Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Linden Labs At War With Opensim!

You will forgive me for opening this post with a little dramatics, the rebel flag and all, but read on and you will see why. Linden Labs has been firing shots at Opensim for some while now and I don't just mean a war of words here. The Lab is taking an aggressive stance with direct action now where, in the past, they seemed not to care too much. They were big enough to ignore the upstart. But the story has taken a new dark twist and the knives appear to be out and pointing.

For many month's now we have been witnessing the steady decline of Second Life losing up to a 100 or more regions a week. Linden Labs has lost close to 2000 sims since the start of last year and that represents an awful lot of money in tier payments. In an interview with Botgirl Questi, Zombie Linden agreed that last spring Linden Lab said they were going to cut off access to emerging SL features unless third party viewer developers stopped linking SL customers up with Opensim grids. In the interview Zombie Linden complained, "It didn't make sense to give technology weapons to the 'rebel' grids they could use against us." He went on, "Business is war isn't it?"

Botgirl's Identity Circus: Interview with Zombie Linden on loginURI Controversy

Botgirl reminded Zombie Linden that the Lab use to encourage open standards and wanted other grids to do the same. In deed, Linden Lab was fully engaged at one time under the direction of Mark Kingdom in developing the original inter grid teleporting between SL and Opensim. Hypergrid teleports and the notion of an interconnected open Metaverse grew out of those experiments. However, the Lab has clearly run up a flag of war now, and using language to match. The Opensim grids are Rebels they declare - all 200 of them, or 200 at least known to exist at this time. And growing! Business is war in their words and they are at war with the open Metaverse!

Zombie Linden went on to say the Second Life community is dysfunctional and thrives on drama which, when Botgirl put it to him the Lab would rather stir up drama than worry about releasing new features and fixing bugs, he didn't deny it. In fact he had already said rather cynically, "The more drama we create the more time and money people spend on the grid." He even dismissed Linden Realms as a lame feature!

Opensim Reaction

Reading the log of OSgrid's resident Town Hall Meeting the LoginURI controversy was a hot topic with many points of view being aired. Basically, given the Lab's decision the main issue was what would happen with the viewers and would some developers toe the line and turn their back on Opensim. Firestorm/Phoenix developers have already stated they aim to produce two viewers - one for Opensim and one for Second Life but no one yet knows how rigidly Linden Labs will enforce their policy. It could be the TPV (third Party developers) have to chose which viewer to work on with no option to work on both, even separately.

The issue is, of course, the grid manager and the Labs changes they aim to make in the viewer code to enable client-side Havoc physics. But clearly, that is only part of the argument. Linden Labs want to curb Opensim development because they are losing out to it more and more. Before, while the Opensim server code was still unstable and buggy, the Lab didn't care too much but the platform is far more stable now and easily starting to rival Second Life. Declining traffic to the Second Life grid and the huge loss of sims is taking it toll. The Lab has run out of patience and the directors want action. That clearly comes over in the Botgirl/Zombie interview.

The Second Life grid has been changing too as it declines. A full 12% of the regions are dedicated to Adult content and this includes gambling, a fact probably not gone unnoticed by parents and teachers for Linden Labs, in a change of policy last year closed their Teen grid and allowed children onto the main grid - albeit under supervision. But, kids being Kids and computer savvy they quickly get round restrictions and the age verification process was found to be a total farce anyway.

Linden Labs is obviously pointing a finger at Opensim grids stealing their customers while they should be looking closer to home for all their bad decisions, contempt for their residents, and a shockingly expensive and poor,  service.

Opensim is growing while Second Life is declining and perhaps the single greatest reason is the low cost of Opensim hosting. But there is more, anyone can use the open source software and set up a virtual world for school, business or just a private home, role play game or small club hangouts. Linden Labs could have opened some doors to Opensim people and fostered cross-grid cooperation and mutual support. The Lab could have been at the heart of the open Metaverse but instead it chooses war with it in pursuit of profit. Trouble is, not everyone in the Open Metaverse is bent on commercial interest and the Lab is not up against just another rival company. They are up against many companies and many educational institutions as well as a whole bunch of individuals getting on with their private  and affordable interests.

Dose Linden Labs really want to go to war with people, many of whom are actually still their customers?

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Reaction Grid Out. Opensim HG2 & WebGL on Horizon!

Heritage Key on iPad
Reaction Grid has decided to go all out for their Unity3D web platform just when webGL is making it's debut going one better for it needs no plugin as Unity dose and it could stream Opensim regions right into a web page as demonstrated by Cloud Party without the conversation that is needed to put a region in Unity.

I'm not surprised though that Reaction Grid decided to abandon Opensim in favor of their Unity-based Jibe platform because it must be a lot of work maintaining two platforms, doing all the conversations and if the CEO has his heart in one and not the other then this is to be expected. RG has not been upgrading and keeping up with Opensim anyway so it was almost certainly going to happen eventually.

