Yesterday, Linden Lab threw a series of surprises at us; among them was an announcement that the much-touted / derided / hot topic Viewer 2.0 is now available – at least in Beta.
Already there is much being said about the Viewer both on the official blogrum and elsewhere. This is my personal perspective.
On first looks, not that bad. True the default skin colour is not the greatest – but then skin options aren’t probably top of the features stack at this point (assuming skins will feature in the full release).
Linden Lab have themselves initiated the means to smooth the transition to the new Viewer – clearly hoping it will become the new defacto standard sooner rather than later. As such, a breakdown of the Viewer’s appearance can be found on their wiki, which is pictorially very good – if a little light on details.
The top menu bar is substantially different to anything previously encountered in SL, while also managing to retain some familiar items – for example, the menu options are still there, even if the actual drop-downs have been simplified in terms of content, and a couple have both new names and content (ME and COMMUNICATE). ADVANCED can still be called up (CTRL-ALT-D), although ADMIN appears to have gone. This section of the screen retains your account balance (and option to buy L$) and the SL clock. BUILD has also found its way up to this menu bar as well – of which more anon.
Two of the most striking omissions from this part of the screen are your current location co-ordinates and access to ABOUT LAND. Both are already causing much gnashing of teeth.
Accessing ABOUT LAND is now a matter of doing one of three things:
- Physically clicking on the land itself (as with Viewer 1.X) and then bring up ABOUT LAND in the new CONTEXT menus (again, more anon)
- Going to WORLD- > PLACE PROFILE and selecting ABOUT LAND
- Clicking on the “Information” symbol to the left of your location’s name in the FAVOURITES BAR – this will bring up the land details in PLACES within the SIDEBAR, which also includes an ABOUT LAND button which will bring up the familiar pop-up menu for land.
Once in the About Land pop-up, nothing really (other than the layout) has been changed.
Menus in the menu bar, have, as stated, been significantly changed. The emphasis for doing this appears to have been driven by a desire for overall simplification of the interface (never a bad thing in moderation) and to make what are regarded as the most commonly used features available from a variety of locations within the Viewer itself. Hence, in the menu bar we now have ME – a menu that pulls up options to view your in-world profile, edit your appearance, access your inventory, etc.
This menu also allows you to buy L$ and – importantly – is now the place to go to when you want to change your Viewer preferences. Finally – as a part of their new “web integration” policy – ME includes a link to your “Dashboard” that is displayed when you are logged into the Second Life website.
COMMUNICATE also groups together the core communications options, which (like inventory, appearance editing, etc., in ME) can be accessed from numerous other points in the Viewer.
WORLD offers a simplified WORLD menu carried over from Viewer 1.X – but which places access to the Region / Estate settings under a submenu (PLACE PROFILE). While this has caused much gnashing of teeth elsewhere, speaking as a land owner / sim operator, I actually don’t have a problem with it; the majority of users don’t need access to Estate controls, so dropping them onto a submenu really isn’t that much of an issue. Giving the menu option a more meaningful name (“Place Profile” seems a tad bland and easy to overlook) perhaps is perhaps more important than relocating the actual menu options.
BUILD pretty much does what it says on the box, and incorporates a few “new” options from other menus, while HELP and ADVANCED offer reduced menus when compared to Viewer 1.X (decreasing the amount of screen space taken up by them), retaining again what are considered to be the most “useful” options for users.
Task Panel Bar
The task panel bar is potentially the area of the Viewer that is going to cause the second largest number of complaints from established users. Gone is the double bar of Viewer 1.X with it’s option Chat bar, and the media controls (the latter moved up to the menu bar, and relocated next to the SL clock).
Instead we have one catch-all bar with a (greatly reduced) chat bar, plus buttons controlling Voice, gestures, movement, camera controls and snapshots, plus a taskbar area that gradually fills with icons as you set about doing things. Two icons appear here by default – a chat balloon, which relates to ongoing conversations that are minimised and an e-mail icon, that relates to incoming Group (and other) Notifications.
