Advice to educators

Today, Linden Lab announced that the price of land for educators and non-profits will double in January.

As a result, the price differential between Second Life land and OpenSim becomes even more significant.

You can pay as little as $10 for a single region, but for the highest performance and a dedicated core, expect to pay around $90 a region. If you buy several regions at once, and don’t expect to have full traffic on every region at once, then expect that price to drop dramatically.

Educators running mini-grids of around 16 regions are paying around $10 a region a month if they don’t normally expect to see maximum traffic on each region simultaneously.

Full list of OpenSim hosting providers here.

Check out ReactionGrid, SimHost and Dreamland Metaverse — these are the three providers with the best track records and reputations for customer service and support.

ReactionGrid's central landing area.

ReactionGrid is a full grid dedicated to the education community, with events and resources. They will also set up private grids for schools and universities — both with and without hypergrid teleports. (You can also turn hypergrid on or off at any time, as needed.)

As part of the price, expect to get a Web management panel so you can create and delete your own users, move your regions around, get full backups of your regions, full backups of your inventories, and restart regions if they get sluggish.

The best voice option in OpenSim right now is the Whisper/Mumble combo, but they’re still working out the bugs. Expect to have that up and running by the end of the year. It sounds, and works, as well as Vivox in Second Life. The folks at Dreamland Metaverse have been working with the vendors to test and deploy it.

Whisper/Mumble is free — like OpenSim, it’s open source — but you might have to pay a little extra for the server hosting. However, many providers are throwing it in for free.

The best bet for universities and schools is a private grid. It’s as easy to set up and manage as a region on someone else’s grid, and doesn’t usually cost anything extra, unless the grid gets more than 16 regions in size and you need centralized grid servers — but at that point, you’ll be getting savings from running regions in bulk, anyway. With your own grid, you get to decide when maintenance is schedule and whether you’re ready to upgrade the software, or if you’d rather wait before all the bugs are worked out. You determine who gets user accounts. You set your own terms of service.

The second best bet is to have regions on ReactionGrid, ScienceSim, JokaydiaGrid, or another education-friendly grid.

The third best bet is to have regions on free-to-connect grids like OSGrid or NewWorldGrid. With other grids, keep in mind that you’re now subject to their upgrade cycles, they control your downtime, they own your user accounts, and your users will have full access to the content on those grids, and, since they’re hypergrid-enabled, will be able to travel to most of the other grids out there.

In addition, private grids like InWorldz and SpotOn3D are nice places for merchants because of the high level of protection of content. But those protections are a double-edge sword for educators, since they make it difficult, or impossible, to get backups of regions and inventories. And, again, the grid owners control your upgrade cycles and downtimes, not you.

When you deal with a hosting provider, you should be able to negotiate up front when they will be taking the grid down for maintenance, and which individuals will be specifically working on your account to help if there are any problems. ReactionGrid, SimHost and Dreamland Metaverse all have great reports from customers about their service.

Some customers are telling me that they’ve had better stability and uptime in OpenSim than in Second Life, so its very possible to have a good experience with OpenSim, especially with the latest version of the software, and if you pay enough to have dedicated cores or dedicated servers for your regions.

Getting stuff

Region backups are important because you want to have local copies of your builds in case something goes wrong with the provider’s servers (it happens), if you decide to switch providers, or if you simply want to have a choice of regions to use at any given time. For example, you might use a historic recreation one semester, and a mathematics simulation the next.

Once you create a region, and save it as a local export — also known as an OAR archive — you can then share it with your colleagues, sell it, or donate it to the wider educational community.

An IAR inventory export is much like a region OAR export, except that instead of saving everything located on a region, it saves everything in a particular user’s inventory.

With both of these exports, be sure that you’re complying with the licensing terms of your content, as it is easy to inadvertently make copies of objects this way for which you do not have copy permission.

Some free (and commercial) content resources, including sites that distribute free OAR files, are listed here.

If you are transfering content from Second Life that was created under a “work for hire” or “all rights” contract, and you have signed documents from the creators, Second Life should allow you to take exports even if you aren’t the creator of all the objects. Check with the Lindens.

There are also consulting companies that will move content, negotiate with content creators, and, if necessary, recreate objects from scratch. FireSabre, for example, says they will help schools move content.

Hypergrid travel

With hypergrid, you can teleport from grid to grid. Your users, for example, can attend events on other grids — they can visit grids owned by other universities and museums, attend training classes, or just go shopping. There are cross-grid currencies that work on multiple grids. You don’t have to relog, or create new avatars. Clothing and attachments travel just fine. And the new, more secure, Hypergrid 1.5 keeps rogue grid owners from hacking into your inventory when you travel.

However, some schools might not want to have strangers teleporting in and out. In these cases, hypergrid can only be enabled for part of a grid — say, for a Visitors’ Center region — this allows local users to travel out unimpeded, but foreign visitors are limited to just that one location on your grid. In addition, hypergrid can be turned on during specific time periods. Say, during construction, to allow contractors to teleport in and out with their inventories full of building supplies and tools. Or during a promotional open house or students’ work exhibition.

Turning hypergrid on or off is usually free, but does require a region restart.

Diva Distro

If even $10 a region is too much, then consider the free, open-source Diva Distro. This is published by the woman who invented the hypergrid, UC Irvine professor Crista Lopes. The Diva Distro is a pre-packaged mini-grid with four regions arranged into a single “megaregion” — no border crossings. It runs on a single server and can be expanded to be as large as your server can hold – usually up to nine or 16 regions if your machine is powerful enough.

Multiple Diva Distros can be linked together into a distributed virtual grid and with a little planning and the use of “link regions” you can have all the regions of all the Diva Distros all show up on a single map.

The Diva Distro has a Web front end for user registrations, and a built-in upgrade utility for when new versions of OpenSim are released. Lopes also conveniently packages it with starting avatars and a basic inventory of textures, clothing, and building supplies, all distributed under a Creative Commons license.

By default, it comes with hypergrid turned on.

To travel the hypergrid, simply go to Map-Search, and type in the hypergrid address of your destination. If the destination is within jumping distance, and is running a reasonably compatible version of OpenSim, the destination will appear on the screen and you’ll be able to teleport to it by hitting “teleport” or double-clicking on its name. Hypergrid teleports look and feel just like regular teleports and take about the same amount of time.

You can also create stargates that teleport users when they walk through them, or teleport boards that teleport when they’re clicked. The scripts use the same map teleport and OSTeleport commands as regular in-grid teleports, except you give the full hypergrid address instead of the region name.

The Hyperica directory currently lists around 300 hypergrid destinations, and this number is expected to grow dramatically as the new, more secure Hypergrid 1.5 version is rolled out through the OpenSim grids. More than half of all public grids are currently hypergrid-enabled.

If you’re setting up the Diva Distro to run behind the firewall — say, for local access by students over the local area network — then no particular skills are required, just careful following of the directions provided with the Diva Distro. If you want to have hypergrid access across your firewall, to other grids out there, then you will have to open up ports in your firewall, and may need the help of your network administrator. At that point, it might be easier, cheaper, and faster to get your Diva Distro hosted with an OpenSim service provider instead.

The latest version of OpenSim also supports media-on-a-prim, though it currently requires Second Life Viewer 2 to take advantage of it. However, Imprudence and other viewers are expected to come out with their media-on-a-prim support shortly

Maria Korolov