Why Firestorm should be your default viewer

Like many folks, I started out in OpenSim using Hippo, then graduated to Imprudence when Hippo was no longer supported.

Today, Imprudence is still the recommended viewer on many grids, including OSgrid.

Then, because I wanted mesh and media-on-a-prim, I started using the official Second Life viewer. It took a little fiddling to get it to log into OpenSim grids, but media-on-a-prim was important to me, so it was worth it.

But my recommendation is that grids consider switching their recommended viewers to Firestorm, instead. I recently switched, and I’ve been happy with the experience.

Here are some reasons why.

Firestorm is a modern viewer

It’s based on the V3 Second Life viewer, which means it supports mesh and media-on-a-prim, modern outfits, the new floating menus — all the latest bells and whistles.

It can take a little time to get used to the new interface, but the biggest problems people had with it when it first came out have been fixed, and it’s now pretty usable. For example, you can move buttons around to where you want them on the screen. I never use the camera view button, so I get rid of it, but I like having the inventory, map, and outfits button on the right side of the screen, so that’s where I put them.

Mesh support is also nice. Even if you never plan to upload a mesh object, it’s good to be able to see the mesh objects that other people have uploaded. Plus, if someone is wearing mesh clothing, you don’t have to see them naked. Which could get awkward.

Finally, my favorite feature, media-on-a-prim. It allows folks to put any Website on any surface. You could play videos, show slides, collaboratively edit Google Spreadsheets or text documents, sell stuff directly from your Website. And you could use it more creatively, as well. For example, you could put a link to a Webpage on any face of a prim, to create easy-to-update virtual books, role playing guides, animated talking heads, interactive maps… there are a lot of possibilities there that haven’t yet been explored.

I use media-on-a-prim to set up a virtual control room in my company office. I can see my email inbox, status indicators for all the Hyperica gates, latest visitor reports, and all other data I need to work in-world.

Using media-on-a-prim in my OpenSim virtual office.

Again, even if you personally don’t use media-on-a-prim, it’s just too nice a feature for other people to ignore. So, over time, you might be missing out on some functionality.

And there are some more features in the latest viewers, aimed at improving the quality of the experience, stability, speed — by sticking with an older viewer, you’re missing out on all the good stuff that’s coming along. Want more details? Just check out the change log from their August update.

Firestorm is actively maintained

If you to go the viewer’s official website you’ll see regular software updates and news posts.

By comparison, the last stable release of Imprudence came out in the fall of 2010, and the last beta release in the fall of 2011.

Activity is contagious. The fact that new updates of Firestorm come out regularly inspires other developers to find and fix bugs, and to add new features. After all, why bother contributing code to a dead project, where your fix will never see the light of day?

Plus, the fact that developers are actively working on the viewer means that there’s a possibility of hiring them to do custom work if you need to, for a company, school, or commercial grid. Sure, there are still developers who know their way around Imprudence but those guys are getting harder and harder to find.

Firestorm supports OpenSim

This is a big deal. Last spring, Linden Lab announced a new licensing policy, in which viewer developers who wanted the cool new pathfinding code from Havoc would have to drop support for OpenSim. Viewers had the option of not adding the new code, of focusing exclusively on Second Life, focusing just on OpenSim, or releasing two versions of their viewer — one for OpenSim and one for Second Life.

The Firestorm team opted for option number four, and decided to fork their viewer code.

Meanwhile, Second Life cut off OpenSim access via its official viewer in August. As a result, users who want to see meshes and media-on-a-prim in OpenSim can’t use the Second Life viewer anymore. Many grids reacted immediately, no longer recommending the use of the official Second Life viewer to their residents. Kitely, for example, used to allow the use of the official Second Life viewer as one of the viewers that could be used to access their grid through the proprietary Kitely plugin. Instead, Kitely now has Firestorm as its recommended viewer, and eight other viewers, including Imprudence, as possible alternatives.

The Firestorm team has already added some OpenSim-friendly features to their viewer, and opened an office on OSgrid, the largest grid on the OpenSim platform.

The new Firestorm Headquarters. (Image courtesy Jessica Lyon.)

