Meshes, third-party viewers, ModRex, and OpenSim

It was widely reported recently that Qarl Linden (also Qarl Fizz in civvy street, and Karl Stiefvater in real life), had been fired from his job at Linden Lab as a result of the restructuring/cost-saving exercise that they carried out earlier in the year. (It’s still not clear whether, after the announcement of his joining the Emerald team, whether he remains there, has transferred to Phoenix, or is no longer associated with either.) The importance of this is that he was the major developer behind the adoption of meshes in SL, which it appears has now been abandoned. Meshes, for those that don’t know, can do two things:

(1) Allow objects to be any shape natively, avoiding the halfway house that is sculpted prims. Sculpties appear first as blobs and then take their shape according to an additional texture which acts as a texture map. Instead, mesh objects could be imported from external 3D modelling software and other sources already on the Web.

(2) Allow avatars to be any shape, no longer necessarily relying on the crude controls created by Linden Lab, which survive from its early days. This allows shapes to be imported from external sources, and would allow far more realistic avatars, as well as all sorts of other shapes for avatars, including non-human ones. This is possible using ModRex and RealXtend with OpenSim.

At present, it is possible to use ModRex with OpenSim, but the majority of grids running OpenSim do not. Why? The main reason is that most third-party viewers, e.g. Phoenix (formerly Emerald), Imprudence, Hippo, Ascent, do not support meshes. You would have to download the RealXtend Viewer to do this. There is also an experimental viewer called Naali, which has been designed to avoid using any code from the Linden Viewer and thus avoid the GPL licence. However, Naali does not yet support multiple regions, which means that you can’t teleport out from the sim that you log into. So the best solution for most people remains the RealXtend Viewer at present, which is a heavily modified third-party viewer, based on the standard Linden code.

The problem with RealXtend is that it is only used by a handful of devoted developers and has not achieved any market penetration. There is little point using it with SL, which does not support meshes. Few people use it with OpenSim. Would it not be better to capitalise on the market penetration of popular viewers like Phoenix and Imprudence by enabling meshes in grids that support it? Naturally, this should not affect their performance in SL, or in OpenSim grids that do not enable ModRex. As the RealXtend code is under the GPL like the other third-party viewers based on Linden code, the necessary modifications to the code are already available to and reusable by the Phoenix and Imprudence developers.

Although the third-party viewers support OpenSim grids, it has not by and large been their focus. I’d suggest that they need to wise up to the increasing flow of users to OpenSim grids, which are now viable, stable alternatives to SL, some of which have currency and functioning economies. If the major viewers support ModRex, its development will become more of a priority for the OpenSim developers, and their eventual plan to make it a standard module for OpenSim will be realised quicker. The metaverse would, at a stroke, become far more attractive because of the ability to support modern, games-style graphics that meshes would deliver. For a long time now, SL and OpenSim have been visually old-fashioned, and thus they lose users to otherwise less sophisticated virtual worlds. If OpenSim supported a functionality that SL doesn’t, and yet the viewers that are used to connect to SL can support, there would be a strong impetus to implement it in SL too, in order to remain competitive.

In short, mesh support in Phoenix, Imprudence and other viewers, taken from the GPL RealXtend code, would dramatically increase the attractiveness of OpenSim, and probably SL as soon as the risk of being outdone by the competition drove them to follow suit. One ModRex becomes standard in OpenSim, content will be better, cheaper, and the metaverse will move into a new, more modern era. The revolution in content quality will be greater than what was offered by flexible and sculpted prims put together. While meshes are not available, other platforms will increasingly steal users away from OpenSim and SL. It must therefore be the biggest priority for OpenSim, if our way of life in the 3D metaverse is to develop, thrive and survive.

Arabella Steadham

This post by Arabella Steadham is enough to convince me that she is trustworthy. However, Phox, whom she defends, has got up to things even worse than what she accuses Jessica Lyon of (creating and distributing a viewer that bypasses permissions). That is itself a serious charge, and one I’d like to see Jessica’s response to. Both Arabella and Jessica covered up the DDOS, which assuredly did happen, even if it did not bring the attacked site down. The comments about the Ascent developers are also disturbing, and they need to respond to these accusations in public. While I am convinced of Arabella’s honest intentions, I am less certain about her judgement. Another part of being a team is being able to be frank with team members who have stepped over the line and, while not throwing them to the wolves for their misdemeanours, making sure that they are seen to have been reformed. You do not cover for people’s offences, and defending your friends doesn’t mean that you should do that.

The lesson is that nobody is perfect. If you only trust paragons of virtue, you will have a difficult time. Perhaps it is time to forgive Phox and Fractured, and most certainly Arabella and Jessica. On the other hand, much more accountability needs to be delivered in future to make sure that they don’t re-offend. I hope that the Emerald crisis will have been instrumental in delivering that accountability. I’m sorry to see Arabella lose heart, and for ill will to be created between her and the others.

Nobody has mentioned that Emerald remains perfectly usable for OpenSim grids. The best of these are as reliable and have greater functionality than SL, while retaining all of the expected features. The drama, however, is missing.

One this is certain though, Linden Lab are certainly taking advantage of the Emerald crisis for their own benefit. It is the predicted death knell for the Emerald Viewer. It was engineered: they knew that the demand to drop Phox, the best developer on the team, was too much for the project to bear. But my faith in the Lab has hardly been shaken by that! It has never been more than partial and conditional, and I think this is wise: they are a corporation whose express interests are in marketing their own products. Their Viewer 2.0 was an embarrassing failure, and they are trying to cover it up by removing the major competitor (monopolistic trading). It will not work, because other viewers, better than their own, will take its place. In the process, yet more customers, yet more developers, have once again been alienated.

Another bad move, Linden Lab.