Monday 30 January 2012

Kokua Imprudence Viewers: Where to Now?

The Kokua developer team has just posted an announcement stating what they now plan to focus on. Here is the list they published...

1. Focus on the next generation Kokua client rather than Kokua & Imprudence
2. Continue to support Linux 64 bit
3. Keep it easy to explore alternative grids (ie not Second Life proper)
4. Mesh support in Second Life and OpenSim
5. Support older hardware
6. Experimental builds

I was, in fact, beginning to wonder if the Imp/Kokua team was on the point of breaking up so it was a pleasant surprise to read the latest news. To be fair they did ask for user comments on what they thought the team should concentrate on at the start of the month but I was very late seeing it which probably reflects how far down in my consciousness they had sunk. Well, I did have high hopes at one time that the Imprudence team would come up with a solution to a pet wish of mine - improved grid manager - and, to date, it has never happened despite some noises during the past two years that alluded to the possibility it was being worked on - maybe.

Regardless of all other options I think it is vital that the Imp/Kokua team maintains and even increases their support for the Opensim and Aurora-based grids. The open Metaverse is expanding steadily and hypergrid travel is on the increase so we need a viewer that gives maximum support. Second Life is well catered for with something like 10 TPVs and the V3 official viewer but the open Metaverse is reliant on just few usable viewers including Imprudence which is probably the most widely used for Opensim. Personally, I think we have to move on now and Kokua is perhaps the best way to go if, and ONLY if, it puts a renewed focus on Opensim apart from support for many of the things expected of a V3-based viewer such as Mesh, Mesh upload, Moap, multi attachments etc. Making it possible for users to configure the UI windows, buttons and menus goes without saying but the kind of support that the viewer can give the open Metaverse should, MUST, include a Grid Search function to replace grid manager where grid owners can add their own grid address, info and logo/image. Currently, all the grid owners have to explain to noobs on their web sites how to add an address and it is probably a serious stumbling block to recruitment.

Here I doctored an image of Astra viewer to include the Grid Hop page open at OSgrid. Imagine entering a search term or key word in the search box I added to the footer bar and pressing the search button brings up the grid manager window with a list of possible grids and sims very similar to in-world search. In this case though it is not a localized search of the grid but search of the whole Metaverse. It doesn't have to be Grid Hop in the window which I used here by way of an example. It can be a completely new search engine that could even collect usage and traffic statistics for display. The viewer could, in effect, bring the open Metaverse together for statistical analysis which it surely needs.

What I would like to see is an improved grid manager with a search function and method for grid owners to add their own grids and standalone sims so new users don't have to add grid addresses themselves which a lot wont have a clue about but rather they can simply enter some key words to find grids of their choice. You need a registered name to login of course but why not allow logins to hg-enabled grids by adding the hg info to the user name regardless? That is, for my name, Gaga Gracious@hg.osgrid:80 for example. The grid manager could do this and I would log into OSgrid at a Plaza without having my name actually registered there (technically, I realize there are problems to solve in this method like obtaining login authorization via a back end data server but I feel sure it can be done). I think this could be the single most helpful feature that would benefit Opensim users and grid owners as a whole. By this method the grid list would always be up to date and noobs would never need to enter an address. I believe grid owners would welcome this feature and promote the viewer since they would be able to direct their new sign-ups to it knowing their grid is already featured and set up to go. No more need for grid owners to get someone to tweak the grid list and release a cloned viewer that does nothing for the Metaverse as a whole but is doing exactly what I am saying - only just for their own recruits. The sort of thing that would suit a grid Like SpotON3D that has no interest in supporting the rest of the open Metaverse unless they are in overall charge and profiting by it.

For the rest of us who believe in a free and open Metaverse where there is room for commercial interests and those who prefer mutual sharing then we need a viewer that is built with features that support multiple grids. The problem is, of course, the developers have their own preferences and ideas about what makes a useful viewer and not every developer is capable of delivering workable solutions to the huge wish list out there anyway. Even worse is that all to often we find that some, not all, but some developers suffer bouts of egotism especially when dealing with one another and cause projects to go awry and even fail possibly leading to a break up of the team. Some have even used their coding skills to hack and do bad things - Emerald Viewer being a case in point. But, with those cautionary words said I do think the Imprudence team genuinely want to work on solutions their users really want.

I have been plugging away at the grid search idea for a long time. Two years ago I asked for it on the Imprudence forum and the response was positive yet nothing has happened to date. In the last year I became involved some with the Aurora development team and the lead developer, Revolution Smythe did actually agree with me and went so far as to recommend work be done on Astra viewer to explore the grid search idea. Rev thought Grid Hop could be used and actually did some work changing the grid manager window in preparation but adding Mesh support seems to have occupied the developers since that time and, while I still get promises that the grid search feature is on the work bench, still nothing has happened to date. So that is where we stand and I can only hope the Imp/Kokua team do actually revisit these ideas.

