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.
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.
This is one of the big-hitters for Viewer 2.0. essentially, any editable texture can be replaced with web-based media. Simply select the texture face on the prim to be replaced, go to the TEXTURE tab of the Editing palette for the prim, and click on the “obvious” “+” button (why not a button called “Media Options” for crying out loud – there’s ROOM for one!). This opens a further palette that allows you to select your media: a static web page, a streaming video, a news channel, whatever.
Privacy is considered: select a page (say, your webmail account) and the page can only be seen by YOU – those around you continue to see a blank prim.
There do appear to be issues, tho:
- On loading a video, I found the video ran in both the prim AND the preview window of the media palette (thus giving me stereo sound). Closing the media palette window should have solved this – indeed did the first time; however, on subsequent attempts, I found the sound from the preview continued to play even with the media palette closed (so I assume the video itself was still streaming). I had to physically close the Editing palette completely to stop the stereo effect
- Once you have closed the Editing palette, there does not appear to be any means of changing the media stream without deleting it completely from the prim and starting over.
A final – and recognised – issue with shared media is the lack of volume controls. This means the results are very hit-and-miss, audio-wise. Get a really loud media item and you’re going to plastered against the wall behind you. Some quiet, and you’re going to be cranking up your headphones / speakers and possibly STILL straining to hear…
LL have said the controls will be made a lot more granular in a “future release”. One sincerely hopes by “future” they in fact mean “first full” release.
communications are also something of an irritant for the established user and waste a lot of space. While IMs and chat windows do retain their familiar functionality:
- You cannot nest IM windows and chat together.
- By default, you cannot even nest all your various IM and Group conversations – you have to expressly select an option in PREFERENCES to do so and restart the Viewer.
- Both IM and chat windows expend a lot of space on idiotic title headers for each post – so: you post, you get a title header with your profile picture, your name, the time. Someone replies and their reply appears with a header, their profile picture and the time. It’s bad enough in an IM window between two people – but in the chat or a Group IM window with several people talking – it makes following the conversation nigh-on impossible. Nothing scans with the eye.
Search function pretty much as before, although the layout of the Search window has changed. Classified has moved to its own section of the Search Window, leaving People, Places, Groups, Land Sales and Events under the general SEARCH tab. Gone is the Showcase tab (no surprises as LL are ending Showcase), which is replaced by a third major tab in the window called DESTINATION GUIDE, which offers a lot more categories of places to visit than the old search.
The most irritating thing about the search is the amount (again) of wasted space / reliance on the blasted Sidebar.
In the OLD search….searching PEOPLE would give you a nice, pageable list of names on the left. Click on one, and their profile appeared on the right. Clean and sensible and compact.
NOW…enter a name…you get get around 4 returns…and a load of classifieds from people with part of the name typed in. Clicking on a name in the main part of the display gives you a “mini profile” which gives the profile picture, SOME text from the profile text area and buttons to IM or Teleport – and one for more DETAILS – which throws open the Sidebar and displays the profile there.
Other search options are truncated with pointless info. Search on places? No more nice list on the left and the option to view further info on the right of the Search window. Again, all you get is a return of 3 or 4…each with a pointless “New to SecondLife? Try…!” or similar. You can click on one item to expand it … somewhat ….BUT…click on the DETAILS button, and it opens the info in the poxy Sidebar – with exactly the same info as on the expansion into the Search window! Did I just say “UGH”?
No… if there is one BIG failing in Viewer 2.0 Beta, other than the Sidebar, it is Search. I can see it driving “new” users up the wall alongside established users.
As well as the issues raised above, Viewer 2.0 also needs looking at in several other areas.
One acknowledged issue – a biggie for content creators especially – is that the old INSPECT functionality has all but gone from the current Beta version. It has in part been replaced by a thing called “Object profile” – but the level of information supplied is insufficient: creator / owner details, for example, are totally lacking. Fortunately, LL have acknowledged this shortfall, and have stated the functionality will be back.
The Viewer also demonstrates a degree of mis-labelling that needs to be looked at as well. One example of this is with the term “My Appearance”:
- “My Appearance” appears on the ME menu in the menu bar, and in the Avatar context menu. Both of these options, as you would expect, take you into the My Appearance Editing palette
- “My Appearance” appears on the HOME button tab of the Sidebar, complete with the text “Create a New Look” and a button to “Open the Appearance Editor” – but clicking on this button does not launch the Appearance Editing palette as one would anticipate…instead it opens the MY APPEARANCE Button / Tab on the Sidebar, which lists the clothing folders located in the “My Appearance” folder of your inventory.
