The slow death of Viewer 1.x, the half-life of the hypergrid, and other stories

Despite the popularity of third-party viewers such as Phoenix (formerly Emerald) and the disastrous design and usability problems of Linden Viewer 2.0, it has now become clear that Viewer 1.x is dying a slow death. The final release 1.5.2.818 of the Phoenix viewer is out, to be replaced by a new Firestorm viewer based on the 2.0 codebase, and there are similar plans for Imprudence to be replaced by the new Kokua viewer (whose name, I’m afraid, does not strike me as nearly as memorable – what’s wrong with Phoenix 2.0 and Imprudence 2.0 for names, rather than changing them just when they start to get well-known?)

This is, of course, a demonstration that the world of OpenSim grids, so dependent on the Linden codebase, is still very much semi-detached from development in SL, and interoperability will always remain a core issue.

One reason for this is mesh, coming soon (but we’re still not sure when) to a simulator near you. Look out, OpenSim and ModRex! Despite the latter’s support for mesh being far older than the Linden effort, ported back from RealXtend‘s version of the OpenSim codebase to a region module for OpenSim, it has never caught on. Although OpenSim developers seem to be working on mesh, it’s no longer clear if ModRex is the main plank of this effort. It still only works in standalone mode, not in grid mode. The pace of development on ModRex seems still to be incredibly slow, after an initial burst of activity, and it’s blog and web presence remains embryonic and dated.

The 1.x codebase can support some newer backported features such as Display Names (which is not likely to be complex code) but it will be increasingly difficult, and most likely impossible, to continue developing viewers that work for both OpenSim and SL without embracing the viewer 2.0 codebase. Incidentally, Display Names will not work on OpenSim, but apparently will on Aurora based-grids (see below). Hopefully, however, the terrible viewer  design will be completely ignored. Even the developer of Kirsten’s viewer, which rather slavishly avoids any affront to Linden Lab by providing direct support for OpenSim (which is a simple matter of using the open source grid manager code from the Hippo viewer), has been critical of the Viewer 2.0 design. I should say, in Kirsten’s defence, that it is not completely impossible to use the present version of the viewer with OpenSim.

Meanwhile, new forks of the OpenSim server codebase are appearing, notably Aurora, which provides a great deal of core functionality that users have been crying out for. The new Kokua Viewer (a separate project loosely associated with Aurora, previously known as Imprudence) will support some of these extra features. At present, things like profiles, groups, search and web interfaces have to be hacked together once per upgrade, and database changes leave all of these side projects struggling to keep up with the OpenSim codebase.

OpenSim developers, after their huge success with Hypergrid, have managed to undo their own work by fracturing the community into no less than three mutually incompatible and often unreliable versions of what is the most fundamental part of the open metaverse. At present, Hypergrid is barely working at all, and it is a major victory to teleport off one’s own servers. Yesterday I finally managed to reach OSGrid (though it’s misconfigured locally, so that one cannot leave) using a test grid running Aurora, although I cannot do so with any revision of OpenSim 0.7.1-dev on which it is based. Admittedly the latter is development code, but many grids are already running it, including OSGrid. People were astonished to see someone arrive from the outside: one said it had been a year since they had known it to be working! Obviously, some of the unreliability is down to local server configurations, which is an operational problem. But why keep breaking Hypergrid with every new release? Why does it have to be so hard? This is no way to help grow the open source metaverse.

It seems that the OpenSim developers do not seem to see the hypergrid as a priority even though it is what makes people compare OpenSim grids to the Web and its rich competitor SL to the once-mighty AOL. At present, documentation and communication about OpenSim remain amateur and patchy. Of course, the developers make the blinkered ideological claim that they are NOT a competitor to SL, but such claims are often made by those who are manifestly failing to capitalise on their obvious strategic advantages. However talented the OpenSim developers are, they are terrible salesmen. And they are convincing nobody. Their user base certainly is competing with SL, even if they personally, as developers, are not. Remember, the user is queen – or even king!

Get it together again! All this fine work needs a bit more coordination, no?

