Linden Lab’s take on 2011… and 2012

Whilst catching up on news around the place, I noticed this post from Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble:

As we head into the new year, I’d like to share some highlights from 2011, as well as a glimpse of what’s to come in 2012.

First, if you haven’t already, I hope you will explore our recently launched Linden Realms, the Lab’s first-ever game prototype. For newbies, it is a very simple way to earn L$, so hop on over and start collecting gems.

One of the key goals of Linden Realms was to learn more about what tools Residents could use to develop richer experiences in Second Life — and boy, did we learn a lot! In Q1 2012 , we will be releasing new tools used to develop Linden Realms, which will allow Residents to create even richer original experiences in Second Life. To prevent abuse of these tools, we will introduce a “creators” program in which verified members will be given access to these very powerful capabilities.

In 2011, we also made strides to improve usability in Second Life. We launched a new version of the Viewer, which allows you to customize the user interface for a more flexible workspace with drag-and-drop buttons, among other key new features. The new Viewer also makes it easier for new Residents to discover essential, basic functions — so, with the simple click of a button, you can change your appearance, go to a new location, find inworld merchants or head on over to the Second Life Marketplace.

Speaking of customization, since we deployed Mesh earlier this year, we’ve seen more than a 16 percent adoption rate. I expect this to continue to grow at a strong pace as more and more Residents take advantage of all the features available to allow you explore Second Life and create even more engaging, exciting experiences.

This past year, we also improved the customer experience with expanded Premium subscription benefits that include virtual gifts, as well as exclusive areas where you can go and create. One of the other benefits of being a Premium member is ownership of a Linden Home, which I’m pleased to report has reached an historic high. For those of you who have enjoyed owning a Linden Home and are looking for a little more real estate, you can check out what is available on the Second Life Land Store and through private-estate purchases and rentals found through Second Life Search. In 2012, you can expect to see more value added to Premium in the form of additional features and content. If you are not yet a Premium member, you can sign up here!

In 2012, the primary engineering focus of Q1 will be server side performance and fixing bugs. In fact, you may have noticed one upgrade deployed this week which should reduce the number of restarts and increase performance for all regions. This kind of work makes for a poor headline, but has enormous payoff for the customer experience. We will also continue to invest in and focus on our customer support, reducing response times and increasing satisfaction.

For landowners, existing land tier pricing will not go up in 2012. In addition, our service and quality focus in 2012 also means that we will be delivering features and policies that we believe will significantly assist merchants and landowners in running a business more profitably.

For creators our first new feature for 2012 will be pathfinding. Because worlds feel most vibrant when they are full of life, one of our next focuses for Second Life is the ability to make high-quality “life” within it. So in 2012, we will be rolling out more advanced features that will allow the creation of artificial life and artificial people to be much smoother. For starters, in Q1, we’ll unveil a new, robust pathfinding system that will allow objects to intelligently navigate around the world while avoiding obstacles. Combined with the tools from Linden Realms this will make the polished creation of full MMORPG’s or people/animal simulators within Second Life easier and of high quality.

In addition to delivering new features and increasing our support for Second Life, we will be launching some completely different products next year not related to Second Life. Some of them will be very experimental, but all will fit within our company’s proud history of enabling creativity, which I hope may interest some of you.

Thank you again for being a customer have a great holiday and a Happy New Year!

So overall, some interesting stuff on the horizon including some non-Second Life products from Linden Lab. I’d be pretty happy if even half of the Second Life changes above were implemented, so here’s hoping.

Second Life in a web browser: beta launches

With minimal fanfare, Linden Lab have launched a beta of their ‘Second Life in a browser’ offering AKA Project Skylight. Found here, you can sign-up and check it out in a session lasting up to an hour.

As always, Tateru Nino has scoped it out in detail, noting that not surprisingly it’s a bandwidth hungry beast and that once you watch the 45-second intro video a selection process occurs that determines whether you get to sign up to check out the web-based browser or not. If you get the normal Second Life sign-up page then you’re out of luck. Like me.