The open Metaverse needs it's own viewer. That's what I think and sure it can be compatible with SL but the focus needs to be on Opensim grids. Too many developers, and I think some members of the Opensim team are guilty of this too, slavishly follow developments in Second Life as if they were the benchmark for virtual worlds. The grid manager and search would benefit the whole community and be a highly visible statement that Opensim can stand on it's own and become the prefered platform of the free Metaverse.

Track back to Friday, 29 April 2011...

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Second Life Residents Vote to Ban None-Mesh Viewers

New World Notes Survey on Improving Second Life produces shock result in which 30.6% of the 245 respondents voted to Declare that all viewers must be Mesh capable within 3 months, or wont be able to log into Second Life any more. 18.4% also voted to Suspend/delist any market place listings of merchants that have not logged in for a month.

Far from improving Second Life this survey has given vent to those who would ban any one that refuses to conform to the dictates of a vocal minority which begs the question; How is this meant to improve Second Life if a whole bunch paying residents who don't readily share the enthusiasm for mesh are going to be thrown out?

Seems to me the people who want to impose Mesh viewers on the rest are putting profit before common sense. Fact is Mesh has kind of landed in SL like a damp squid and it has not exactly caught the imagination of the vast majority. Even content creators who would like to make mesh clothing have had to crowd fund a deformer so clothes move with the body. Mesh is incomplete but there are those in SL that want to impose it on the rest on pain of banning. Well, I know how I feel about that. If I am forced into something I don't want to do then be sure I will close my sims and take my money elsewhere. You see, I am not in SL for profit. For me it is just a role play hobby and the 3D world adds a little realism to the game but it's no substitute for a vivid imagination and well worded RP scene. Most people are not in SL for profit either. Most just want to escape, some to pursue their gaming ideas and dreams, and the rest just having a bit of fun. So okay, if I am forced out because I wont conform to this dictatorship then I can at least take over a $1000 a month out of SL with the click of a button. In addition there is the lost business from content sales that I generate from my market, out of which other merchants have been benefiting too. And that is not to mention the value of a popular role play game I run for free that will close.

I would, of course, regret pulling the plug on a game I know people enjoy and I would miss it too. Many long hours of work and thousands of dollars gone into it is not something to part will lightly, and this is it really. Linden Labs has got people over a barrel because we can't take what we own out of it unless we made it and have full perms. This is how we get held to ransom but, I for one, would not yield to it. Second Life is not essential. It's a past time and a luxury.

SL wont miss me but if a vocal bunch of dictators drive others out too then SL will decline even faster than it is already. Remember, the metrics show growth is flat and people are leaving as fast as they are joining. The NWN Survey is supposed to be about improving SL but is worded in such a way that it asks people to vote on blocking entry for a whole section of the community for one reason or another. If that's the way they want it then so be it. Opensim grids will benefit for sure.

NWN article here

Sunday 1 January 2012

Open Metaverse: Looking Back to the Future!

So this is 2012 and, before I launch into looking back at what I got right and wrong with my 2011 predictions last January, I have to mention some good news for Mesh fanatics desperate to see their beautiful mesh clothing move with the same grace as their pixelated bodies. I wrote about a crowd funded project back in October which was my last post for several months due to heavy commitments elsewhere. Anyway, the project was organized by Second Life residents who where frustrated by Linden Labs tunnel vision and lack of action. They raised money 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.

Well, Karl has finished some preliminary work and put up a video to demonstrate things. Karl emphasis this is a first look and far from complete. The "heavy lifting" part is done he says but "I’m giving it to you in this form now, so that you can give me feedback. There are decisions to be made which we should make together."

Here is the demo vid and the source code is here. Feedback can be given here.


First blowout to mention was that Opensim would come out of alpha in the last quarter of 2011. Well, no one has said it is beta so there you go. Still Alpha but, to be fair. I did say "maybe" when I predicted it would. On the other hand, the developers finally made up their mind to do something about the six month rule for submitting patches which everyone agrees was holding the project back and stopping people working on the viewer to. They set up the Overte foundation to handle the legalities the developers were so worried about. The advantages of the foundation are many since they can now raise funds and impose rules to make it difficult for Patent trolls hijacking parts of the project and stifling development and innovation

My 2nd prediction fell way short of my wishful thoughts but the latest release of Hypergrid dose have the Outward bounds permission and more work is being directed at security. Nothing yet has got Avination HG enabled despite the owners well-meaning statement early on in 2011 which said AVN would enable HG as soon as possible.

My 3rd prediction was a rather bald statement that more developers would pull out of TPV development. Well, actually, a few have, notably Kirstens and Jacek of Imprudence. But, on the whole I would say more rather than less are working on TPVs since Opensim devs relaxed their rules for submissions but getting stuff like Mesh to work in V1 viewers has got coders busy again especially finding upload solutions for Opensim where Mesh can be handled free while Linden Lab decided to penny-pinch (or nickel n dime as American's say) as usual.