For example, one major difference between accessing Second Life and accessing OpenSim is that there is just one main Second Life grid and more than 200 different OpenSim grids — and the number is growing quickly. Almost half of these grids are not hypergrid-enabled, and require users to create new accounts and log in directly. Sure, a lot of those closed grids are private school or company grids, but there are also some large commercial grids on the list, including InWorldz, Avination, and Kitely. This means that OpenSim users need a convenient way to switch between grids.

Another OpenSim-specific issue is hypergrid teleports themselves. Since grids can choose any coordinates they want for their regions, users sometimes have to jump large distances to travel between grids, or travel between two regions with exactly the same coordinates. This isn’t possible in Second Life, so the fact that these kinds of teleports fail isn’t a problem for Second Life-only viewers — but a significant inconvenience for OpenSim users.

Similarly, OpenSim allows megaregions, megaprims, region and inventory exports, and a lot of other functionality that has, so far, received only limited support from viewer developers.

With Firestorm’s embrace of OpenSim, we might start to see progress on these issues.

Firestorm is stable and popular

Maybe I should have led with this, but according to Second Life’s own data, Firestorm is the most popular and most stable viewer on that grid, outdoing even their own official viewer.

Who wouldn’t want to be using the most stable and most popular viewer?

Plus, a large user base means that the developers have plenty of motivation — and feedback — for continuing to improve the viewer.

Sure, there are niche viewers out there for specific applications. For example, I personally still use the Imprudence viewer to import and export in-world objects. OpenSim Creations and Linda Kellie are two sites with a wide variety of free content saved in Imprudence-compatible XML format.  Firestorm doesn’t — yet — support this format.

I also like the Teapot Viewer because it show region coordinates on the Map. In Firestorm, you have to go to the “Help” menu, click on “About Firestorm” and divide the location coordinates by 256. Okay, it’s a minor inconvenience, but when you have to keep calculating coordinates because you’re working on a hypergrid directory, it can get annoying.

There are other specialized viewers as well, such as Niran’s Viewer for photography buffs, the Restrained Love Viewer, the text-only Radegast Metaverse Client, and many others. A great resource is Inara Pey’s Viewer Round-up page.

But unless you’re using one of these other viewers for a specific reason, I recommend that typical OpenSim users start to make the transition to Firestorm, and OpenSim grids start recommending it as the preferred viewer for their grids.

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.

  • I also love that you can use Firestorm with several kinds of shells around it. So it is a small step to switch from Imprudence to Firestorm if you set the ‘ default settings’ to Phoenix. Also V3, Firestorm and Hybrid can be selected. Really great.

  • Personally, I don’t much like the Firestorm viewer. I find the current version leaches memory after a while and can get sluggish. It is rather overloaded for my needs anyway and I don’t have any real use for MOAP that a browser can’t serve better opening to a full screen and left open to tabbed pages in the background. But, each to their own needs and preferences on that one. And, of course, Firestorm is more geared to serving Second Life in it’s current form more than Opensim so I would rather wait and see what the Firestorm team do with a forked OS version. Teapot and Imprudence still serve most of my needs currently and I would rather see Teapot developed further with XML Import/Export added. I like the way it’s internal browser handle’s web pages too (they all seem to do it is slightly different ) and the HOP URL protocol works well for grid addresses before login. I still use Teapot to login to SL regardless since I don’t bother much with what SL is doing. I only deal with my own RPG sims in SL now anyway. I haven’t surfed around SL regions in over a year and I don’t buy anything there any more. I use to have 5 sims in SL up to a year ago and I always spent a lot on content. I just have the 2 sims now and the only money I spend is what I pay to the Land Baron and that is offset by what the players donate or spend in the market.

    I have had discussions with my SL role players about their viewers of choice too and most do use Firestorm and some are miffed that they will have to keep two versions – one for SL and another for OS. More of my role players are now grid hopping to follow RPG storylines so switching viewers is an inconvenience to be sure. I have actually been recommending Teapot to them and some are using it. But, that all said,I really don’t see why Firestorm team can’t use mode switching between SL and OS anyway so the grid manager can stay in and people don’t have to have two versions. Of course if they are worried LL will block their viewer then it’s understandable but if it had mode switching so the Havoc issue didn’t arise then blocking the viewer would just prove the point that LL’s action is just as much about blocking Opensim as complying with the Havoc license.