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14 Comments

  1. Spot-on, I believe. Great points, but you should look not at modrex which has long been ‘dead’ and instead look at the next generation of realXtend that the Immersive Education Initiative has been posting information about lately. The Smithsonian project videos are amazing, and also show some new features in OpenSim. I can’t find the direct video links now but if you visit http://members.ImmersiveEducation.org and look for the “Create Once, experience Everywhere” announcement it has some amazing videos of cross-platform high resolution meshes in OpenSim, realXtend and a bunch of other virtual worlds. I am so done with prims! Jane

    Reply
  2. Thanks, Jane. Yes, you’ve rather confirmed my suspicions about ModRex, though Adam Frisby was still saying he was working on it last year, and nobody has made public statements about exactly *how* meshes are being tested on that simulator in OSGrid: so we’d be forgiven for wondering if it was with ModRex because no other information has been given on the mystery module that is being tested somewhere in the 0.7.1-dev codebase. It does look as though they might have by-passed ModRex and ported a whole load of RealXtend code over wholesale, as soon as Linden Lab upped the stakes and created a new urgency about it. There was talk (from no less than Gwyneth Llewelyn) that the sacking of Qarl Linden had brought the SL mesh adventure to an end. In the event, Linden Lab caught a lot of people slightly off guard with their announcement, I think. What it goes to show is that the OpenSim devs still jump if LL wave a big enough stick. I can’t blame them for that, as it makes a lot of sense not to get left behind.

    Reply
  3. The fragmentation of hypergrid connectivity due to incompatible versions of the protocol is definitely a challenge. I really hope things are sorted out as soon as possible.

    Also, you said: “At present, Hypergrid is barely working at all, and it is a major victory to teleport off one’s own servers.”

    I disagree with your statement that it’s “barely working at all.” Our Hypergrid Adventurers Club visits many different grids (using HG 1.0) every week, with groups as large as 15-20 people all hypergrid jumping at the same time. Things are sometimes bumpy, but in practice it all works the vast majority of the time. We’d love to have you join us and see for yourself.

    Reply
  4. Hello, Pathfinder. That does sound very interesting. However, my experience is from going through the links at Hyperica and TheHyperGates.com. Not only is it time-consuming to work out which ones are safe to try (for me 1.5 i6 unless I run one of the test versions temporarily on i7 that do *not* generally work), but most links are either broken or else they fail to respond. Many do teleport, but only to then crash the viewer. I’m glad to hear you’re having a better time of it. It’s not fair to blame the OpenSim devs for everything, of course, and I don’t: operational matters like running decent hardware and setting Hypergrid up properly are the most important factors here.

    I would like to join you. Maybe you know some places that don’t crash, and where there might be interesting builds to see?

    Thanks, and Merry Christmas!

    Reply
  5. Great! I’m happy to share whatever I know. See you at an upcoming HGAC meeting, and Merry Christmas to you too!

    Reply
    • Ah – Pathfinder, I realise that we are talking about apples and oranges. Somehow I managed to miss that you wrote “using HG 1.0”, which is the important point. I normally run OpenSim 0.7.0.2-post-fixes, i.e. HG 1.5 i6 (flaky but works), and occasionally run a test server with 0.7.1-dev (various revisions) or the newest Aurora which is based on it, i.e. HG 1.5 i7 (flaky and rarely if ever works). But the less secure HG 1.0 is/was very much more reliable. I think it’s these very security features that make it fail so often.

      The trouble is that I shall have to rediscover one of my old avatars on another grid that still has HG 1.0 to be able to join you. All the best!

      Reply
  6. dahlia

     /  December 24, 2010

    There has been a working viewer 2 compatible mesh implementation in OpenSimulator core for over a month now, it was published several days before Linden released the source code for the mesh viewer. It’s still experimental code residing in the master development repository, but reports from those who have tested it have been positive.

    Reply
    • This was what I gathered from the blog reports online, and is a great thing. What annoyed me a little was the usual lack of information. If ModRex is dead (and the reason, I gather, is that it would have been incompatible with the Linden implementation), why was it not said? Why is there no information to say that it is being done with new code and *not* ModRex? If this is, as I strongly suspect, RealXtend code or at least code compatible with RealXtend, it would not have hurt to say this. The reason for my suspicion is that the code materialised so quickly, apparently out of thin air, with no previous whiff of it on the grapevine.

