OpenSim on the web six months away

It will take at least six months to get the Xenki OpenSim viewer ready for public use, according to the new lead developer on the open source project.

Kevin Tweedy, founder and head of Philadelphia-based Extreme Reality, a virtual reality technology company, said he took the project over in March.

A landscape with a body of water rendered in Xenki.
A landscape with a body of water rendered in Xenki.

Previously, development was headed up by Adam Frisby, co-founder of DeepThink Pty Ltd. and one of the core developers of OpenSim, an open source virtual world platform.

According to Tweedy, Xenki currently supports some basic functions, but is still missing the ability to render textures, or to allow avatars to talk to one another.

There are no building tools – and probably won’t be. Downloadable OpenSim browsers by comparison – including the official Second Life browser, Hippo, Meerkat, Real Xtend, and others – all allow users to create objects and change terrains.

“I’m not really sold on the idea that content creation needs to be part of the client,” Tweedy said.

Kevin Tweedy
Kevin Tweedy

Xenki is based on Microsoft’s XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language) and uses the .Net library. As a result, it an only run on Windows systems. However, using this technology adds additional layers between the virtual worlds and the graphics hardware.

“I’s not a high performance solution for doing virtual world interfaces,” he said. “But it’s okay for specific types of use cases. Like very low-end, simple virtual world applications – join a meeting. Or show someone around something. Say, you had an apartment complex in a virtual world and you wanted to show somebody around. For things that are simple, the technology is okay for that.”

It will also be useful for integrating virtual content into a company website, he said. “But you’re not going to have a bunch of avatars walking around with different looks.”

According to Tweedy, the virtual worlds are likely to become more client-based in the near future, with less work being done on the server side.

For example, he said, today if a cannon ball shoots out of a cannon in an OpenSim or Second Life world, then the server on which the cannon resides updates everyone on the region with the cannonball’s position – 20 or 30 times a second.

But the cannonball flies predictably for everyone and always lands in the same place, he said. That means that the work of tracking where the cannonball went can be done by the client – eliminating the need to send multiple updates of its position every second.

Once you do that, a virtual world becomes much more scalable, he said.

“You’re not limited to a server that can only hold 50 people,” he said. “A hundred people, a thousand people can hit that server.”

Today, people interested in using the Xenki browser would need to download the source code, he said, and tweak the software so that it points to their particular OpenSim world. And then they will be able to see some basic outlines of a world.

“We need to add texturing,” he said. “And adding chat. Then cameras and walking around.”

It’s a couple of months of work to get the viewer to the point where a user can log in, walk around, and see stuff, he said. Being able to see avatar inventories will take a bit longer, he added, as will interactions with the environment.

Tweedy said he hopes to have some basics finished off by the end of August, but has to fit in the programming around his existing – paying – workload.

If anyone is interested in helping out, Xenki requires a knowledge of C#, experience with OpenSim, and experience with Microsoft’s XAML.

Alternatively, a donation of $25,000 would enable the project to hire a dedicated programmer to complete the work, he said, and produce a usable viewer.

Tweedy said that he’s not aware of any other groups working on a web-based interface for OpenSim, other than 3Di’s commercial viewer, available only in Japan.

Maria Korolov