Your long-term OpenSim goals

In a recent comment thread, some readers have asked questions about OpenSim’s long-term goals and road map.

I’m going to offer some suggestions now, and ask you, my readers, to contribute others in the comments. Then I will do a survey of our readership to find out which long-term features are most important to them.

There are no stupid suggestions, so be nice!

My ideas for OpenSim for the next three to five years

Browser-based viewer: I understand that there are some technical difficulties preventing OpenSim from running easily in the browser, that need to be fixed on the server side. Now that OpenSim viewers are becoming independent of Second Life viewers, maybe this is something we can pay attention to. Especially with Firefox’s recent announcements about native browser support for virtual reality. A browser-based viewer is a must for mass adoption. It’s not sufficient in and of itself, as Cloud Party unfortunately demonstrated, but I believe that it is a critical step.

Content protection: I, personally, believe that licenses are the way to go instead of trying to use technology to lock down content. The Web grew fine without content protection, and both iTunes and Amazon have dropped DRM protections on music downloads. But many creators are hesitant about coming to OpenSim without protections in place. The technology is there — the “export” permission setting is in place. It needs to be tested and rolled out to the commercial grids, so that everyone can be on the hypergrid without fear of losing content. Or, at least, no more fear of losing content than they currently have on the closed grids.

Gestures: This is supposed to be the big differentiator for High Fidelity, the fact that you can move your arms and your avatar will follow suit. I would like to see something like this. Maybe based on cameras. I think it’s a bit too early to start working on this, though, since the input devices are still up in flux. Once something shakes out, then OpenSim should begin working on supporting it.

Move functionality from menus to objects: This, for me, is the critical one. We all know how to interact with objects. We sit on chairs, we open doors, we bang hammers. By comparison, using menus does not come naturally. The more functionality we can move from menus to objects, the easier it will be for OpenSim to be used in virtual reality mode. GameFace, one of the new crop of headset vendors, is planning to do this with their virtual living room concept. This means virtual closets instead of inventory folders, for example — click on an outfit to put it on. Actual working mirrors instead of the “appearance” view. Magic wands that you can use to point to objects and move them around.

This picture was taken in OpenSim, using water to fake a mirror.
This picture was taken in OpenSim, using water to fake a mirror.

OpenSim’s role in the metaverse

With Second Life about to enter its end-of-life phase and development shifting to a next-generation platform, the current goal of keeping up with Second Life will become less and less relevant.

Plus, OpenSim pretty much has feature parity with Second Life now. The only major Second Life feature set that OpenSim doesn’t support is the new experience keys, now in beta, but it could be argued that OpenSim’s “threat levels,” which have been in place for a long time, offer the same functionality with a great deal more control in a way that’s much easier for grid owners and application developers to use.

OpenSim has long prided itself on being a user-driven, community-led project. Some open source projects — including WordPress, Ubuntu, OpenOffice and Drupal — have a single commercial entity at the helm to provide some forward momentum and long-term planning.

OpenSim has a loose group of volunteers — core developers, big corporate supporters like IBM and Intel, vendors and entrepreneurs, academics, non-profits, and government agencies.

In fact, according to a 2012 study, OpenSim stood out from other open source projects in the diversity among its contributors, the level of collaboration between different types of contributors, and particularly the contributions made by entrepreneurs.

A typical open source project is more homogenous in its contributors.

This diversity is both a strength and a curse for OpenSim. A strength because it results in a broadly-based, multi-functional platform that makes it well suited to becoming a core platform for the metaverse.

That includes not just the “threat levels” functionality, hypergrid, NPCs, various backup options, but also user management features and grid management tools and fine-grained access controls. OpenSim can scale down to a single region on someone’s home computer, to giant grids with thousands of users run on multiple servers.

And, of course, due to the hypergrid and the complete absence of any centralized services, OpenSim can scale to infinite size, as outlined in this 2010 paper by Justin Clark-Casey.

No other current projects with pretentions of becoming a metaverse platform can offer this.

But I can see why people are anxious. Two or three years from now, other platforms are coming online with shiny new features. And we’re worried that, as virtual reality technology improves we’re not going to see the expected influx of new users coming to OpenSim to build their virtual realities. Instead, our existing users will jump ship to the new platforms. Our investments of time and money in OpenSim will have been wasted.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We’re further ahead than anyone else when it comes to actually having a working metaverse platform. And we can stay ahead.

Add your suggestions for new features in the comments below.

Maria Korolov