This latter seems a good idea: while Notices still pop-up on-screen, then can either be read and deleted, or moved to the notifications queue for reading later – this icon keeps count of the number of waiting Notices, and clicking on it opens a list from which you can open individual Notices & read / delete them.
Within this area, the MOVE and VIEW buttons are liable to cause the most consternation. GONE is the option to have nice, small camera and movement controls on-screen. Instead, users are restricted to and EITHER / OR situation. What’s more, both the pop-ups that are displayed are huge – bigger, I would suggest, than is necessary even for those with accessibility issues. A further inconvenience here is that while Viewer 1.X presents the camera movement & camera rotation options side-by-side (with zoom in between), the Viewer 2.0 camera controls can only be toggled between the two: either you are moving the camera, or you are rotating it. As a builder who is constantly switching between the two, I can see this change alone causing complaints – let alone the inability to have both camera and movement controls on-screen at the same time.
Beyond this, the VIEW pop-up includes options to go to Mouselook, to change the camera’s position when looking at yourself and an option to move the camera independently of the control using the cursor keys. For people like myself, who use a Trackball rather than a mouse, it is nice to see that ZOOM finally works simply by rolling the trackball, rather than using awkward button combinations or the ZOOM slider, as is the case with Viewer 1.X.
This is the most obvious new feature in the Viewer. Described by Linden Lab as “a multi-functional display that contains many useful tools for customizing your avatar, exploring the world, and learning about your surroundings”, it is also the one that has – and will – generate the most consternation among established users – and very probably among many new users.
In essence, it is a gathering-together of diverse options from Viewer 1.X, together with a few new features. Six buttons are available on the sidebar:
- HOME: which contains links to your appearance, the world map, your secondlife.com “Dashboard” – and anything else Linden Lab (emphasis intentional) wish to put in front of you.
- MY PROFILE which takes you (unsurprisingly) to your in-world profile information, presented in an entirely new format that is already confusing established users (admittedly, given the comments I’ve seen, because they simply haven’t looked)
- PEOPLE which captures the old Friends and Groups lists and adds a couple of features
- INVENTORY which is self-explanatory
- PLACES which is a break-out of the LANDMARKS folder in your inventory, and which also provides a tab to a genuine teleport history list.
- MY APPEARANCE which ostensibly takes you to a break-out of the new “My Outfits” folder found in your inventory, as well as the old WORN tab from the Viewer 1.X Inventory pop-up.
Sounds fine on the surface; however there are several fundamental issues with the Sidebar that need addressing outside of any other concerns / feedback on the Viewer as a whole.
- The sidebar, however you look at it, is intrusive. While it can be scrolled back off-screen when not needed, when visible it takes up (on a 19-inch monitor) around a 1/4 of the screen. On a 12-inch laptop screen, and due to the icons used in the HOME button – it takes up even more and makes using Second Life next to impossible if you want to – say – have your inventory visible when building.
- When open, the Sidebar overlays the HUD attach points to the right of the screen, making any tools located there inaccessible, while at the same time shunting the HUD attach points to the left of the screen completely off-screen, thus making them inaccessible. So again, it is impossible to have inventory access and retain HUD access. For HUDs that can contain objects copied from inventory via drag-and-drop (i.e. building HUDs like JexTone) this could be a major issue.
- My Outfits doesn’t seem to work. While it happily lists the default clothing items pre-listed under MY OUTFITS in your inventory (and as supplied by Linden Lab), I have yet to make any outfit folder I drag from CLOTHING into the MY OUTFITS folder visible in the My Outfits list. Simply doesn’t happen.
- The PROFILE layout is a mess. Given the amount of VERTICAL space available in the sidebar, cramming a profile picture AND the associated text side-by-side is a complete mistake. Not only doe it make formatting your profile text into something readable next to impossible, it also requires the use of a MORE link to display anything more than the first 4 lines of a profile (no scroll bar).