      What will be the implications for RealXtend? I should think, to be honest, that they will be as grave as the implications of mesh for Viewer 1.x. That is to say that core OpenSim will have stolen their thunder, and they will be reduced to a more mainstream distro of OpenSim rather than the flag-bearers of mesh in the metaverse. I do hope that RealXtend’s heroic efforts will now feed back into the mainstream code, particularly their work on mesh avatars and avatar skeletons. I prefer the kind of mutually compatible (so far) fork that we’re starting to see with Aurora, where the two codebases are kept in sync: that seems to be the intention, anyway.

      Reply
    • But many thanks for the info, and Merry Christmas, Dahlia!

      Reply
  7. dahlia

     /  December 24, 2010

    Thanks, and Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you too Starflower 🙂

    There was no attempt to steal anyone’s thunder. ModRex is not dead at all from what I’ve heard, rather it’s still used as a design target for RealXtend’s new Naali viewer project.

    SecondLife(tm) compatibility has been a target application for OpenSimulator since it’s inception and still remains so. It’s generally the core group which develops this compatibility, with a *lot* of help from community patch contributors. RealXtend is less interested in SecondLife compatibility and tends to favor mesh-based content which works with the Ogre rendering engine that they use in their first viewer and in Naali.

    There was no development done in secret, all was discussed openly in OpenSimulator related IRC channels for many weeks leading up to the code being written. There was much delay as LL had kept their mesh implementation in private beta, OpenSimulator developers were not part of that beta and had to wait for it to be opened before they could analyze how it worked. Once they did (with much help and guidance from the OpenMetaverse folks), implementation only involved simple code changes and hence happened rather quickly. It’s probably worth mentioning that most of the effort was (is?) on Linden’s side for designing the mesh formats and making the much more extensive changes required in the viewer.

    RealXtend does deserve credit for being a leader in bringing mesh to OpenSimulator and I’m sure many recognize that. They are also far from being dead; the Naali viewer is making incredible progress, has a very innovative and attractive user interface, and they also have a fork of OpenSimulator, named “Taiga” which contains many enhancements designed to work with Naali. Many RealXtend developers work closely with other members of the OpenSimulator community, including core, Aurora/Kokua, and SimianGrid/Fortis. However, mesh technology has been around for decades and is in use in many virtual world implementations and games today. IdealistViewer (http://forge.opensimulator.org/gf/project/idealistviewer/) and Rei (http://3di-rei.org) have both had a mesh implementation for probably 3 years now. It’s really SecondLife who are just starting to catch on 😉

    Reply
    • Hi Dahlia, it’s good to hear that the ModRex effort has not gone to waste. I did show in my own comment that I appreciate the work of RealXtend. I did not personally say that they are dead, or likely to be. But I see these things from a user perspective, which I feel you are missing in these comments. When OpenSim has mesh, it will reduce the impetus for people to use a less interoperable and mainstream platform such as RealXtend, even if, as you say, there is no intentional effort to steal anybody’s thunder. I am sorry for the unguarded phrase, as I meant to describe the effect rather than the motivations. I did know about OGRE too. It’s hard to know what kind of rendering system gives better results, as most of us don’t have the wherewithal to compare. It’s as much as I can do to run one basic OpenSim grid.

      In fact, your comment about it not having been done in secret really does underline my point. IRC is not a communication channel to anybody but developers who happen to be online at the time. It is akin to a phone call in being transient. By the way I did not suggest anything had occurred in secret. But there is absolutely no communication about any of the matters that I have raised with the user base, including people who implement grid services such as myself. So it might as well have been in secret, for all the difference that it makes. We are not all developers, and if developers have no users then their software will be largely unused, so it is just as well that we exist. There is no good documentation, and I’m sorry to say that conversations between the developers on IRC will simply not cut it. Why should we be reduced to trying to draw scraps of information together, as I have done? If you know better, then please, please communicate it with the rest of us on a more systematic basis. I know this takes a lot of time, but it is important. It is one of the reasons that so many people think “oh it’s too technical, there is no way that I could use OpenSim because there is no way even to know how to set it up”. This holds back everybody, in the long run.

