region in SecondLife. You just find yourself on another grid and can still look the same everywhere.

Role Players at Role Play Worlds grid

The owner of Avination, Melanie Thielker has gone on record saying she will enable hypergrid once the security is better and she said she would press for this earlier this year. As she is also one of the code contributors to Opensim then we have no reason to doubt her. But Avination has not yet adopted 7.1 so it remains to be seen if they will open up to the rest of the free metaverse. Certainly, if Avination dose I think they will benefit with increased traffic and, since Avination has a reputation already for gambling there is another reason to keep the door open. InWolrdz on the other hand is unlikely to become hypergrid enabled even if they could because they have chosen to fork off from the main branch and develop their own code on top of Opensim which means they may be too far removed to be compatible now. This may yet prove a mistake for them as the metaverse becomes more connected.

There are of course still limitations to Opensim which may not please people coming from SecondLife where they are use to most things working after a fashion. Most notable is physics which are still better in SL than OS simply because Linden Labs can afford the commercial licenses. Opensim is still limited to ODE which most developers regard as very basic. certainly, you see it's limitations when sailing a boat on Opensim-based grids which is clumsy at best. SecondLife has Havoc physics which is far superior but this could also be about to change with the rise of Aurora sim. In Fact a lot of things are going to change with Aurora sim!

Decent physics still give SecondLife the edge when it comes to sailing and sea battles

Even Hypergrid Business survey might have to change as a result of the advances in server code that is being rapidly developed by the Aurora team. Most notably, region sizes. You see, Aurora developers have managed to change the structure of regions which they call var-regions. These var-regions can be up to 256 times the size of a standard SL region. Unlike mega-regions in Opensim, which are clusters or child regions attached to a parent region in order to avoid the problem of border crossings, var-regions are just a single region that has been expanded up to 256 times the normal size. So, where Hypergrid Business collects data on total regions on grids this would be misleading in the future when looking at grids running Aurora sim code. On a Opensim grid if you see 256 regions you can certainly count them regardless if some are connected as mega-regions. On an Aurora-based grid you might see just one region and count it as one while, in fact, it covers the area of 256 regions. The metaverse is certainly changing.

I have a big article coming up later this week which is an in-depth review of Aurora sim that I have been working on for weeks so check back again soon. But I will leave you with video from Skidz Partz - one of the Aurora team - to get an idea of just what is on the metaverse horizon.