Aurora-Sim newest option for OpenSim servers

OpenSim grid owners now have another option for their grid server software — Aurora-Sim.

This branch of OpenSim, still in “pre-alpha” stage of development, promises more security features and better vehicle physics than mainline OpenSim, but it is still too early to tell whether it will be able to deliver.

We talked to Andrew Simpson, owner of the AnSky Grid, who converted his grid to Aurora-Sim on February 17.

Welcome area on AnSky Grid.

Simpson said that the switchover on his 12-region, 110-user grid took about five hours.

“It wasn’t hard, but I did need to make some edits in the database,” he said.

Groups didn’t transfer well, he said, and his grid is now no longer connected to the hypergrid since the Aurora-Sim software doesn’t yet support hypergrid teleports. AnSky Grid was formerly accessible to hypergrid travelers from other grids, with Club AnSky one of its travel destinations.

Simpson said that he doesn’t miss the hypergrid connectivity.

“I have been seeing some issues with it,” he said. For example, when visitors get content on one grid and bring it to another grid, that content doesn’t always arrive safely — especially if the content is usage restricted.

“You can’t open what you brought over the hypergrid if it doesn’t have full perms,” he said.

Meanwhile, Club AnSky will be up and running again soon, he said, as soon as all the migration work is complete, but only accessible to grid residents.

Simpson doesn’t recommend that other grid owners switch over right away.

“I would wait for an upgrade,” he said. “It’s a bit buggy at this time.”

In addition, as Aurora-Sim evolves, it may require edits to the database, he added. By waiting, grid owners can save themselves that work.

However, he added that he plans to stick with Aurora-Sim.

The software has built-in group support — the standard distribution of OpenSim requires the grid owners install a separate module. It allows allows for regions to be different shapes and sizes, and allows grid owners to ban users based on IP addresses.

“There are too many features to list,” Simpson said.

(See here for a full list of Aurora-Sim features.)

A welcome alternative

Simpson isn’t the only one experimenting with Aurora-Sim. Enrico Ranucci, operating officer of the New Voice OpenSim hosting company — known for its $9.90 region rentals — also has a test grid up running Aurora-Sim.

And the core developers of OpenSim aren’t opposed to the branch.

“OpenSimulator has several spin-off projects led by other teams,” said OpenSim core developer and hypergrid inventor Crista Lopes, professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine. “That is a great thing, that’s exactly what the project is all about.”

The Aurora-Sim isn’t the first such distribution, she added.

She herself maintains the popular Diva Distro, an easy-to-use version of OpenSim that’s pre-configured with a four-region megaregion and hypergrid enabled by default. Other OpenSim versions include the OSGrid distribution, which is pre-configured to automatically connect to OSGrid.

Intel-backed ScienceSim also has its own branch, Simian Grid. And private grids such as Avination, InWorldz, and SpotOn3D are also running customized versions of OpenSim.

There is also a version of OpenSim which has had full mesh support for a couple of years before Second Life began supporting it – realXtend — though it requires its own viewer and thus hasn’t been adopted by any public grids and has been used mostly for specialized, stand-alone projects like architectural demos.

The developers of many of these versions are contributing code and improvements back to the main release of OpenSim, but that could be a problem with regards to the Aurora-Sim distribution, Lopes said.

“I have some concerns about Aurora’s main developer being personally involved with the viewer’s GPL-licensed source code,” she said.

OpenSim viewers such as Hippo and Imprudence are licensed under the restrictive GPL license. This license requires that all derivative works must all be GPL licensed as well. But OpenSim itself operates under a different open-source license — BSD. This license allows derivative works to be kept proprietary. A role playing world, for example, might add special features to make its world more appealing and keep those features private. Or a developer might add extra security features and market their version of OpenSim to corporate customers.

“As you recently posted, the threat for the OpenSimulator project is copyrights,” said Lopes. “The OpenSimulator project, under legal advice, has not been accepting contributions from anyone actively engaged in GPL-licensed viewer development. Until this rule is replaced with something equally reassuring — like personal liability documents from individual developers — server-side code from those developers are high risk propositions for the community.”

As a result, Aurora developers haven’t been donating their code back to the main OpenSim project, she said.

“And we don’t have resources to monitor and filter their own fork of OpenSimulator for contributions that could potentially be safely ported back,” she added. “Their code has diverged considerably.”

Should you switch?

For the majority of OpenSim grid operators, the prudent thing to do is to wait until Aurora-Sim is out of the experimental testing phase before making a decision.

It will take time for Aurora-Sim developers to get their software ready for prime time. By that time, some of the most wanted feature might already be available in mainline OpenSim, or in add-on modules.

Furthermore, because Aurora-Sim doesn’t support hypergrid teleports, grids that are hypergrid-enabled should wait until such support is in place.

There’s a possibility that Aurora-Sim might wind up with a different, incompatible version of hypergrid, which they call IWC, or InterWorldConnector. According to developers, IWC will allow greater security than standard hypergrid by allowing grid owners to specify which other grids are trustworthy and which aren’t. This could be a plus for grid owners who only want their users to be able to teleport among a small number of other worlds to avoid content theft — but could also cut a grid off from the rest of the metaverse.

Another potential warning sign is that the Aurora-Sim developers are currently working under pseudonyms.

“We only have three core developers, and we only use VR [virtual reality] names,” said a developer who identified himself only as “Greybeard.” The reason for the anonymity? “Mainly personal security,” he said.

In the main release of OpenSim, most of the core developers have been happy to be quoted under their real names.

Some enterprise users may prefer that there are at least some project leaders who are real people before they commit to a particular platform.

In part, this is a security concern, since software produced entirely by anonymous volunteers may include malicious code — or, more likely — code that is improperly licensed, and pose a copyright issue for its users.

But also, companies sometimes hire open source developers to do custom work. For example, core developers Justin Clark-Casey, Melanie Thielker of 3D Hosting (and founder of the Avination grid) and Adam Frisby of DeepThink all provide OpenSim-related consulting services.

Without real people behind a project, it can be harder to find expert people for customization or problem solving.

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is a science fiction writer who covers cybersecurity, AI and extended reality as a tech journalist at her day job.
Check out her author page on Amazon or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Her first virtual world novella, Krim Times, made the Amazon best-seller list in its category. Her second novella, The Lost King of Krim, is out now.