For those who do get to have a look, post your thoughts / impressions so the rest of us can get at least a taste. For me, this is Linden Lab’s only shot in the locker to secure the longer term future of Second Life beyond its plateaued growth. The gloss is there with this launch, here’s hoping the substance matches.

Second Life in a browser on the near horizon

“Project Skylight” is its name apparently, and it’s the project that will hopefully deliver Second Life in a web browser. Tateru Nino got a confirmation from Linden Lab that testing will be occurring, so hopefully we’ll see some concrete examples in the short-term.

It’s a well overdue development, and one that is not so much innovative as essential for Second Life’s longer term survival. I know that for me my time in SL use will increase with a browser based version, as I can do it alongside my other browser activities. It’s a no-brainer really and kudos to the developers making it a reality.

Linden Lab announce Viewer 2.1: voice morphing now available

First – some cynicism on what is otherwise a noteworthy announcement. It’s hard to imagine that it’s spontaneity that led to a fairly significant viewer upgrade a day after laying off 30% of its staff. It’s a move that will be seen through by a lot of Second Life residents for what it is: a carefully planned PR exercise to take the focus off the cutbacks whilst emphasising it’s ‘business as usual’.

On to the detail: aside from a bunch of bug fixes, the flagship for 2.1 beta, is the availability of voice morphing. For an extra fee of L$750 per month you can buy a pack of five voice morphs, with five different packs available. It’s a feature that will go down a treat with a lot of Second Life users and a lot will pay for the privilege – though the Lab obviously forecasted the revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover their wages and salaries bill as it existed a week ago.

You can download the alpha version now. Of course, I’m not sure how you have a 2.1 betaalpha before a 2.01 release version is on the horizon, but maybe that’s just me. I did try checking out Voice Island but was just given an error – either because it’s full or because I tried accessing it from an older Viewer version.

Second Life 2.0: sneak peek of the new viewer

Back in June last year, we gave a sneak peek of the Second Life 2.0 viewer. At the time, Linden Lab stated it was only a very early iteration of what would be the final product. The imminent announcement by the Lab of the public beta for Viewer 2 certainly adds weight to that claim, given the much larger feature set of the near-final product.

Here’s the June 2009 version:

And thanks to some Viewer 2 documents accidentally placed on a public fileshare by the Lab, here’s a glimpse of the new (German) viewer:

(You can view the full size version here)

Cosmetically, things have obviously come a long way over the past 9 months. Under the hood, there’s also some big changes. Shared Media now allows for greater use of web content in-world. The viewer itself has the full web browser feel happening, which will no doubt engender some debate amongst longer term Second Life residents. The right hand favourites bar is certainly a big win compared to the current mess.

There are also other minor changes. Content ratings have had some name changes: ‘PG’ regions are now ‘General’, ‘Mature’ is now ‘Moderate’ and ‘Adult’ remains unchanged. Search functionality has been further tweaked with the Lab claiming a more intuitive search experience. Another plus: the system requirements for Viewer 2 are no different to version 1.23, so no-one is locked out from upgrading. Version 1.23 will remain viable until 30 days after version 2.1 is released – version 1.22 is now on a (deserved) 30-day countdown to extinction.

Overall, Linden Lab deserve kudos for delivering a significantly revamped viewer that should make using Second Life markedly easier for new residents in particular. Linden Lab have consistently stated their commitment to improving the user experience and this is one of the more concrete examples of how that is now being delivered. The proof of Viewer 2′s success will only come with widespread use, but initial impressions are positive. Of course, Linden Lab need to pull off a usability coup to ensure ongoing growth. Combined with potential improvements in grid performance, the horizon seems a little brighter than it has been in a while.

Over to you: what do you think of Viewer 2 from the brief glimpse provided? Is it a revolution or just steady evolution?

