Second Life vs. OpenSim

You cannot compare Second Life and OpenSim. One is a social world. The other is an open source piece of server software.

You can’t even compare Second Life to individual grids using OpenSim as their backend software. Second Life has around a million users logging in each month, while the most active OpenSim-based grid, Avination, has just 9,000. There are an average of 50,000 Second Life users on at any one time — in Avination, there might be as many as a couple of hundred.

So, really, no comparison.

But it’s a holiday weekend, so I’m going to compare the two, anyway.

Second Life OpenSim
If you’re looking for a social group, you can find anything you want. Political activists. Role players. Educators. Artists. Designers. Sexual minorities. If you already have a group, you can bring your group to a grid — or start your own grid.
Large user base for event promoters looking for audiences, retail merchants looking for customers, marketers looking for influence, and activists looking for publicity. Small groups of widely dispersed users. Some merchants may find niche pockets of under-served customers on new grids.
$295 a month per region, plus $1,000 setup fee. Texture uploads cost money. Free if you run it on your own computer or USB stick. Starting at $9.95 a month per region with no setup fee for professional hosting. Up to $100 a month for a high-performance region, or on a high-end commercial grids. Texture uploads are typically free.
Unreliable for mission-critical business meetings due to problems with voice, unexpected region crashes or restarts, login problems, lag, and other issues. But stable enough for classes, in-world talk shows, fund raisers, and social gatherings. Some enterprise users report higher stability than Second Life, due to high-end hardware and plenty of bandwidth. Typical commercial grids have less stability, however. Open grids — where users can connect regions hosted on home computers — can have extremely poor performance and stability on those regions. Grids running older software can also have instability issues due to bugs that have since been fixed. Grids running untested, experimental versions of OpenSim can also suffer due to the appearance of new bugs that haven’t yet been fixed.
Lots of content available both through in-world merchants and freebie shops and through a gigantic web-based marketplace. Content slowly becoming available from in-world merchants on commercial grids and for download from websites. As grids mature, infringing content in freebie stores on open grids is discovered and removed, and replaced with non-infringing original content. Some merchants beginning to offer DRM-free content on websites and in hypergrid-enabled shopping areas.
Some content protection and digital rights management technology available to protect content creators, but content theft is still frequently reported. Content protection is completely up to the grid owner. Some commercial grids, including Avination and InWorldz, have the same level of content protection as Second Life. Other grids offer more freedom to users, allowing them to back up their inventories or regions. Private grids run by companies, schools, groups or individuals can put as much or as little content protection in place as they want or need.
Linden Lab owns all the content in Second Life. Users just get a license to use it. Linden Lab can remove individual items from user inventories, entire regions from the grid, or shut down any user account at any time. Individual grid owners determine the content use policies on their grids. Some commercial grids follow Linden Lab model. Others allow their residents to have rights to their content. Meanwhile, companies, schools, groups and individuals who run their own grids have full ownership of those grids — similar to the way they have full ownership of their websites.
Linden Lab allows individual users to make backups of content in which they themselves have created every part of the object. Individual grid owners determine backup policies. Some, like InWorldz and Avination, mirror those of Second Life. Other grids allow more backup options. Owners of private grids can backup any objects, can make backups of entire inventories of individual users, of entire regions, or of the whole grid.
All Second Life land is provided by a single vendor, Linden Lab. However, resellers and middlemen may step in to subdivide or improve virtual land. More than 50 different vendors rent land on individual grids or as standalone regions, mini-grids, or run full grids for customers —  not counting in-world developers who subdivide and resell land in individual commercial grids.
Second Life uses the commercial Havoc physics engine. OpenSim grid owners can take advantage of OpenSim’s modular nature to use any of a number of either open source or commercial physics engines. Most OpenSim grids tend to use the default physics provided with the OpenSim software, ODE, which is inferior to that available in Second Life particularly when it comes to vehicle physics.
Second Life uses LSL, the Linden Scripting Language. OpenSim currently supports more than 95 percent of all LSL commands, and adds a number of unique OSSL commands. Users can also write their own scripting commands and include them as an OpenSim module — or create a completely new scripting engine. InWorldz, for example, has deployed its own scripting engine, called Phlox.
Second Life uses a voice system from Vivox. Grid owners can also choose to install modules for a couple of different free voice systems, including Freeswitch and Whisper/Mumble, or buy a commercial license. Avination, for example, has a license to Vivox, the same voice system used in Second Life.
Second Life uses the Linden dollar currency. Users can also make off-grid transactions via PayPal or PayPal Micropayments. OpenSim grid owners can create their own in-grid currency. Many commercial grids, including Avination and InWorlds, have done this. As long as all regions on the grid are hosted by the grid owners, this is as secure as the currency system in Second Life. OpenSim grids can also install modules that use the multi-grid OMC currency from Virwox, or enable in-world payments via PayPal or PayPal Micropayments. With both OMC and PayPal, final confirmation of transactions take place on a webpage, for maximum security.
There are several third-party exchanges that trade Linden dollars for US dollars or Euros. However, officially, the currency is not actually owned by users but is licensed, and Linden Lab can terminate that license at any time without a refund. The OMC currency can be traded for US dollars, Euros, and Linden dollars on the Virwox exchange. It is accepted on 28 different grids, and if a particular grid goes out of business, the currency will still retain its value. Avination’s currency is also now traded on Virwox, but is unlikely to retain value if the grid closes. Other in-grid currencies can only be bought from their grid owners and may or may not be redeemable in the future.
Teleports only between regions on the Second Life grid. Teleports between any hypergrid-enabled grids by using a hypergate, link region, or simply entering the hypergrid address in the Map dialog’s search field. Currently, hypergrid teleports are limited — it doesn’t work between grids running versions of OpenSim that are too far apart, or between regions located too far apart on the map, and doesnt support friends or instant messages. These limitations are expected to be addressed in future releases.

