What is OpenSim?

I just realized that I’ve been writing about OpenSim for five years, and never wrote an article addressing the question: What is OpenSim?

The closest I got was an article titled “What is OpenSim standard time?

Which, of course, isn’t quite the same thing. So here goes.

What is OpenSim?

OpenSim — short for OpenSimulator — is free, open source software that allows anyone to create a virtual world and run in on their own computer. Here is the official OpenSim project website.

Welcome to OpenSim -- or, more specifically, to the welcome region on FleepGrid.

Welcome to OpenSim — or, more specifically, to the welcome region on FleepGrid.

It is also a virtual human muscle and skeleton simulator, which is a very different thing. Which can be confusing. One of those projects should probably change their name.

(Image courtesy Stanford University.)

Not the OpenSim we’re talking about. (Image courtesy Stanford University.)

OpenSim — our OpenSim, the virtual world one — is built to be generally compatible with Second Life, so people familiar with the Second Life interface, building tools and scripting language will find little difference in OpenSim, because OpenSim actually uses the same viewers as Second Life. If you’re interested, read here for an in-depth comparison of Second Life and OpenSim.

What’s so great about OpenSim?

The busiest OpenSim world, the InWorldz grid, has fewer than 10,000 active users a month. By comparison, Second Life has around a million. So why would anyone bother with OpenSim?

Here are the top reasons:

  • It’s your world, you can do what you want with it. This is particularly important for schools and businesses that don’t want to be on a world managed by someone else. When its your own world, you decide who gets to access it, you decide what content’s on it, you decide when to schedule the restarts. You can run it behind the firewall. And you don’t have to give up any rights to the content you create.
  • It’s growing fast. While Second Life continues to shrink in both land area and active users, OpenSim is growing. Probably because of the next reason.
  • It’s free. Or very low cost. You still have to pay for servers and technical assistance, but if you have a spare computer and some basic skillz, you can run a virtual world on your own, for free. Or you can rent land from any of several hosting companies or get land on an already-existing grid. On average, prices are a tenth of what they are in Second Life, and most providers don’t charge setup fees or upload fees. You can now get a full region, the equivalent of a $300 Second Life region in capacity, for just $3. That’s not a typo.
  • You can put on an Oculus Rift headset, pull up the CtrlAltStudio viewer, and go visit any OpenSim world. You can even build stuff, while standing right inside the world. Collaboratively, with other people. It is very cool.
  • You can make backups. This is really important to anyone who creates stuff. Unless you’re on a closed, commercial Second Life-style grid that specifically prohibits backups, you can save copies of entire regions or inventory folders. And if you have your own grid, you can save a backup of the entire grid. Handy!
  • If you know Second Life, then you already know how to do everything in OpenSim. As I mentioned above, the viewers are the same. Other virtual world platforms require that you learn a whole new interface. And if you don’t know how to do something? Just check out the Second Life tutorials, how-to videos and in-world classes. Tons of material available — all directly applicable to OpenSim!
  • You can teleport from one world to another. This is called the hypergrid, and the majority of public OpenSim grids are on it. That means that when you open up the Map dialog, instead of typing in a region name, you type in a grid address. That’s the only difference. A typical hypergrid address looks like this: hg.hyperica.com:8022. That address takes you to Hyperica, a hyperport with gates to many other grids. The associated website lists hundreds of individual destinations you can go to. And all the social functionality still works. You can make friends with people on other grids. Send them instant messages, no matter where you are, or where they are. You can join groups. Even go shopping. There’s even a hypergrid-enabled online marketplace — the Kitely Market.
My first attempt at building a hypergate, back at 2009, to take me from one OpenSim world to another.

My first attempt at building a hypergate, back at 2009, to take me from one OpenSim world to another.

Who uses OpenSim?

OpenSim users are a varied bunch.

The creatives: They come to OpenSim for the freedom to build.

Artist Ruben Haan explores the creative potential of OpenSim on OSgrid.

The socializers: They come to OpenSim because their friends are here, or to find a small, close-knit community. Or they’re here to be creative, and socializing with other creative types comes as a side benefit.

The role players: If you are part of a roleplaying community, moving the whole group over to OpenSim means that you can get ten times the land for the same price. Or the same amount of land, for a tenth of the price. Or twice the land, for a fifth of the price. I could go on.

The educators: OpenSim is a perfect fit for schools. Low cost, full control, maximum security — what else can a school ask for?

Universal Campus by Oni Kenkon Creations.

Universal Campus by Oni Kenkon Creations.

The companies: Like schools, private businesses need privacy and security for their builds. Whether they’re using OpenSim to prototype store layouts, build ship mockups, run disaster preparedness drills, or run virtual training programs, OpenSim offers full control and maximum flexibility. Plus, OpenSim’s modular design and open-source framework allows enterprises to build their own modules and connectors. This means that they can connect up their internal databases or applications.