Gaga visiting the British Museum in Heritage Key grid during last year

Last year we saw Heritage key go the same way after putting more and more effort into Mesh for Unity. Originally, Heritage Key ( formerly the Rezable Greenies when they left Second Life) used Unity to put a showcase platform in a web page to draw visitor's attention to their Opensim grid which amounted to a living History Museum. I found HK after visiting their web site where I registered. I remember at the time though I still had to install the unity plugin.

Heritage Key was a pretty good virtual place with many exhibits ranging from Stonehenge to the Terra cotta Army of ancient China. I can't help thinking if they had stuck with Opensim then NPC bots could have been adapted to add even more life to their living exhibits.

The way in which HG set out to use Unity remains a valid objective for Opensim users regardless and the SpotON3D application - an invention taken from the open source and patented much to the disgust of the wider Opensim community (see this) - that streams a background viewer in a web page dose a similar job although you still have to have the SO3D viewer and application downloaded and installed. Ideally this is not the best way to do things though since there is a heavy download initially which, of course, is the put-off to mass adoption. The objective was always to have a basic first look at an Opensim world in a web page with no more than a light plugin application or, better still, nothing to download at all.

SpotON3D Opensim forked clone on a web page

Recently, we have seen the all new Cloud Party utilizing webGL to open a viewer in a web page. The speed with which it has been developed holds out the promise others will develop a similar webGL application for Opensim although webGL is still only supported by Firefox, Google Chrome, etc. Internet Explorer doesn't support it because Microsoft has stated the application is not secure enough yet.

There has been a call to crowd fund the development of a webGL application published on Hypergrid Business which, if anything comes of it, should encourage interested developers to  give it a go. I, personally, would certainly be willing in contributing money but, anyway,  Ludocraft, the developers of RealXtend - who have considerable experience of Opensim - has included a web application in their RealXtend/Tundra Road Map 2012/13 which aims to put work into the project this fall. Here is a quote from it... 

Bring Tundra to web via a NPAPI plugin - June-September 2012, 1-2 man months Compared to alternative ways to target the web, the NPAPI plugin route is relatively easy and feasible to implement. Some limitations have been identified (due to Qt and Ogre), but the code can be adapted to take these into account.

Their aim is to support their own flavor of Opensim of course which is the RealXstend platform and they are also aiming at the smart phone market but it remains to be seen if their work can be adapted for Opensim in general or even if they will do the work needed. Certainly, webGL dose hold out a lot of promise and there is a good chance that Opensim regions will make an appearance in a web page before too long and when it does I am confident it will boost traffic to the Opensim Metaverse.

Second Life look-alike, Cloud Party webGL viewer

Ideally, I think a webGL application need not be too heavy and I see no need for building tools or the many, many features available in a full viewer. It really doesn't need to offer anything more than the ability to render the scene reasonably well, allow avatar movement and a chat window - perhaps some limited view of a choice of complete outfit changes to view and wear all with a click. A decent AO built in for either gender goes without saying but the visitor should not have to learn too much. We want them to see the world and interact with it and even Hypergrid Teleport around. Once they are familiar and sufficiently immersed they will get a viewer to be able to do more and, in deed, use the grid search function to find more grids to visit. This is my vision how it should all work.

Hypergrid 2

Back in April, Diva Canto (Christa Lopes), joint developer of Hypergrid with Melanie Thielker of Avination Grid, said she expected to be releasing HG2 by the end of the summer so this month of August could be it. It's going to be an interesting experience and I for one am mightily curious how it is going to work.

What we are expecting, apart from a more secure inventory structure, is for content creators to be given the choice whether the content they make, give away or sell can leave their grid or not. Once objects are allowed to leave a grid then their is a high chance they will be copied and possibly redistributed or even sold in breach of the creator's copyright. However, with HG2 putting the decision in the hands of the creator rather than leaving it to a blanket decision for the whole grid dose offer a much more flexible system.

People who distribute Freebies like Linda Kellie who is willing to give her stuff away with no copyright restrictions at all can allow stuff to leave the grid. Other content makers and vendors can disallow it which has the effect of making all grids semi-walled gardens. However, how vendors choose to do business will be the acid test of the system really. Some may offer to deliver goods to other grids they trust while restricting the immediate sale to the home grid in which it was sold. The vendor will have to make it clear what they are prepared to do at point of sale which will probably mean offering some sort of list of grids they will supply too. This is not unlike Total Avatar Shop really as Sunny Whitfield, the owner, is willing to supply on many grids if you buy from her web site and, as far as I know, this has worked out fine.

Vendors might have to work a little harder in Opensim but at least the security will be improved and more options available and that will help build the Opensim Metaverse a lot quicker as new content makers come over to take advantage of this expanding market.