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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. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

14 Responses

  1. very cool and succinct comparison of the current state of affairs thanks maria

  2. Ryan says:

    This was exactly what I was looking for. Thank you so much for doing such a useful comparison!

  3.' Caliburn Susanto says:

    My preference (and advice) is the same as ever and you're right, no there is no comparison (but, yes there is).

    If you want to have a rich, diverse, aesthetically enriching, fun, and on many levels fulfilling experience then log into Second Life®, it can't be beat. And you can do all that for FREE, so money is not a point of comparison (but you won't want to, because it's just too much fun owning content to enrich your personal experience). HOWEVER …

    If you feel the need to own space, build in solitude or on a large scale (you can import your creations to other grids, including SL, later), create an estate for your own use that is not a financial burden, do uploads for free (in some cases), or otherwise want to save money where the ownership of "land" is involved, then get yourself an additional account on some OpenSim-based VW of choice (mine is SpotON3D, but YMMV) and have at it. It's fun!

    But don't let anyone convince you the OpenSim alternative is equivalent to SL in performance, variety, diversity, quality, or content. I'm not going to list deficiencies, just going to encourage you to open an account in one or more of them and GO. Go see. The ultimate comparison is your personal satisfaction.

    Avatarians are citizens of the Internet, not of any one particular grid. Diversify to find your personal niche.

    •' Jerry Angel says:

      My diversity I experienced in SL was some dirty clown that gave me vulgar messages to harass me. I experienced that. SL allowing stalking tools and then not doing anything about it. I also experience people in SL with bad attitudes. I was in Mauve sandbox the other day trying to communicate with a spanish speaking woman. Typing words to her in hope she would take a word here and there and finally understand me. But some loser friend of hers says she can't speak English. What are you some socially dysfunctional person being a pervert or some dirty talk just because I was trying to enjoy a chat with someone that doesn't know my language. So of course I had to battle back at her and tell her she must have been abused to come off with that to me. So really a lot of them are crazy anyway. It makes you not even want to say hi to them. I don't need creeps like that around. Not to mention SL isn't much to write home about as far as scenic value goes either. Lots of clutter. Lag also. So lets not pretend SL is a virtual paradise. I don't like also how SL charges you for their Tier levels too. Once I was in this tier for 30 days or so and they somehow tried to justify charging me for 3 months. How I will never know. I finally begged enough for them to reverse it. Not to mention if you are at a certain tier for 1 day or even one moment into the next pay cycle you have to pay for 30 days of that tier. Lets get real. If I was using that tier for a day or two don't you think it is gouging me to take the full 30 days of my money? I find that dirty. So I guess I would rather be my own boss and have my own world far from the madness of SL. If you have all your lovers over there then stay in SL. I don't know why you think OpenSimulator is solitary confinement. Create your huge OpenSimulater virtual world. Then tell all your friends to come join you. How lonely is that? lol. Not lonley at all. Good luck.