The merchants: Because of the educators and companies using OpenSim, there’s a market for high-end content and building and consulting services. A mostly-untapped market, I should add. Plus, even creative types get tired of building every single thing from scratch.

Hosoi Ichiba store on Kitely Market. (Image courtesy Kitely.)

Hosoi Ichiba store on Kitely Market. (Image courtesy Kitely.)

For more details about how people use OpenSim, check out a survey I ran about this last year.

What are the alternatives?

The two main open-source alternatives to OpenSim are OpenQwaq and OpenWonderland. These are very small projects by comparison to OpenSim, don’t have any public worlds running the software, don’t have an equivalent of the hypergrid, and have very few vendors supporting them.

There are also some proprietary alternatives. See here for a list of the top ones.

The proprietary ones are all single-vendor solutions. If you decide to move your world from one vendor to another, you’ll have to start over from scratch, though you might be able to repurpose some of the 3D content, if you created it outside their virtual platform.

How do you get started?


Download the Firestorm viewer, which is used by the  majority of folks in OpenSim. You’ll need an account on a grid — I recommend starting on OSgrid, the largest and busiest of the major grids.

Or get a copy of my special report, Free Land in OpenSim. It lists all the latest free land offers on more than twenty grids. Everything from free houses to free residential plots even to entire free regions. I only picked the best offers — none of those “get the first month free and then pay up if you want to stay.” These are all unlimited duration offers, or ones with a simple renewal process.

Or check out our list of bargain hosting providers. Once you’ve got your own bit of land, you’re probably want to know Where to get content for OpenSim. And, to find out what’s happening, check out all these Metaverse communities. Hint: OpenSim Virtual is the biggest one, so start there first.

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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

20 Responses

  1. me@timothyfrancisrogers.me' hack13 says:

    Kitely does not do free regions anymore, but the do have metered worlds at affordable pricing.

    • According to their pricing page, they still give one free region to every user, and six free hours. Once those hours are up, the regions are still there — and other Premium members can visit them.

      At least, that’s how I understand it to work. I’m still TOTALLY confused by their pricing system. Actually, I’ve been meaning to to an article comparing their $15-a-month unmetered region plan with their $20-a-month-five-metered-regions plan.

      • me@timothyfrancisrogers.me' hack13 says:

        interesting, because I attempted this and it says I don’t have enough credits to visit the world.

        • Really? That’s surprising… I’ll go follow up.

          • Okay, just created a brand-new account under my @HypergridBiz Twitter handle. When I signed up, it told me that I had one free region and six free hours.

            HOWEVER, it was not immediately obvious how to set it up to get that free region, and how to configure it so that it would b free. Even though I’ve been using Kitely for a while, it took me two tries to get it to work.

            But I did, and here’s proof:

          • trrlynn73@gmail.com' Minethere says:

            yea, Tim had me wondering for a sec there…lol…I wondered if my own free region had been grandfathered in and that option was no longer available.

            I am happy to see it is as I do mention that sometimes, in some places.

            But I did wonder why I see some ppl occasionally comment to the effect that they do not do that…not enough to comment but it did cause me to wonder.

            Tim, at one time, also offered a free region, which, btw, Tim, if you could reinstate that in some regard for new people around, assuming you have the time, that might be nice…I know some people, including myself, used that to step into renting more of your server space, and for others it was a nice leg up into OpenSim….good PR also-)))

            That Kitely free region is a smart idea and is what I have there, and even being free it is extremely useful, though limited…but then limiting free things is a typical draw for all sorts of businesses.

      • ilan@kitely.com' Ilan Tochner says:

        Hi Maria,

        Kitely’s pricing is explained in this page: http://www.kitely.com/services

    • ilan@kitely.com' Ilan Tochner says:

      Every account still gets a free 1-region Metered World in Kitely. That Metered World will use your account’s Free Regions quota so will remain available for access indefinitely (Regular accounts get 1 Free Region, Premium accounts get 5). Kitely also gives you 6 free hours in-world to try out that Metered World. You don’t need to give Kitely your billing information to get this free trial period, and you can create the world and start building it within minutes of when you order. All you have to do to get this world is press the New World button in your My Worlds page and select Metered World as the world type.

      • merries59@gmail.com' Merrie Schonbach says:

        I have to admit I am also confused by the pricing, especially around the free region, how long to do you get it? What are the restrictions. I understand the monthly flat rate, but when you have regions who pay by time and monthly and regions you can only get in if you pay and waiting for a region to spin up etc. it gets to be a bit too much. IMHO no offense meant of course just feedback 🙂

        • I just got off the phone with Ilan and will be posting an article comparing the $15 and $20 plans — and a separate how-to , step-by-step — on how to get the free region.

