Emerald abandons the metaverse?

Today I tried the new Emerald 2012 Beta Viewer, which is the successor to the latest release 1635. The first thing that I noticed is that the truly useless list of Linden grids is restored, with a long list of grids that nobody can access except Lindens for test purposes, apart from Agni (the main and teen grids) and Aditi (the beta test grid). The grid manager, which conveniently allows you to enter and save the details of OpenSim grids or your own grid if you’ve installed OpenSim on your own server, is now gone. It enabled you to switch easily between Second Life and other grids (and is still part of Imprudence). Nowhere on their blog, where Modular Systems talk at length about the new beta Emerald viewer, is this mentioned at all.

They do mention, however, that they’ve removed the useful IRC function, and the lesser known GreenLife Utility Stream, which is really just for developers and LSL coders. But IRC works on independent servers and doesn’t affect SL at all, so the only reason for removing it would be that LL dislike it and have insisted that TPV compliant viewers remove it, whatever users may want. There is no reason for this at all as far as impact on their servers is concerned, as the connection is purely between viewer and remote IRC server. But it tends to promote the open source metaverse and information about it, so they have decided that it conflicts with their commercial interests. How many times have we seen this before? Second Life is treated as a fiefdom, and residents more like serfs than customers. You may have a legitimate business in SL, but only until Linden Lab changes the rules for its benefit. I hope that Emerald put IRC back, as they do say they have removed it “temporarily” – but they don’t say why. I hope that they have simply forgotten to mention that the grid manager is likewise only temporarily missing.

So I tried entering the URI osgrid.org:8002 in the box instead, which normally works on all viewers based on Linden code that do not have the grid manager that you can find in Hippo, the soon-to-be-defunct Rainbow Viewer and Imprudence, as well as until now in Emerald. But the default grid selector failed! Without telling anybody, Emerald have removed the ability to use their viewer in the so-called “local” grids, i.e. any OpenSim compatible grid. I really hope that this was accidental.

The default functionality was never convenient anyway compared to the grid manager. You couldn’t save grid details and had to remember the URI and port number and enter it each time (each OpenSim grid may use a different port, although typically standalones use 9000 and grid mode uses 8002 by default, and people often stick to this convention). There is a quite short character limit so I can’t use it with my own grid because the URI is simply too long. For this reason I can’t use Kirsten’s Viewer in my grid, even though it is super efficient and lag-free and seems to put far lower demands on the sim. That means I have to set up a copy of the viewer (on Mac OSX) to use the command line option for each grid (this is somewhat easier in Windows where you can use shortcuts). I can only presume that this still works in Emerald. I sincerely hope that Modular Systems have only accidentally introduced the bug, rather than deliberately, or else intend to restore the grid manager and are merely basing this version on  newer branch of LL code that naturally doesn’t have it in the first place. If not, the removal of the grid manager could only be taken as a signal of their intent to support only Second Life.

You will notice of course that the equally useful export function (only for items that you have full permissions on AND for which you are listed as the original creator, a far higher bar than that set by Second Inventory) was removed in release 1634, for the same reasons as IRC. The TPV compliance policy is effectively a kind of blackmail: either do as LL say or do no business in SL, where the majority of the users still are. There is no IPR reason, as the viewer protects this. LL simply seek to force us to keep our content inside SL, even if we are the creators: it is a restraint of trade, and monopolistic trading. They behave like Microsoft, (or perhaps even worse, to be fair to Microsoft who have recently supported a few open source projects).  But increasingly the approach only pushes people over to OpenSim instead, the exact opposite of what they intend. At present, the encrypted chat remains in both 1635 and 2012 Beta, although LL have signalled their dislike of this too. For how long, I wonder, will it remain? Why should we not have privacy? It’s ludicrous: HTTPS is not considered immoral, is critical to safety on the Web, and it works in exactly the same way! Emerald, to be fair to them, are between a rock and a hard place.