  4.' daleinnis says:

    Decent comparison! One correction: "Linden Lab owns all the content in Second Life" is not the case. The Second Life Terms of Service requires that the Lab be granted a license to use the software, but ownership remains with the original owner/creator; see and note the title: "You retain any and all Intellectual Property Rights in Content you submit to the Service".

    • Dale —

      Yes, if you upload anything to Second Life, you own the rights to the original content. So if you're a company, and you upload an image with your logo on it to put on your virtual building, you don't lose the rights to your own logo.

      However, it's hard to say that you "own" in-world content if you cannot transfer that ownership and all rights associated with it. For example, if you make an object in Second Life you cannot transfer that object to someone else in such a way that they can export it.

      However, if you created the object OUTSIDE of Second Life, and just upload it to Second Life, you can transfer that original object by simply emailing it to someone else, and you can transfer your right to it as well, and the recipient can do anything they like with it.

      Also, if you lose access to your user account (because, say, SL decides you violated the TOS, or there was a billing issue, or some other administrative problem) you can be shut out of your account and lose access to your entire inventory.

      The Second Life TOS doesn't say that you own the stuff you created — or bought — INSIDE Second Life. All you're doing is getting a temporary license to use it.

      So if you're a school or company, and you bought a set of textures to use inside Second Life, you cannot export those textures or use them in other contexts – no matter what agreement you reached with the original creator. However, if you buy these textures outside of Second Life, then the agreement with the seller is what's important, and you can use those textures on any platform that your agreement allows.

      Enterprise users who invest a great deal of money in their Second Life builds should seriously consider buying as much of their content as they can outside of Second Life, in the form of raw textures, meshes, or OpenSim-compatible OAR, IAR or XML files, and then uploading the content to Second Life as needed.

      The creators do lose the DRM features they are familiar with — but DRM, when it works at all, is aimed primarily at retail users, not enterprise customers like schools and corporations.

      •' daleinnis says:

        Everything you say is quite true, I was responding just to your actual statement, that "Linden Lab owns all the content in Second Life"; that statement is untrue. The fact that "it's really inconvenient or even nearly impossible in some cases to get stuff out of Second Life" may *feel* alot like LL owning it all, but there are important legal distinctions.

  5.' iliveisl says:

    nicely done Maria!

  6. CryEngine & Blue Mars vrs Second Life/Opensim

  7. Opensim should advance to implementing CryEngine 3…

  8. Jerry Angel says:

    I am in the process of getting my second system up and running again. Ordered a new hard drive and power supply. I will install Linux/Suse operating system on it and use it as my server for OpenSimulator. If I can have a few regions of my own to create a huge nature sanctuary that will be great. Sure the performance of my sim might not be the best but for me and my online girlfriend that lives in the Philippines will certainly love to take a stroll in it and talk together on it. Maybe have a couple guests. The thing is this will be my world. It looks just like Second life and it won't cost me a fortune to run. And maybe I will have the pros host it later who knows. But I will enjoy trying to host it myself. Maybe I will pay for a faster DSL line. That might be pro enough for me. I am glad I stumbled upon Maria's site. I may have never known about all this. Sure I saw all the sites before. I found OSGrid in the past. I read a little on OpenSimulator.or many months ago. But I thought it was just another wannabe virtual world with some lame attempt at creating virtual worlds. So I moved on. I never payed them much attention. But now I know the truth. OpenSimulator will take off like wildfire soon. It is doing it now. But soon after many of us learn how to host our worlds we will show our friends. People will be helpful and give them good advice. So owning your own region or sim isn't for the rich anymore. Or at least with some money to burn. Its for the common virtual world enthusiast like me.

  9.' Lord says:

    How does Open Sim and Second Life compare to RealXtend's Tundra Project ?
    How does RealXtend's Tundra platform actually work in comparison to the two platforms it sprang from ?

  10. Lord —

    I wrote a long(ish) article about this back in April:

    Basically, the realXtend project, since it wasn't compatible with the standard SL viewers, never really took off in a big way, despite its early roll out of mesh. And, now that mainline OpenSim supports mesh… well…

    There are no public grids running on realXtend (by comparison, there are a couple of grids already running on the Aurora-Sim spinoff of OpenSim). There is no ecosystem of realXtend hosting and content providers — by comparison, there are more than 50 different places to get your OpenSim region.

    Instead, realXtend seems to have found a niche with game developers, as a back end system.