Perhaps Emerald have been listening…

I don’t mean listening to *me*! I’m under no illusion about my importance in the metaverse, and have no doubt that I would not even appear on their radar. But to be fair, after my last post, I feel bound to say that Emerald have improved two things, while they are consistently making other things less useful. Here are the good points:

(1) The grid manager is restored in Emerald 1.3.2.2010 Beta. It is now clear that they only removed it temporarily because they had to re-factor their code and re-apply it to the new Linden code base. The breakage of the old, simpler “grid combo” was probably accidental and I doubt that they even realise that it won’t work for entering free text URIs when the grid manager is not applied to the code. It may even be fixed in the new code base, but the matter is now inconsequential anyway.

(I should say that I have raised the issue of the short character limit for URIs with Kirsten Lee Cinquetti but have not yet received any direct communication, though I haven’t checked if my blog comment has received a reply. It’s a shame because Kirsten’s Viewer is probably the most lag free of all, in addition to having the best graphics. There is no reason to exclude OpenSim users when the now standard code could so easily be ported. It is worse because there is no XML method to add your own grid, as there is in other viewers without the grid manager: see my latest comments in the previous post for instructions and details of how to do it yourself in a viewer without a grid manager. Even the lesser of the two methods would make this excellent viewer just operable in OpenSim, at least for those able to edit some simple XML, though not for everybody.)

(Update: short character limit in Kirsten’s Viewer S20 has been removed, at least in late August 2010 when I checked.)

(2) FINALLY, the longstanding failure of Emerald to rezz avatars in OpenSim grids has been fixed. It is a problem that was, and probably still is, shared with the Linden Viewer 2.0 code base. But don’t check this out, kids! Viewer 2.0 has been reported to do damage to OpenSim inventories, and may continue to do so until the OpenSim developers fix Linden Lab’s breakage of the code and report that it’s safe. Don’t wait up for LL to do it themselves! So Emerald has NOT abandoned the metaverse. But I feel bound to ask why it took nearly a year to fix such a small problem that they recognised aeons ago? Do they value OpenSim?

BUT why do Emerald keep giving their users and then, without any full explanation, then take them away again?

(1) The latest to go is the script pre-processor that was meant to radically decrease load on sims by moving script handling partly over to the client side when a script is first run. That would be helping LL and clearly in no way in breach of the TPV policy, since it actually increases other users’ enjoyment of their grid by reducing lag. So was it broken? Why is it removed “temporarily, maybe?” as they put it. Is there a dispute with LL? Why, as usual, are users kept in the dark? It doesn’t engender trust.

(2) IRC is removed. (I may add that the Greenlife Utility Stream is also removed, but I doubt many people used it.)

(3) The export function has been crippled for all grids, not just SL. Imprudence, in contrast, had to prevent their version of the code from handling textures when in SL (compatible with Meerkat and Hippo but not Emerald’s version, as it happens) in order to comply with the TPV. This is understandable, as is the helpful fact that it still works in OpenSim grids. Before anyone bleats about IPR breaches, remember please that not all OpenSim grids are commercial grids in the first place, and the vast majority of reputable grid operators like myself do not allow or condone IPR breaches in any case. (I don’t call it theft here because I’m being technically correct, as it is a civil not criminal offence, but that does not mean that I support it in any way.)

(4) The Emerald splash screen (including the brand new one in this new beta) is enforced even when connecting to OpenSim grids, giving only LL and Modular Systems news and thus making it impossible for users to see grid status and news for where they actually want to connect. No other viewer does this. Why make it difficult for people?

(5) The Emerald Viewer allows people to see whether somebody has allowed you to see whether or not you are online, which goes against the spirit of the function, whereby you were supposed to be able to appear offline at will. Admittedly this was publicly available information anyway, as you could find it in three ways (a) check someone’s profile, where it will show you if they are online (all viewers? I forget…); (b) check a group that shows members and that you know the person to be a member of, which you can find in their profile; (c) send them an IM. If offline, it will give a message warning you that they are offline and the message is saved, but otherwise it will remain silent. Nonetheless, no other viewer makes it so blatant, totally removing the point of the function and reducing it to meaning only “I don’t want to talk to you” rather than the gentler “I might not be at home”.

Overall, some brownie points to Emerald for not *completely* abandoning the metaverse, but there are some usability problems of their own making, some unexplained and pointless withdrawals of useful features that have taken effort and code to create, and generally very poor communication with users. I won’t make the accusations that some have made about Emerald’s alleged covert monitoring activities and deliberate posting of broken code so nobody else can compile it, as I have no information. But some of their faults are plain for all to see and are, for such an otherwise excellent viewer, entirely avoidable problems.

But to end on a positive note, kudos once again for fixing the grid manager and the rezzing – thanks!

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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.