Remember Compuserve? You had a dial-up modem and you could log into this bulletin board and send messages to other members. You had to stay inside Compuserve though â€“ there was no place else to go. Well, there was America Online â€“ but you had to get for a new account to be able to access that.
Virtual worlds today are a lot like that. Second Life, for example, is an island unto itself. If you have a Second Life account, you can send messages to other people in Second Life. You can go to various places in Second Life. But you can’t take your avatar and your belongings and hop over to, say, World of Warcraft.
Now that a standards-based platform for virtual worlds has emerged, one that allows people to travel between virtual worlds owned by different companies â€“ as long as they’re on the standard platform â€“ will Second Life have to choose between AOL’s direction â€“ to open up to the world â€“ or be like CompuServe? (By the way, CompuServe was acquired by AOL in 1998 and now all that remains is a tiny little website with content repurposed from AOL.
â€œI have heard people say that Second Life is on its way out,â€ said Charles Krinke, one of the core developers of OpenSim. â€œPersonally, I don’t believe it. Second Life was at the right place at the right time and has created a wonderful part of the metaverse.â€
Instead of falling by the wayside in the face of open source competition, Krinke said that he expects that Second Life will become more like Netscape.
â€œBecause Netscape was the first, and they were both a server and a client,â€ he said.
The server is the software that presents the Web page for the world toe see. The client â€“ a browser like Firefox or Internet explorer â€“ allows a user to visit a Webpage.
The heart of Nescape has evolved into what is now the Firefox browser, he added.
â€œSome of what Netscape was originally was lost in antiquity and some of it has prospered,â€ he said. â€œWe look at Firefox today and say it is a wonderful thing.â€
Second Life has already started selling its enterprise server, allowing individual companies to create and run their own virtual worlds, instead of having to share Second Life’s primary world â€“ with all the crazy people on it.
IBM, Cisco and Microsoft are all testing the platform, Krinke said, but he hasn’t heard of any other enterprise deployments yet.
The large install base of Second Life’s millions of users means that many people currently working inside corporations are familiar with the world and how it works, and when it comes time to deploy a virtual platform, they’re likely to pick Second Life, he said.
THE COMING BROWSER WARS
Today, there are almost as many browsers as virtual worlds. To get into World of Warcraft, you need to download their viewing software. Second Life has its Second Life browser. Entropia, Wonderland, and all those cartoony-chat-room worlds â€“ they all have their own browsers. Some are stand-alone programs that you have to download. Others are plug-ins that work within Firefox or Internet Explorer.
Each one works differently, uses different commands, and some take quite a bit of time to learn how to use.
There is one exception.
On virtual worlds powered by OpenSim, users have several options when it comes to browsers â€“ and can use the same browser to access any of the OpenSim worlds.
These browsers include the Second Life browser, which can be activated in such a way that it gives access to different grids. Then there’s the independent Hippo browser. Another option is the realXtend browser, which promises additional graphics capabilities for worlds that run special modules on top of their basic OpenSim framework â€“ but which can access non-enhanced OpenSim worlds as well.
These three browsers require a separate download, and are all equally complicated to use. In addition to letting people travel through three dimensional worlds, they also come with a complete suite of building tools. If you don’t like the landscape, pull out your magic wand, and change it. That is, if the owner of the region allows it.
For users who don’t need this much complexity, and don’t want to download special software, plugins that work inside Firefox or Internet Explorer are on their way, says OpenSim coe developer Charles Krinke.
One such browser is Xenki, developed by DeepThink. Others include OpenViewer and Idealist. However, none of these are ready for prime time.
As iPhones and other devices become more popular people will want quicker and easier ways to access virtual worlds, said Krinke.
This means that the viewers â€“ whether stand-alone or plugins â€“ must become leaner, with fewer features.
â€œAnd the obvious features to shed are those that allow editing of the scene,â€ Krinke said.
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