OpenSim one step closer to in-world media

OpenSim moved one step closer to full support for Second Life Viewer 2 media on in-world surfaces this week, with the completion of an extensive project to rearchitect the way the open-source software works.

Last week, Linden Lab released a new viewer for Second Life — and compatible worlds like the OpenSim-based grids — which offers support for in-world media such as interactive Web pages, Flash videos, and PowerPoint presentations. However, there was a lack of server-side support in OpenSim for the new feature, as well as for some of the the other updates in the viewer. Bringing OpenSim up to date would be straightforwards, developers said — but the architecture project had to be finished first.

Melanie Thielker

Melanie Thielker

The “refactoring” project was led by Melanie Thielker, CEO of OpenSim hosting company 3D Hosting, and Crista Lopes, professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine and inventor of the hypergrid teleport mechanism that allows avatars to move between different virtual worlds.

“As of today, the refactored version of OpenSim has replaced the previous, 0.6.8 version in trunk,” Thielker told Hypergrid Business yesterday.

On to in-world media? No, not yet.

“The current version is not suitable for production use,” Thielker said. “A stabilization phase of up to one  month will be needed to get it ready.”

BETTER HYPERGRID SECURITY

According to Thielker, the new release of OpenSim offers a number of “under the hood” improvements in the way that OpenSim works, and the way that grids talk to each other.

“The new version offers greatly improved security when hypergridding, especially guarding against impersonation and malicious inventory operations,” she said.

Previously, a grid owner could — theoretically — access the inventories of the avatars who visited that grid, including those who teleported in from other grids. A malicious grid operator could erase inventory items, for example, though there have been no reported instances of this occurring.

One of the problems with security is that OpenSim currently depends on the Second Life viewer and its various derivatives. But the Second Life viewer was initially designed to access only the Second Life grid, which is fully controlled by Linden Lab.

In the Second Life grid, both the individual regions and the central grid management services are all run by the same company. In the OpenSim universe, this is not the case, creating a potential security problem now that the same Second Life viewers are being used to access any of hundreds — or thousands — of private grids and virtual worlds running on strange servers.

Crista Lopes

Crista Lopes

“Inventory access is inherently vulnerable in the Linden viewer, which relies on simulators to proxy requests instead of accessing the inventory servers directly,” said Lopes.

With the new release, inventory items can only be deleted when a user is present on their home grid, not when they hypergrid teleport to other worlds.

” Inventory items now cannot be deleted from the user’s inventory when the user is outside the home grid,” she said. “They can’t be deleted by the user and, especially, they can’t be deleted by rogue simulators that the user happens to run into.

Hypergrid teleports are useful for casual users who want to be able to access multiple grids for socializing or shopping without creating a new avatar on each grid.

However, hypergrid is also of great benefit to companies running their own worlds. Before hypergrid, a company had two choices: locate its virtual offices on a public grid, and give up all control over content and user identities, or locate virtual offices on a private world and lose access to the content — and the people — on bigger grids.

With hypergrid, a company can have its own private grid, with full control over every single object and every single registered user

VIEWER REMORSE

OpenSim is an open source project, run by volunteer programs who often work in their spare time. There is no central management, no deadlines, and projects are undertaken if — and only if — developers feel like doing them.

Not every OpenSim developer is a big fan of the new Second Life viewer.

“It all depends on who is interested in it,” said OpenSim core developer Justin Clark-Casey.

According to Thielker, the Lindens’ new viewer is buggy and temperamental. But even after the bugs are fixed, there are still problems with the design, she said.

“For one, the width of the sidebar is fixed,” she said. “I would like to see it resizeable, and the one component that can’t be resized, the profiles, returned to floaters.

Currently, it is not possible to open multiple profiles at the same time, something I do often.”

In addition, button bars have appeared that waste screen space, she said, and the chat box takes up twice as much space as it did before because each speaker’s name takes up a separate line. In the past, the local chat window and the instant message window were transparent, allowing users to see what was happening in the world behind them. That’s not the case with the new viewer.

“Finally, the practical pie menu, which could be operated almost without looking at it, has been removed in favor of a clumsy multi-tier standard menu,” she said.  “At the end of the day, Viewer 2 is a nice start and it has the potential to go places, but still needs lots of work.”

And until that work is done Thielker, for one, won’t be rushing to implement it for OpenSim.

“I won’t be doing any work on media-on-a-prim for a while,” she said. ” Viewer 2 is simply not an option for me to use, and, because of that, not of interest to develop for.”

Justin Clark-Casey

Justin Clark-Casey

Clark-Casey said that is is “very interested” in implementing OpenSim support for the new viewer, however — but that he won’t have time for the next few week.”It also requires libopenmetaverse to be updated in OpenSim first, which is always a bit of a task,” he added. Libopenmetaverse is a library of messages sent between the viewer and the server.

According to John Hurliman, OpenSim core developer and Intel software engineer, there is at least one new type of message going between Second Life Viewer 2 and the server.”I feel we do need a period of stability …  in order to iron out some presence-refactor technical and usability problems,” Clark-Casey said. ” But that’s just my opinion — we don’t communicate or co-ordinate well enough to have particularly fixed plans.”

maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.