Linden Lab cuts viewer link to OpenSim

This past spring, Linden Lab warned third party viewer developers to drop support for OpenSim if they wanted to get access to new features. Back then, a back door was left open, in that users could modify the command path used to launch the viewer so that it accessed OpenSim instead of the official Second Life grid.

This week, Linden Lab closed that access route, removing support for the “-loginURI” parameter from the development versions of the standard viewer, reported OSGrid president Michael Emory Cerquoni — also known as Nebadon Izumi in-world. OSGrid is the largest grid running on the OpenSim software, and is commonly used as a development and testing platform for OpenSim.

“It really doesn’t serve much useful purpose,” said Scott Lawrence, director of open development at Linden Lab and a member of the open source Snowstorm  viewer team. Lawrence, who is also known as Oz Linden in-world, also added that he doesn’t expect the functionality to return, and added that Linden Lab’s Havoc license prohibits the company from allowing its viewers to connect to OpenSim grids. Lawrence made his statements in a chat with Cerquoni that was posted online.

As of this writing, neither Lawrence nor Linden Lab’s media representatives have responded to Hypergrid Business questions about this development.

“Now Second Life is officially dead to me, I will never log in to Second Life ever again,” said Cerquoni.

Little direct effect on users

The change will not affect current OpenSim users right away, though as it is rolled out to all the active viewers, it may become an issue.

Fortunately, the Firestorm viewer team has already come up with a solution. They have forked their viewer development, with one version of their viewer designed to work in Second Life and use the Havoc-licensed functionality. Another version, without the new Havoc code, can be used to access OpenSim and includes some OpenSim-specific functions, such as a grid selector.

(Image courtesy Firestorm Viewer.)

In addition, few OpenSim users have been accessing their grids with the official viewer, especially now that the latest functionality — mesh and media-on-a-prim — is available from the third-party viewers like Firestorm.

Crista Lopes

“My impression is that only a very small percentage of people use the official Second Life viewers to connect to OpenSim grids,”OpenSim core developer and hypergrid inventor Crista Lopes told Hypergrid Business. She is also a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine. “The ‘loginURI’ is quite inconvenient anyway. It’s better to specify the grid in another way — grid manager or something like that.”

She added that there are enough third-party viewers that will continue to support OpenSim. In addition to the Firestorm viewer, the Zen Viewer and the Teapot Viewer both support OpenSim and have the “V3” features like mesh and media-on-a-prim. Many users also access OpenSim through the older “V1”-style viewers Imprudence and Hippo, which do not support mesh and media-on-a-prim.

At Kitely, an OpenSim grid that runs on-demand regions in the Amazon cloud, the official Second Life viewer is currently a supported viewer. A Kitely plugin uses it, in addition to several other viewers, to automatically launch Kitely regions for users.

Kitely CEO Ilan Tochner

“Once the Second Life viewer stops being compatible with OpenSim, we’ll just remotely configure the Kitely plugin to select one of the other viewers people have installed or offer them an OpenSim-compatible alternative,” Kitely CEO Ilan Tochner told Hypergrid Business. “This change in the Second Life viewer might affect new people coming directly from Second Life but most of the people who log into Kitely usually have more than just the Second Life viewer installed.”

Users who don’t have a compatible viewer installed are automatically offered one by Kitely when they first log in, with Firestorm being the current preferred option.

Untether OpenSim development

One positive consequence of the Linden Lab decision may be that OpenSim viewers, finally decoupled from Second Life, will now be able to offer better functionality.

In some respects, having to maintain compatibility with Second Life has been an anchor for the viewers.

For example, OpenSim had mesh years before Second Life rolled it out, but it couldn’t be widely implemented because of the lack of viewer support.

“There are many Second Life-specific design decisions that can and should be abandoned,” said Kitely’s Tochner. “The third-party viewer developers who will choose to continue supporting OpenSim will finally be able to justify adding OpenSim-specific viewer improvements. If viewer developers and OpenSim developers join forces in adding those capabilities then we may be facing a period of significant improvements to OpenSim and finally seeing fixes to some of the annoying Second Life legacy bugs.”

For example, he said, map tiles aren’t calculated correctly for high-numbered regions, and neither are terrain textures.

In addition, users can’t teleport more than 4,096 regions in any direction.

Another problem is the assumption that all regions are 256 meters by 256 meters in size, Tochner added. OpenSim allows for bigger regions, but existing viewers sometimes have trouble accessing them. There is also “inefficient viewer cache logic which creates avoidable server load and requires some protocol changes to fix.”

Other features that OpenSim has that Second Life doesn’t include the ability to export and import entire regions in the form of OAR files, and the ability to teleport via grids via the hypergrid — not to mention the dozens of OpenSim-specific scripting functions. Dedicated viewer support can help make any of this functionality work better, and allow for brand-new functionality to be developed.

Will this hurt Linden Lab?

To some observers, Linden Lab’s failure to embrace OpenSim and the hypergrid is a sign that the company has lost its original passion and focus.

By isolating itself from OpenSim, the company may be trying to preserve its business model, but at the expense of having a role in the future development of the metaverse.

Justin Clark-Casey

“Personally, I think these moves are very short-sighted,”  said Justin Clark-Casey,  president and founder of the Overte Foundation that oversees OpenSim and an OpenSim core developer. “I believe there’s much more to be gained by collaborating with the widest community possible than trying to restrict contributions to those that only benefit oneself.”

Clark-Casey added that he himself uses the “-loginURI” setting extensively.

“I very much hope that independent viewers will continue to keep this option around,” he told Hypergrid Business. “I find it very sad that this simple functionality is being removed.  I see very little technical justification.”

The Linden Lab decision also underscores the problems created when an open source project, such as the viewer, is heavily dependent on a single company.

“There’s much more to open-source then saying ‘Hey. here’s the code,'” he said. “Governance is a critical consideration.  If a single company controls the direction of a project then it can make life very difficult for other people that are trying to help grow and extend that ecosystem.”

Maria Korolov