5 missing pieces in OpenSim

OpenSim development — like that of any open source project — is very much focused on what developers want to do. They are, after all, volunteers, they don’t take orders.

That leaves business users in a quandary — especially those without the technical skills or budgets to do their own development work.

Last month, Daden Limited got proactive and paid a bounty to get NPC support added to OpenSim.

Maybe it’s time for OpenSim’s business users to take that approach to the next step, using a crowdfunding platform like Fundry to get together and chip in on some must-have features — that have been lagging behind.

The following are five projects that my company would be interested in contributing to, and which, I think, could be beneficial to other enterprise users of OpenSim and to OpenSim grid owners.

1. Voice

Whisper voice is great. It sounds as good as Vivox does in Second Life, and its free. But it’s not fully integrated with OpenSim.

Voice is a must-have feature for any business grid, and very much a nice-to-have feature for a social grid.

But the way it works now is that you can either have a browser that works with Vivox in Second Life, or you can have a browser that works with Whisper — there’s a little Whisper file that overwrites the little Vivox file. If you’re going to be switching back and forth between Second Life and OpenSim, you have to keep switching these files in and out — and who wants to do that? It’s not exactly an intuitive process.

One solution is to have a viewer configured to only work with OpenSim, with Whisper pre-installed, that would automatically switch to Vivox if it found itself accessing Second Life. Not a particularly difficult programming job, but a job for viewer developers.

In addition, there’s also some server-side work that remains to be done, so that Whisper voice automatically shuts off when you leave a region. After all, you don’t want to hear the things people say about you after you’re gone. Also not a particularly thorny problem.

It’s been a year since I first tried out Whisper in OpenSim and fell in love with it. Ever since then, a functional version has always been just a couple of months away.

Is anyone else with me on this? Should we raise some money and just pay a bounty to get this done?

2. App sharing

I don’t know whether this is feasible or not, but I would like to see an OpenSim module that enables the ability to share a desktop or an application window.

Say, for example, I have a PowerPoint presentation. It would be nice to embed that window on an in-world screen to show the presentation to my audience.

Or if I wanted to teach my staff how to use a new piece of software.

Most enterprise-grade virtual world platforms already have this, and so does Open Wonderland. Of course, they’ve got an advantage in that they were designed for the corporate market to begin with — and the same team gets to work on the both the viewer and the server.

This isn’t a feature that retail users would want or need. But it’s pretty high up there for corporate users.

3. Access sharing

If I want to show a Website on a screen inside OpenSim, not everybody is looking at the same site. Instead, everyone has their own in-world browser running it.

So, for example, if I put a slide show on an in-world screen, when I click to advance the slide it will only advance for me — it will only advance for my audience if they click on it, as well. Similarly, if we’re using media-on-a-prim to watch a movie together, and I pause the movie — it only pauses for me.

And if I have to log into a site to access its functionality, the audience members each have to log in individually. It’s like we’re at home accessing the site on our separate computers.

I would like it to be more like bringing my laptop to a meeting, and having everyone be able to see my screen. I want people to be able to share my access to a particular website or web application — just as if they were in my office with me, looking over my shoulder.

But I might not want everyone in the same region to eavesdrop in, so some kind of security system would be required to control access.

For example, I might have to individually invite audience members to watch my presentation, and then access priviledges would go away when I shut down the application. Or maybe invite an entire group — or invite everybody, if the presentation wasn’t particularly confidential, like a marketing presentation or a movie we were watching together.

4. In-world documents

Today, you can’t have documents — PDFs, Word documents, spreadsheets, presentations — in your inventory.

But I spend most of my time at work passing documents back and forth. If I’m going to be working in world, I need to be able to share documents — and, ideally, collaboratively work on those documents in-world as well.

This could be in the form of integration with a free office suite like Open Office. Or could be in the form of links to Google Docs. Either one is fine with me and would work with my company, though larger firms would probably want to see Microsoft Office and SharePoint integration. But here, integration with Microsoft’s new Web-based Office product might be sufficient, at least to start with.

5. Cone of silence

Many enterprise platforms allow you to set up an area that is, in effect, surrounded by invisible (or visible) soundproofed walls.

Intel’s new DSG technology, which will be part of the regular distribution of OpenSim, will allow more than a thousand avatars on a single region. That will allow companies to have busy convention centers, busy shopping areas, popular events.

This could cause problems, however. Say you’ve reserved a hotel conference rooms for a sensitive business meeting. And a vacationing couple has reserved the room above for a meeting of a more … naked … nature. Not only would their passionate moans derail your financial presentation, but your financial presentation might totally kill their mood.

Some enterprise vendors deal with this issue by having walls be sound-proofed. So if you’re standing in front of an open door, you can hear what’s going on inside, but as soon as you take a step in either direction, you no longer hear them.

Other vendors have quick drop-offs for sound — unless you’re close to someone, you can’t hear them — and then offer a public address system for when speakers need to be heard by a wide audience.

And other vendors allow users to create zones — lines on the floor — that constrain all sound within them, no walls required. If you’re inside the lines, you hear everything. Take one step over the line, and it goes silent.

I prefer the steep drop-off with a public announcement system, myself, as it seems easier to use and easier to implement. Individual objects could be programmed to be region-wide microphones, for example, using a new script command.