    Anyway, I will wait and see what the Opensim flavor of Firestorm is like and how it performs before making a commitment to using it on a regular basis.

    • Gaga —

      Can’t folks use non-Havoc viewers to log into SL and OpenSim with the same viewer? I use my Firestorm viewer for both — just pick my SL identity instead of one of the OpenSim ones when I log in.

      Or do your guys need the Havoc pathfinding juiciness?

      • Yes, Kokua will do both as well. Provided you don’t want to view navmesh, you’re OK afaik.

      • Actually, you are probably right, Maria and thank you to Lette Ponnier for explaining Firestorm team’s position on the Havoc issue. I will have to re-assess all of this in the light of what I am finding out here. Obviously, I want the best possible experience from the viewer we, my role play friends and I, use and I will have to speak to the others again to find out if pathfinding tools are important to them. I think many people tend to upgrade before considering what the viewer will actually do and then get annoyed if they find what they are use to and comfortable with is taken from them in the upgrade.

        Regardless of the Havoc issue and whether LL are being deliberately obstructive if the Firestorm viewer for Opensim is still capable of logging into SL as well as OS so people don’t have to get separate versions this will make life simple and better for players who don’t have the time of patience to switch viewers.

        Now Armin Weatherwax is working on Firestorm too I am hopeful the Opensim Metaverse will benefit for we sorely need a viewer that addresses many of the issues our platform has to tackle. I would like to see the Hop URL protocol implemented in all flavors of Opensim viewer too.

        Another thing is the opening splash screen where the SL version show cases regions and events it would be great to have similar showcasing for Opensim and even include a search function to find grids by their main focus be it education, social, community, role play or gaming. Opensim is a whole lot different than Second Life and none of it controlled by one Overlord like Linden Labs so it is important to enable new and old users to be able to find grids and possibly even Hypergrid locations right from that Opening splash screen. I would even be willing to pay premium rates for advertising on the opening splash screen of a popular viewer.

        I will be exploring all this and grid search in a post later this week on my blog http://metaverse-traveller.blogspot.co.uk/ hopefully and I am nearly done building a php/Mysql grid search to test ideas in Teapot viewer. I don’t care who comes up with the goody’s but I will welcome it with open arms.

  • I’m using Kokua. I appreciate that development until recently has been episodic compared to Firestorm but it does everything I need and its more focused feature set is arguably a plus for educators.

  • bah! ya dumped my chair! *thought i’d miss that eh?*

    okay, seriously, thanks for the recommendation – i started with Meerkat! then hippo, and now Imp 1.3.2 – it’s time for me to make the move and try Firestorm

    thanks for the in-depth look at it =)

    • I pulled an old photo from the archive! I still have your chair! LOL

      Actually, I do have to confess something. I grabbed the first snapshot I saw that illustrated my use of media-on-a-prim — and it was actually taken using the SLv3 viewer, not Firestorm.

  • Lette Ponnier

    Thank you for the review, Maria. Very informative. I have a couple of things I would like to add or clarify.

    You wrote, “It can take a little time to get used to the new interface,” and from the wording of what follows, it sounds as if you’re using Firestorm’s default mode. But as Nick pointed out in his comment, you can make it look very much like a V1 viewer. For those moving onto a V3 for the first time, this can make it a much easier transition. The preferences and menus will still be more V3-style, but by launching the viewer in Phoenix mode (using the dropdown on the login screen) or by selecting the Vintage skin (in Preferences > Skins tab), you can make Firestorm look like this: http://wiki.phoenixviewer.com /_media/phoenix_mode1.jpg That’s not Phoenix, Imprudence, or LL 1.23 — that’s Firestorm.

    The other point I wanted to clarify concerned Gaga’s comments here:

    “I have had discussions with my SL role players about their viewers of choice too and most do use Firestorm and some are miffed that they will have to keep two versions – one for SL and another for OS” and “I really don’t see why Firestorm team can’t use mode switching between SL and OS anyway so the grid manager can stay in and people don’t have to have two versions.”