Update – here’s some other reactions:

1. Tateru Nino has a great roundup of features.

2. Linden Lab’s announcement, including a quick tour:

HTTP-in: a worthy addition to Second Life communications

Since HTTP-in was deployed in the recent Second Life server update, I’ve had a chance to bend, fold, spindle and mutilate it extensively. Essentially to use and misuse it in pretty much every way I could think of. And you know what? It’s nice, but it isn’t that big a deal.

HTTP-in allows an external application to send data to an object in Second Life, just as is done via email and via XML-RPC. About the only thing that HTTP-in seems to really bring to the table is simplicity and reliability. XML-RPC and email communications to in-world objects are highly centralized, slow, and not actually all that reliable. When you combine that with the setup and teardown requirements (both for you, and for the grid itself), things get pretty ugly.

HTTP-in is busting to its veriest seams with caveats, cautions and conditions, but it actually works and it keeps working, which by this stage – six years in now – must seem like a minor miracle at  the very least. Frankly, though, the single most effective use is signaling.

Unless you’re intending to pull data out of Second Life, you’re best off retrofitting your code to wait for you to poke it via HTTP-in and have it call your Web-server back to retrieve the data. It’s simple, efficient, faster than pushing data through, generally, and pretty much in 90% of cases that’s actually what you’re doing anyway.

Almost every scripted object using HTTP is pushing or polling – and HTTP-in doesn’t seem to offer enough advantages on its own to make sitting down and turning that model on its head worthwhile. Using the system as an external trigger to tell your in-world objects when to poll? Now that works a treat.

What you definitely need, whatever you do with HTTP-in, is you need some external repository that your in-world object can push its URL to, because HTTP-in URLs are darned ephemeral.

Region restarted? The URL becomes invalid and you have to get a new one. Script reset? Invalid. Teleported? Invalid. On rez? Invalid. Jump to the default state? Invalid. Detached or attached? Well, you get the idea.

Putting in everything to take care of that is wordy, but reusable, and almost all of us who have been using the other communications methods already have an HTTP-accessible registry where our in-world objects can store data like this, so it isn’t that huge a deal.

The number of potential incoming URLs is somewhat limited (limits operate in the same basic allocation fashion as prim-limits, and objects attached to an avatar have a pool of 38 possible URLs available to them). There’s also caps and throttles, but if you’re doing generally sensible communications coding, you won’t run into any of them at present – though there are hints that they may be adjusted in future.

All in all, the primary benefit of HTTP-in seems to be faster and simpler signaling to in-world objects, and that goes a long way towards reducing the level of incoming traffic at your HTTP server – and depending on the strictures of your hosting service, that can be a very good thing indeed. It doesn’t make choirs of angels sing, but it’s still a very useful replacement for email and XML-RPC communications.

Beware the bling in Second Life

Linden Lab’s Pastrami Linden has flagged a new feature in the current Release Candidate viewer. The ‘Avatar Rendering Cost’ option will show a number that equates to the cumulative graphics generation impact of that avatar – the more non-standard avatar features you’ve added the higher the number.

It’s a useful tool to determine what may be behind some of the lag experienced in the busier locations but it also risks being a distraction from some of the more serious software and hardware bottlenecks (Australian SL servers anyone?). It cold also be used as a means of excluding people or the imposition of ‘base avatar’ rules in the more popular areas. What do you think – is bling the target here?

Linux Second Life Client goes beta

Linden Lab have announced the availability of a beta-version of its client for Linux users.

There’s a dedicated bunch of Australian Linux users in Second Life and it’d be a fair guess they’re a little excited by this announcement. If you’re a Linux user, post a comment on your experiences with the beta. Good luck!

Second Life viewer now supports Vista

Al the details here. Do have a good read of the specific system requirements, as your PC’s video card may still be the primary cause of any issues.

New WindLight viewer available for Second Life users

All the details here. I love the aesthetic improvements WindLight brings to Second Life, just hoping this release is a little more stable than previous ones…

Update: A new non-WindLight viewer is now available for download

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