        • ilan@kitely.com' Ilan Tochner says:

          The free region you get in a Metered World doesn’t expire. That world supports up to 100,000 prims and 100 avatars. You, the world manager, get charged for the time Regular account users spend inside that world. You are never charged for visiting other people’s worlds.

          You can have many worlds in your account, some of them metered and some of them fixed price.

          All Kitely worlds are stored to the cloud when they are empty and automatically restarted when someone enters them. For you, the user, that only means it will take you a bit longer to enter some Kitely regions (the one that are currently offline) than it will take you to enter always-on regions in other grids.

  2. gridmaster@hypergrid.org' Lena Vanilli says:

    Who is using OpenSim? I guess, a very important part of the users should be mentioned: the people with handicaps.

    I am now 8 years in the virtual metaverse. And with the time I spoke more and more with people, which had no other chance to be a part in a social community. Mostly people with physical handicaps, also psychical. Some Users are pain-patients, which can only survive with morphium. And this users “forget” their pain for a while when they are in the virtual Metaverse.

    And, of course, people without a job, without money. They cannot afford any theatre, museum, disco or what else. In the Metaverse they get it for free.

    For the Metropolis-Grid I found out, that this is a quite big part of the community. I guess more than 10%.

    As our former sponsor said in an official speech: ” As a Grid-Provider, we are resposibel for this handicaped people. We have to see the real person behind the avatar.”

    I hope, one day, more people will take care about this people. They deserve it, and they need it. They need our love, our respect and something what a found very rarely in the virtual metaverse: sustainability.

    In this case: happy easter to everyone! 🙂

  3. joeybhyx@gmail.com' Joe Builder says:

    Another interesting Article pointed directly to one particular Grid. Can we say Bias, If your going to praise one grid and there accomplishments use the one that’s been highest in the polls and stats.

  4. guy.sunderland@btinternet.com' GuyTheguy says:

    Opensim, Kitely, Secondlife…a few words…no shadows, terrible lighting, terrible textures, oh, and it looks computer generated 😉 . I’m an artist, can you tell.

  5. guy.sunderland@btinternet.com' GuyTheguy says:

    P.S. to previous post…can’t Unity buy Opensim and reboot it from a visual quality point of view ???…and why not add some physics while they’re at it ?

  6. guy.sunderland@btinternet.com' GuyTheguy says:

    P.P.S. to previous post… I mean, you know, film for instance; from the subtlety and beauty of ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring’, to the gritty dystopian future of ‘Bladerunner’ (the last great analog/organic sfx film – don’t get me wrong CGI is wonderful when you can see there’s clever direction behind it). 99% of all on-line worlds look like a doctors surgery (give or take). For any ‘Metaverse’ that aims to draw in and keep it’s users/inhabitants, it will have to look ‘cool’ and ‘sexy’ (interpret as you will) everything visual is the interface/experience. And this is as important for business users as everyone else. After all, people in business want to enjoy interacting and being in the future spaces of they’re working lives…don’t they ??? Discuss 😉

  7. jonnlegroove@gmail.com' Jonn Le Groove says:

    What am I doing here ok I guess I have soething to say, first of all this is not a hate comment or anything like that just a pros & cons comment & I dont even know if anyone will read this? My avatar was very well known on SL, I also made some of the first mega builds on opensim with none other than Zonja Capalini, whom I may say is one of the greatest people I met on both SL & Opensim I have kept the same name in both areas for 10 years “Omurtag Milev & still have my Flicr page and SL av tho less active, recently my wife who also was going on 8 years in OPS, just quit SL sold all her land and just put all our creations in the bin because of the fact that we cant take them when we leave SL ??? its ours we paid for it ? WHY NOT ??? I dont understand Linden politics & dont want to know ! I decided to go back to OpenSim not socially but as a designer, still hang in SL but i love opensim for the capabilities as an artist they are more incredible then SL if you search out the small problmes, I have an Acer portable comp with One tigabyte of space and a Nvidia graphics card, I have built a region that compiles 12 sims all original & compiled works & Oar’s from a variety of people, and most of all 12 sims equal to “180,000” prims, & the best thing is its all free, because its on my comp at home what a pleasure it is to build without counting prims , Lindesn , etc etc!!! In ten years worth of time Three computers later, and “10000 USD to the Linden gang i got Zilch , headaches , compromised accounts, land being bought & sold for less the I bought or abandoned because of non sale etc etc !!! Today I am happy & I dont go oçver 20 Dollars a month, Its been a crazy ten years, but hey all that hard earned money spent was really not worth it when I can have 12 sims & 180;000 Prims & it did not cost me a dime !!! I still have a few bugs flying sailing etc but who cares ! Thanks Opensim again & again & again 🙂 keep pixelating