    The OpenSim version of Firestorm WILL be able to connect to Second Life. Users will only need to use both if they want to use tools that require Havok while they’re in SL. These will include things like pathfinding capabilities and improvements to rigged mesh upload. If they don’t need those, then they will be able to install only the OpenSim version of Firestorm and use it to connect to both Second Life and their other grids. Due to Havok’s licensing policies, it is not possible to have both Havok and OpenSim accessibility within the same build. Trust me, the team would have MUCH preferred to do it that way. It wouldn’t just be easier on users, it would be easier on the entire team.

    • Lette Ponnier

      Just to be a lil’ more accurate, I should have written *full* pathfinding capabilities above. The current and OpenSim versions of Firestorm have most of them, but there are a few that will need Havok, like viewing navmesh.

      – Lette, of the Phoenix Firestorm Project support team

  • Mister Acacia

    I would like to also add that the Phoenix Firestorm Project hold classes for Firestorm. The topics include the very basics and differences in skins and modes to the numerous preferences to configuring and using the built-in AO and Contact Sets. We even discuss bake failure and some ways to fix it and general basic troubleshooting. Our classes are held in the SL grid every day of the week and our schedule is posted on http://wiki.phoenixviewer.com/firestorm_classes. Classes run around an hour, and we usually stick around for a while after the class for an informal Q&A session.

    As one of the instructors, I strongly encourage those new to Firestorm as well as veteran ‘Stormers to check out our classes.

    Mister Acacia – Phoenix Firestorm Project Support Team

    • everest

      i never needed classes for cool vl, singularity or the classic (1-19-xxx+up) viewer. i chucked firestorm after trying its first versions, which crashed me hard each time i started it. if it wasnt for the add-to-personal-feed i would probably still use cool vl.

  • SignpostMarv Martin

    Radegast has optional 3d, so isn’t strictly text-only.

    I’ve found that Imprudence seems to choke on some of the higher-prim Linda Kellie builds, so I have to use Singualrity for those, but I generally do still use Imprudence as my go-to viewer for building as I rarely use mesh content. Were I to use mesh content on a regular basis, I’d likely go for Singularity/Firestorm.

    p.s. sometimes Imprudence gets the wrong root prim on import.

  • I had to switch away from Firestorm briefly yesterday because I needed to upload images and take snapshots — Firestorm crashes for me each time I do something, a possible conflict with my SkyDrive.

    It’s apparently a known issue with the viewer:

    http://wiki.phoenixviewer.com/skydrive

    (And, in fact, other V3 viewers as well: https://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-28843)

    The solution seems to be editing registry keys, which I’m going to hold off on doing, hoping that the next update fixes this.

    • SignpostMarv Martin

      Just curious how well firestorm preforms under a virtual machine on a system that provides access to GPU hardware. A slightly more complicated workaround to editing one’s registry, perhaps 😛

  • Fleep Tuque

    I still primarily use Imprudence simply because all of the v3 viewers feel laggy and crashy by comparison, including Firestorm. I don’t have an old junky PC either! With 12G RAM and pretty good video card, you’d think the v3 viewers wouldn’t phase me, but alas, not so. I always find myself wondering how anyone gets anything done with them because I seem to spend half my time relogging. I dunno, maybe it’s my particular machine.

    Maybe I’ll try Firestorm again, I am SUPER happy they’ve added Opensim support, so want to support and encourage that either way. Many thanks to the Firestorm team for all the hard work I’m sure that requires – know that it’s appreciated!

    • WesternPrairie

      Same here, firestorm and Harper both seem more sluggish than imprudence, and they use a lot more resources.

      Last time I checked they were using around 50% of the machine’s processors and ram if I remember right, and I have a 2 x 2 GHz Dual-core intel Xeon mac with 12 gb of ram. On a laptop I remember the viewer alone on it’s lowest settings was using about 50% of that, viewers use a lot of system resources to begin with, but firestorm and harper both seemd to use more.