This return to supporting the Lab’s walled garden approach has been coming for a long time. In succeeding releases right up until the current 1635, Modular Systems have failed to fix the simple bug in Emerald that makes avatars fail to rezz, only appearing as the gas cloud, despite it being a very simple one to fix. Effectively that made Emerald usable only in Second Life, and not in OpenSim, although you could at least log in if you were doing limited maintenance stuff, and others could see you, though you couldn’t see yourself. Why? So that you can’t use it except in Second Life? It certainly looks that way. If it isn’t true, why can’t they fix it quickly and reassure us that Modular Systems still supports the metaverse? I urge them to do so.

So the stitch-up that the Lab carried out in effectively ending the open sourcing of their viewer code as far as accessing their own grid is concerned has been supported tacitly by Modular Systems. Lots of great viewers like the Rainbow Viewer have had to issue their final versions. Some like the Cool VL Viewer are not in the third-party viewer directory. Very few have remained, and this impacts upon OpenSim more than it does on Second Life. Only Imprudence, Emerald and Kirsten’s viewers remain of the great third party SL viewers, and this puts them in a position of legal peril that the Lab could exploit, responsible for everything that is done with their viewer. The TPV policy is in breach of the GPL licence under which the code was released, to the fury of the hard-working viewer developers who have given us so much.

Many people have cancelled their SL accounts and moved to OpenSim grids. I will not do so, but LL must be aware that all the control freakery damages relations with us, their customers, and drastically limits their business in future. I’m still very grateful for all the the Lab gave us in open sourcing the viewer in the first place, which has led to the creation of the OpenSim compatible metaverse in the first place. They still have my good will – for the moment – even if they are gradually withdrawing theirs. It seems that the actions of Modular Systems in recent work on their previously excellent Emerald Viewer shows that they are complicit in this, albeit perhaps out of necessity rather than choice.

Now that Emerald has removed so much, there is only a little point using it over the standard viewer. All that remains is breadcrumbs from their excellent work in improving the viewer: just a few bits and bobs that were of relatively marginal use anyway. It is not the fastest viewer, nor is it now the most flexible for the whole metaverse, not just SL.

So far, Imprudence have – relatively speaking – held out against the blackmail. They have disabled a part of their export function involving textures when connecting to Second Life, even though it already had the IPR defences described above. But given that they are now responsible for what their users do in SL, how long can they remain? They already had to issue a statement saying that they would have to withdraw from SL, which happily they were later able to retract.

It strikes me that Emerald, Imprudence and others are being forced into this position by Linden Lab because the Lab are afraid that their business approach is unsustainable and are trying to batten down the hatches. They have seen OpenSim mature into a mature ecosystem of interoperating businesses, including support for currency and, with it, a creative economy. Some grids operate entirely non-commercially and that is fine. Others offer services. Users can go where they like. Linden Lab are unwilling to compete on a fair and level playing field, despite the massive head start that they inevitably have from being the first in the business and holding a huge reserve of technical experience in reserve. If they chose to allow people to travel to and from other grids, they would remain by far the biggest providers of services. They could do it tomorrow but will not. Instead, they force others like Modular Systems into subservience and so remove the fruits of that labour from their own customers.

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1 Comment

  1. Starflower Bracken

     /  May 31, 2010

    The same issues remain unchanged in Emerald 2047 Beta:

    No grid manager.
    Can’t use “custom” i.e. OpenSim grids, as login URI gives error.
    Can’t type long login URIs in box, even if the previous bug is fixed.
    IRC and GreenLife Utility Stream removed.

    However, the exporter is restored, although it no longer handles textures due to the TPV according to the Modular Systems Blog. The encrypted chat function is still available as before.

    There are three other issues with Emerald:

    (1) The login screen does not show the login screen for the grid, only that of Modular Systems, so you can’t see relevant grid news and status.
    (2) You can see whether somebody has decided to be invisible to you, thus (deliberately) rendering this privacy function completely useless.
    (3) A further new function in 2047 Beta makes it possible for agents to use negative chat channels, which were previously reserved for scripts. The whole point of these was to be usable for scripts especially, and since there are so many, it is pointless to allow agents to use them. It means you can no longer be sure that such chat was generated by a script, which was useful to scripters.


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