      The timing of the OpenSim mesh announcement, as I said, demonstrates that LL can still make the OpenSim community jump. Otherwise, I agree it is them who are often lagging behind or playing catch-up. That is one of the reasons that OpenSim could still have a very bright future – given rather better communication efforts. Do you think perhaps it is time to get more non-developers involved, who are users, service providers etc and could give a lead in showing what information is lacking?

      Reply
  8. Starflower —

    I am also very frustrated by the hypergrid development issues, and it’s making it impossible to create hyperports — you can’t jump to regions too far away, or to regions running on different versions of OpenSim.

    I’m hoping that all these issues get fixed soon.

    I’m guessing that the problems are due to the fact that the OpenSim developers are trying to roll out as much functionality as possible (increased security, mesh, media-on-a-prim, etc…) before they hit version 1.0. Maintaining backwards compatibility is wonderful, but it slows down development quite a bit.

    I guess, having my choice, I’d rather they made all the big changes up front, before the user base got too big, and then start worrying about backwards compatibility after they hit 1.0. Also, it gives those of us on the cutting edge time to get our business models in place before the big user rush!

    — Maria Korolov
    Editor, Hypergrid Business

    Reply
  9. Thank you, Starflower

    You hit on lots of problems both with Opensim and TPV’s. As a user myself (or I should say traveller) I share the frustrations you mention with regard to Opensim. Those that hate Opensim and never have a good word to say about it often complain in the forums how laggy and dysfunctional it is compared to Second Life. Sadly, this is true to some degree since many sims exist on weak home standalones or under resourced servers. The physics leave a lot to be desired too.

    You are right about lack of information coming from the developers. That too is a big frustration and as I do my research I constantly find conflicting so-called facts that turn out to be false or half-truths and, given I am the type to do my home work before committing money to a project, I have so far been put off investing in an Opensim grid. That’s not to say I don’t want to, I do, but I feel what is the point if you are faced with having to convince people to come to your grid and then have to explain away the deficiencies. I don’t think it will make people want to stay.

    I successfully run an RPG on four sims in SL and I know I could make a far better world in Opensim if only the physics were better. I do believe in the notion of a free and open metaverse and I am as angry at Linden Labs for the same reasons others are. I’m not that concerned about mesh. Nice to have but I doubt it will do much to improve Opensim or make it more attractive if SL has it too. We will still be in the same position until the physics are dealt with and Hypergrid gives the security that is needed such a setting to prevent items leaving the grid where they are sold (I think vendors should provide outlets on trusted grids and make sold goods available free to purchasers on their home grid after it has been bought). Aurora dose promise to deal with the physics but now I am told it wont support Hypergrid until it stops being incompatible with itself so it seems doors open and close all the time.

    The bottom line is that people like me with some money to invest are sitting on the fence miss-informed or, at best, ill-informed.

    Reply
    • You’re welcome! The only point that I would make here is that whoever told you about Aurora not supporting HG was wrong. I know this because I have successfully run a test grid on Aurora and teleported between grids as normal for HG 1.5, i.e. with the usual sporadic success! It did work once or twice. Aurora is fairly securely based on the current development master of OpenSim, so it should share all its features. The physics in Aurora currently has some oddities: for instance, I found myself standing on an invisible column of air several times. However, to be fair the development code has only just been made public and so I’d expect some initial glitches.

      I suppose we do have to remember that OpenSim is officially Alpha software. However, I must say that it’s altogether rather convenient to “freeze” the status as Alpha, which seems to me rather an excuse not to do proper testing and constantly introduce new bugs. They do have logistical difficulties with so many developers donating their free time and no easy way to create a central organisation. In reality, they are in Beta, even if they don’t admit it. On the other hand, I do have to congratulate them for providing an alternative to SL at all. It’s hard to know sometimes whether to be critical or not. But like you, I must admit to considerable frustration!

      Reply

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