Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thinking About OpenSim: Goodbye, Centralized Grids?

Whither SL?
Location: Rezzable's OpenSim Regions

When I rezzed as IggyO Heritage in OpenSim, it was my first use of this technology. What I had expected to be buggy and hard to access was instead smooth, fast, and at least as intuitive as Second Life.

For old hands in the virtual world business, the picture I am about to paint will not be new. But to many educators new to Second Life, it may point the way forward.

Instead of a large grid with thousands of regions, hosted by one company controlling pricing, imagine an archipelago of small grids, tailored to certain uses, various adaptations of SF or fantasy roleplay, adult grids, governmental simulations, museums, educational grids. They'd compete for pricing and, in many cases, offer free services. So far, this is where OpenSim has gone.

Then imagine an avatar teleporting from grid to grid without losing inventory or violating someone's intellectual property (a complaint about the program Second Inventory). To do that, a company would market compatible avatars and accessories, not build grids. These avatars would be housed on our local machines, then uploaded to an OpenSim grid when we log on. We'd honor IP by buying the software from the creators, or obeying open source licensing.

Having just met with our I.T. folks, about moving Sketchup and Autocad files of buildings into SL and other grids, I wondered: if it can be done for buildings, why not avatars?

When that technological development occurs, an avatar service conforming to OpenSim standards, I don't think SL will be more than, as one friend put it, "The AOL of the next decade." It will be present, a pioneer, but no longer the hip place for the most creative content.

This probability must be driving Linden Lab crazy, since their (as well as OpenLife's) model of one big metaverse has been essential to their financial success.

Back to Tut for a moment, as a test case. For casual users, the Heritage Key client will prove easy to download, install, and start. One's avatar appears in a well designed orientation area, to my experienced eyes. The real test will be to get colleagues who've never used a virtual world to try it.

In the end, such micro-grids may prove ideal for users who can host a server and do not wish to spend the money to own SL regions, especially when OS grids are more easily connected than at present. To see where some of this may be going, consider Meerkat and Hypergrid, viewers that permit logging on to multiple grids from one client and, for Meerkat, uploading Autocad files.

As Meerkat's creators put it, their product lets users "have the freedom to make the sort of changes that Linden Lab has traditionally been unable to integrate." Linden Lab should be paying close attention; they love to ignore problems, such as my inability to capture video on my Mac client as I once could do.

As long as the competition is weak, LL will not have to make customer service a priority.

In a few year? We'll see.

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