My 5th prediction was that LL would lose more market share but, though they lost over 500 sims the traffic is still holding around 60k peek and 30k off-peek but, when you consider LL gets in excess of 10,000 new signup's a day, then they really are running on the spot and going nowhere. And, in my view, its not going to improve in the coming year since LL continues the same old policy of cashing in on everything they do rather than looking at new developments as part of the service people are already paying a high price for through tiers and setup fees. In deed, it seems to me they are not content to let the residents make any profit on top of what they pay to the Lab. What I see is LL heading off in the Farmville direction with Linden Realms when surly the residents should be building these games? I mean, the Lindens cleared the malls, markets and stores in-world so they could profit from their web-based market place and introduced Linden homes that compete with the land owners paying tier so they could bring in more premium signup's. Second Life is/should be a platform on which "Your World, Your Imagination" can bare fruits for the hobbyist, game maker and content seller. Linden Labs just can’t stand seeing anyone else doing well out of what they made unless they get a huge slice of the cake. Thankfully, Opensim is getting better all the time and the recent survey on Hypergrid Business clearly shows the open Metaverse has grown a lot since the last survey while SL continues it’s slow decline.

That’s the beauty of Opensim, it can truly claim to be Our World, Our Imagination from the ground up.

My 6th prediction was an odd one really since I said we would see a breakthrough in browser based portals into virtual worlds. Well, there was actually a lot of progress and no one solution that really grabbed a new market yet other than, perhaps, Unity 3D. But we did have a serious patent scare courtesy of SPOTON3D. Their browser solution actually worked quite well but it was almost the same as work done previously by others. What hit the news was that the owners of SPOTON3D had the cheek to file a patent on it which effectively stops anyone else from using the code - which was open source and in the public domain!

My 7th prediction about Blue Mars having a bright future if the money holds out? OUCH!!!! the money ran out!

My 8th prediction was more than bang on target! Kinect did come to virtual worlds successfully but, as far as I know, it got mostly used to build animations for avatars and not a lot else so far.


Well, I am not going to get carried away this time but I will stick my neck out and predict Linden Labs will pull out all the stops to get Second Life growing again. Really, they must, yeah? Or will this be the year they call the beginning of the end!

Enough of that. I want to make a considered prediction about OSgrid which currently is the leading grid of the open Metaverse. Based on the Opensim platform OSgrid is, in my view, the HUB of the Hypergrid with many small standalones connecting to it via hypergates. I predict OSgrid will grow substantially in the coming year because refugees from SL will continue to cross the divide in ever greater numbers. LL will pull the plug on V1 viewers soon and, since they will remain usable in Opensim with MOAP and Mesh this will have an impact too and might even herald the beginnings of a break with some of the SL protocols leading to a more Opensim-focused viewer.
Here Lbsa Plaza on OSgrid is busy most days. On this day 24 people were sharing information and getting help from mentors

I would also predict we will finally see a viewer for Opensim that includes Grid Search in one form or another as an option on the menu bar of the opening splash screen. This has been on my wish list for several years and the one thing I think that would really set the Open Metaverse apart from Second Life. I know there is a lot in common especially in the area of content but LL is never going to allow content to be transferred to Opensim grids even while so much that is sold in SL is actually made in Opensim!

It's true, people with large SL inventories are held back from going to Opensim - not that they have to lose that inventory anyway. There is nothing stopping people from using both Linden Lab's grid and the Open Metaverse grids since the viewer is presently compatible with both. Call it dipping a toe in the water and finding the Crocodiles no long bite. In fact, stability is better than it ever was and for sims run on good hardware run easily as well as Second Life and, in many cases, better. Personally, I experience more lag and crashes in SL these days than I do in OSgrid, especially on my own sims which I know are well resource. Yes, the beauty is I control the virtual server and it costs me a fraction of what LL would charge.

Now for a bit of a downer. Sadly, I do actually think the walled garden grids like InWorldz and Avination will not fair that well. We have already seen a sharp decline in Avination who's renters have probably gone to Kitely and OSgrid, both of which have seen the biggest increase of sims. InWorldz declined sharply at the time Avination was growing back at the start of 2011 but, even though they have recovered a lot they still have not grown beyond what they had before Avination took off. On the other hand even though Avination lost many sims and users they may yet pull up a bit but my money is on grids like OSgrid simply because more people want low cost virtual land and some community more than they worry over content. And anyway, OSgrid is bristling with free and low cost quality content anyway. Not just that but the physics in OSgrid, though far from ideal, are actually reasonably good. InWorldz physics are presently none-existant by contrast and Avination still has only ODE the same as OSgrid although there has been talk of them getting Havoc while InWorldz developers have been talking about PhysX for over a year now. In fact, I think the residents of InWorldz were promised it as early as March last year and it still hasn't happened. Perhaps I should predict that for 2012!

Can I predict anything for Aurora sim?

Actually, No, not really since I have been left largely in the dark about what is happening in that team even though I was invited to report news for them. All I can say is that Revolution Smythe continues along with other team members to patch the code but most of the work done is bug fixing and nothing new and exciting to report. Work also continues on Astra viewer and I was told my ideas about the grid search are in the works. I feel sure something is going to happen soon though. Just a feeling.

Anyway, I think I will leave it to the grid builders to predict for themselves where they are going.

Let me just wish everyone a prosperous New Year.