      I have used imprudence 1.3.2 for a long time, it has no issues with high prim builds, I have a 9,000 + prim building on one region I built with it. It’s been real stable and unlike the mac firestorm- it doesn’t have that streaming music bug.

  • You say Firestorm is a “modern” viewer as though Phoenix, Singularity, Cool VL Viewer, and Imprudence aren’t. The only appreciable difference between the latest versions of Singularity and Phoenix and the crashtastic mess that is Firestorm is the graphic user interface (GUI). If we compare Firestorm to Phoenix and Singularity, all three have mesh capability, some degree of wearing multiple layers, and other features common to the current Linden Lab viewer. But with Firestorm you get a much noticeably lower frame rate, more crashes, fonts that actually hurt many users’ eyes, and a user interface that literally requires hours of special training simply to learn how to use. Small wonder it is behind Phoenix for popularity. The only reason it now claims the #1 spot for most-used viewer is that the developers stopped offering updates to Phoenix, which was always superior both in terms of graphics, stability, and ease of use. To claim that viewers based on the V1 GUI are somehow outmoded even as those viewers continue to be updated with V3 features is dishonest.

    Now that Phoenix has been abandoned, I predict that Singularity and Cool VL will eventually rise to take the top spot for most-used SL viewer. They continue to be updated to include the latest features, are far more stable, are much easier to use, and best of all, have developers who don’t continually insult their user bases.

    • pat

      Firestorm is not able to deal correctly with voice, music & movies. Something LL viewer does perfectly (quite normal in a multimedia game….)

      Firestorm quality is not consistent too : something bad & some good. Avatar rezzing as become too slow with firestorm, so now I use LL viewer. No more crashes and time lost

      • Benjamin Eugene NElson

        This is no longer true, a year later. All of it.

        And frankly, I wonder if it’s not your computer and/or connection.

    • Guest

      That’s funny, I’ve never crashed in Phoenix and I’ve been using it since it was Emerald. Sure it’s not your computer?

  • Cool VL Viewer will soon have ‘Media-On-A-Prim’ capability: http://sldev.free.fr/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=81&view=unread#p4411

  • Bri Hasp

    Singularity is my daily viewer of choice because it is the only, TMK, that gives me the criteria I require. — 1) Viewer 1 UI, — 2) Viewer 3 features — 3) Stability — 4) Speed.
    Having used about every offering available, I only retain Imprudence, Niran and Dolphin loaded for testing and special situations.

  • Vbinnia Radek

    Realise this is old news but felt the urge to comment on it. I have to agree with Michael’s and Fleep’s comments about Firestorm. I had to move away from Imprudence because I wanted to experiment with mesh. I don’t like the SL viewer interface, or Firestorm’s, even with the retro interface engaged ( that is all phrased to try and be polite ). But the problems go way beyond that. I for my sins, use Debian Linux of various flavours on a quad core CPU and GTX550 Ti graphics card with the latest proprietary drivers, no slouch of a PC and shouldn’t have many problems with modern viewers. I also run my own server with 5 regions attached to OSGrid, which is an advantage when it comes to evaluating these viewers.

    The reality is not encouraging. This is my experience in brief. Imprudence is snappy to use even with the graphics set a high as possible, always returned around 30-40 fps mark with the occasional dip to the top teens, rarely crashed, but does have issues with inventories occasionally as well as animations. As I have more than one PC that I can run simultaneously it’s possible to log in with an alt at the same time to observe how other people would see what is going on; that can be quite revealing.

    Firestorm immediately cause me problems because of a font library that makes it crash on start up. Without going into details this has taken me 6 weeks to find a solution, and then only by chance. Being forced to install an older version of my OS in a spare corner of my hard drive just to be able to import meshes until I could find a proper solution did not make me happy.

    The next problem was the dire frame rate, which like all newer viewers is caused by shadows if you have them enabled; but even with them disabled, I am only getting on average 30 fps very rarely higher, with shadows engaged this drops to around 15fps and lower depending on what is going on. Not only is this bad enough, but it will occasionally freeze solid for no apparent reason, leaving me having to resort to the command line to kill it. With Debian wheezy it will freeze the entire Xserver leaving no choice other the the reset button.