- WORLD MAP (from the HOME button) is almost useless – all it does is open up a static picture of a section of the world map (not even your current location….), together with a load of advertising waffle users don’t need, ergo: “Second Life is a vast world with thousands of unique regions created by residents…..See where people are hanging out now! Explore the depth and breadth of Second Life”. A further button is then required to actually open the World Map. Why not simply retain the World Map button down in the task area at the bottom of the screen?
Actually using the new Viewer is not that bad for the experienced user – all it requires is a little patience; which to be honest, in reviewing many comments in the Viewer 2.0 forum, is something many people seem to leave checked at the door on entering SL through the new Viewer.
Remains pretty much as standard, even allowing for the issues with the on-screen movement and camera controls mentioned above. You can still walk around via the cursor keys, jump by tapping PAGE UP, fly up by pressing & holding PAGE UP, and flying down by initially pressing and holding PAGE DOWN.
Moving the camera DOES require activating the VIEW button at the bottom of the screen, which is a nuisance, but at least if you press the button with the camera icon on it, you can reduce the movement controls to a minimised set of buttons and move the camera around without losing a chunk of your in-world view. And, as mentioned, having zoom finally tied-in to a trackball is a nice-to-have for people like myself.
Contrary to mischief-making commentaries made by people who should know better as follow-up to other people’s blogs, the building tools have not been removed from Viewer 2.0. Nope, they are right-up, front-and-centre. All three means of commencing a building session remain, even if one has changed a little.
- By right-clicking on an object and selecting EDIT from the CONTEXT menu
- By clicking on the BUILD button on the menu bar
- By leaving the mouse pointer in-world and pressing CTRL-B.
All three display the Editing Palette; and, admittedly, none of them replaces the old CREATE option from the 1.X pie menu. This means that that in all 3 cases you have to select the CREATE option from the Editing palette in order to generate a new prim. However, this is again more a pedantic irritant for experienced builders, rather than a show-stopper.
The Editing palette itself remains largely unchanged (other than for media options – see later), with all the familiar (and needed) tabs and options.
HOWEVER, in playing with editing objects, I did come across an annoyance: the inability to de-select an object or prim. On Viewer 1.X, closing the Edit palette would de-select the object. Not in Viewer 2.0; close the object, and it remains selected (highlighted by the coloured wireframe). Left-clicking elsewhere doesn’t de-select it either. So far the only way I’ve found to de-select is to right-click on my avatar – which changes the CONTEXT menu (removing the EDIT option), and performs a de-selction as a result. This may be a functional error peculiar to the Beta version – but it is bloody irritating.
On-screen Pop-ups, Windows and Palettes
Allowing for the fact that this Viewer is beta, a further problem is the fact that all on-screen pop-ups, palettes and windows remain solid throughout the time they are on display. This means that if you have the sidebar open and (for example) open up ABOUT LAND – the sidebar remains open and solid, blocking your view of the right side of the window. If you already have the Editing palette open at the time, this also remains solid even when the focus is on ABOUT LAND….thus, with just s few options open on-screen, you quickly lose the ability to see / do anything. If this Viewer is to find a use among experienced users, the ability to have those pop-up elements that are not focused on turn semi-transparent is a must.
The pie menu is dead! All hail the CONTEXT menus!
The idea is simple: click on objects, get a small menu with the options you’ll most use when manipulating objects (Edit, Zoom, Touch, Sit on, Take, etc.); click on your avatar, and get the menu options you’ll use with your avatar – Edit Appearance, etc; click on another avatar, get a menu with options to view their profile (via the Sidebar – ugh!) or communicate with them, and so on.
It’s cute and intuitive. Whether people like them is another matter. I’m neutral about them myself.
Continue reading “Viewer 2.0 – Initial impressions”