With PixieViewer, we’re closer to the dream of a Web-based viewer for OpenSim than we’ve ever been before.
This particular viewer, which is built using HTML 5 technology, solves the biggest usability problem that OpenSim has. It requires no download — no plugins, no Java, no configuration, nothing. You go to the webpage, type in your avatar name and password, and you’re in the world. (Try it out here.)
Neither the viewer nor the OpenSim module that goes with are finished yet, but I can already see some use case for the current version of the viewer:
- 3D Walk-throughs: User can walk through 3D museums, art galleries, tour college campuses, walk around models of proposed new buildings, check out layouts of new stores or offices. Yes, you can do that now with Unity 3D, but that requires professional development — and users have to install the Unity plugin. With PixelViewer, the back end is a standard OpenSim grid, which means that instead of having to hire professional designers, you can build with regular OpenSim tools, or buy low-cost content from the many OpenSim marketplaces.
- Chat-based meetings: PixelViewer doesn’t yet support voice. But text chat, which is already implemented, is good enough for plenty of uses. Support groups where privacy is important and meetings that involve people who speak different languages are two of the examples.
- Collaborative 3D design: PixelViewer already supports basic building tools. Users can meet in-world to, say, design the layout of their new offices, to lay out a new park, or to plan the layout of a tradeshow exhibit floor.
Here are some features that I think would help improve usability even further:
- Click-to-wear: Learning how to use the inventory is a big hassle for new users — but so is looking like the default avatar. One solution would be a clothing display with a “click to wear” button. You click and the clothing automatically goes into your inventory, and replaces the outfit you have on. From what I understand from developers, this is a feature that needs to be implemented in the viewer. I can see new users walking through a freebie store where they can pick their body, their hairstyle, and their clothes all by clicking, without having to look for the clothes in their inventories.
- Mirrors: Sure, you can see what your avatar looks like by zooming around with a camera. That’s not an option in PixieViewer right now, but I assume camera controls are coming soon. There are two problems with camera controls, however. First, newbies can’t use them. And, second, we’re rapidly entering the age of immersive virtual reality. If you’re wearing virtual reality goggles, camming around isn’t really a viable option.
- Media-on-a-prim: I know it sounds weird that I want to look at a browser — inside a viewer that runs inside a browser. And I really hate in-world events where people just sit around and watch a PowerPoint presentation. Why bother? But there are some great uses for in-world media, such as interactive displays, multiple live screens in control centers, signs that can be automatically updated just by changing a Web page. You can also use in-world media for collaboration — Google documents and spreadsheets, for example, are tailor-made for working together.
- Hypergrid support: In order for PixelViewer users to visit an OpenSim grid, that grid needs to be running a special module. When users try to teleport to a grid that doesn’t have that, users should get a message explaining the problem — and will be in a position to lobby that grid to add PixelViewer support. Otherwise, hypergrid teleports can fail for a bajillion different reasons. And, speaking of hypergrid fails, please fix the 4,096 bug!
- Voice: I know this is on the agenda already, but voice is a must-have for school and business groups. In particular, I’d like to see support not just for Vivox, which is the standard these days on most grids, but also for Whisper/Mumble, the highest-quality open source alternative. Right now, grids don’t use Whisper for two reasons — first, Vivox is free for most grids, and, second, existing viewers don’t support it. Vivox is the voice system that’s used in Second Life, so all viewers support it by default. But some grids might want to use Whisper, especially large commercial grids or corporate grids who don’t want to use an outside voice provider for security reasons.
- A marketplace: The biggest complaint of OpenSim users? Lack of content. The biggest complaints of merchants? Lack of security for their content and a target audience that’s scattered over more than 200 different grids. A viewer-based marketplace, especially one attached to a popular viewer, would solve the fragmentation problem. And the PixieViewer folks could strike a deal with merchants where, in return for exclusive listings, copybotted versions of those items would not be able to be worn or rezzed.
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