    Together with the maddeningly infuriating interface ( any of them ), which I know is not Firestorm’s fault, and some things just not working correctly, or missing, I know all the development focus has been on SL in the past, but I suspect the ground to catch up now for Opensim may stretch things more than a little, all in all it’s a disheartening experience to try and use, and doesn’t endear me to it. It’s only virtue is that it renders scenes beautifully, so for photography … the choice is yours. I can see that I personally will be only using it for uploading meshes and keeping an eye on any future improvements that may occur.

    Singularity on the other hand felt more like an old friend the first time I fired it up ( with none of the problems I had with Firestorm ). The interface is for all intents and purposes the same as Imprudence. Finding things in familiar places, and unlike Firestorm, not buried under seemingly endless unrelated menus or pop ups and floaters that seem to jump to odd placements on the screen or be duplicated more than once, helps a great deal. Singularity was not without problems, and I found a few bugs which were duly reported. What surprised me was the fast responses from Siana Gearz explaining some of the Opensim server/viewer problems, ( some of which I must admit went over my head, but in a nice way ) , and who even visited my regions on OSGrid to try and isolate some of them, as far as I am concerned this was above and beyond the call of duty and very much appreciated.

    With a few tweaks Singularity is now running sweetly with graphics on Ultra and the Full Monty engaged and still returning acceptable frame rates in the mid 20 to mid 30 fps range consistently, only dropping into the mid teens occasionally. I can view meshes OK and do everything I could with Imprudence, in fact if I disable shadows it is Imprudence. It also renders scenes extremely well btw, with a marked visible difference if you run Imprudence alongside it.

    You will gather from this that it has become my viewer of choice. It is IMHO a plugin replacment for Imprudence, which is ageing rapidly. Singularity only lacks mesh upload, it is not perfect but it doesn’t crash, lockup, or hog my system, and works well at least for me, Firestorm doesn’t!

  • steelcorez

    This is highgly a personal opinion of what viewer you should run but I wouldn’t recommend firestorm to anyone. I have a decent PC, 12 GB RAM, a graphics card that keeps up with the modern games of today and yet Firestorm makes my entire system crash.. (windows 7 64 bit) – however Nirans Viewer for example, which has all the goodies Firestorm has – and more is much more fluent and smooth in everything, though it is a viewer used by photographers and artists… the viewer is so much better in my opinion.

    • Hurrdurr

      Niran Viewer hasn’t had OpenSim support in over a year, durrrrrrr

      • Roger

        I don’t trust these 3rd party viewers it would be wise to just develop
        one in house as they all are depending on the “titanic grid” otherwise you risk everyone’s security .. better safe then sorry

  • Lindsey Woolsey

    What you fail to mention is that Firestorm consistently crashes even on the newest hardware, a large number of users have problems with it and instead of fixing known issues the FS team takes it’s ques from Linden Lab and keeps adding more useless crap to the viewer instead. Ongoing memory leakage and the freeze/crash syndrome make the viewer darned near useless. Perhaps the team ought to dump the egocentric Jessica, find somebody else to orchestrate development and GET ON WITH IT!

    • Arielle

      Way old thread but I will add that with Firestorms latest move of blocking releases from only a few months back for a “common user experience” in S/L, they have even further distanced themselves from being my favourite viewer. The unnecessarily confusing interface is just a mess which other V3 viewers including Kokuah have been able to simplify making it much more user friendly for those of us who came from V1 viewers.

      The most aggravating aspect of Firestorm however is the error:

      “We are unable to decode the file storing your credentials.” which requires a complete uninstall and deletion of every Firestorm viewer or ones based on it. I have seen this happen on several of the machines I use to login and have reached a point where once I install them, they will not be reinstalled. So ends my 4+ year relationship with it being my favourite viewer.

      Cest la vie. At the top of the heap one day and the trash the next.

      • Joe Builder

        Also with the extra features added in Firestorm the hackers now can see many regions away and take assets and XML files more easier now. Kokuah/Cool viewer are very good alternatives. Haven’t seen the hackers corrupt them yet.