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.