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?