Thus, we have the same term meaning two completely different things: Avatar editing, and changing clothes.
The solution is simple: make sure “My Appearance” is confined to the physical shape of an avatar, and use “My Outfits” when referring to clothing.
Another issue is the rezzing engine, which seems decidedly unstable. I have the same settings for Viewer 2.0 as for Viewer 1.X and Emerald; however, in Viewer 2.0 I suffer from prims becoming transparent on me – particularly when I open / close on-screen windows / palettes, or when I use and of the CONTEXT menus.
The lack of any ability to tear-off menus and lists – particularly from the Sidebar is bloody annoying. That you cannot float the inventory window when building is simply idiotic – and demonstrates very clearly that whoever designed the new Viewer has no concept of the in-world building process. Yes you can have inventory open (within the Sidebar)….but you’ll lose far more viewing space if you do than you would in Viewer 1.X.
More minor problems I encountered were:
- Created prims failing to rez with the selected texture type (metal, glass, etc.), and instead remaining “wood”
- The Viewer failing to retain my user name and password when logging in with “Remember Me” checked: password had to be manually typed (not that I tend to use the “remember” option anyway).
- Extraordinarily long Tp times compared with other viewers.
- Media controls defaulting to media being ON. This is exceedingly irritating, particularly between Tp’s. Several times I got blasted out of my chair simply by leaving home (no active media stream) and arriving somewhere playing god-awful technocrap.
- The aforementioned lack of ability to easily deselect edited objects, leaving the selection wire frame glowing around them.
- The fact that the default picture format for saving snapshots is still PNG…for crying out loud….can we not have JPG?
- The little cog icon for “further menu options” is hardly intuitive. Why not a simple “More” option?
One of the intriguing aspects of the 2.0 Beta documentation is the passing mention that the HOME section of the Sidebar will enable updates made from within the Viewer. These hints suggest that such updates will be installed as a part of the log-in process, or which can be implemented while SL is running (presumably by clicking on a banner in the HOME tab of the Sidebar. One would assume, if reading these hints correctly, that any updates not installed during a session (i.e. received while already logged into SL) could be automatically installed during the log-out process.
If so, this feature alone opens up interesting possibilities….especially for 3rd party Viewers based on the open source version of the code (see below).
Viewer 2 and Open Source
One issue that has been banging around is what Viewer 2.0 means for 3rd party Viewers. Many have assumed that the new Viewer code will remain closed: thus limiting the ability to include features within it in other Viewers.
Well… this is not the case. Not only will Viewer 2.0 be open source – it is already available as open source. Indeed, this review was in part written using the open source version of the Viewer – which still carries the Snowglobe branding. Don’t believe me? Go to the Snowglobe wiki page. 1/2 way down, you’ll see the links for the Snowglobe 2.0 Windows, Mac and Linux versions.
From this, it would seem that Linden Lab intend for the new Viewer, UI and all, to become the defacto standard for all viewers.
But for all this, Viewer 2.0 is hardly the abomination some would like us to believe. It is interesting those predisposed to noty liking the viewer and lambasting it even before it arrived, have seen not to revise their opinions after giving the new Viewer as much as … 30 minutes … of trial and consideration. Indeed, some have refused to touch it and slammed it based on comments from people who (quote), took “two minutes” to look at it before deciding Viewer 1.X was better.
Like any new tool, it is going to take getting used to – whether you ar a new or established user – but refusing to even try is senseless.
That said, there are the aforementioned issues that do need addressing. Even for the “new” user at who this Viewer is primarily aimed, repeated use is going to make elements of it annoying in the extreme if kept in their present form, and do so very quickly – thus defeating it’s purpose: new users annoyed with the interface are going to stick around about as long as new users lost in an orientation centre.
The decision to go open souce with the code also puts the Lab’s comments about “power users” needing to continue to use 3rd party viewers into proper perspective. Far from dishing “power” / established users, confining them forever to the world of the 1.X Viewer as many of us thought, the comments were meant in the context that 3rd parties will still be able to add functionality to the Viewer while still having access to all the new goodies – media sharing, etc. – which is fair and proper.
Of course, the flipside is that the anti-OS brigade will still have reason to rant.
What will be interesting to see is – if the demand is there – whether someone will be able to develop a version that incorporates the UI we like, some of the missing options (ability to CREATE from a Context menu, for example), and the funky new features like media streaming into an all-singing Viewer entity.
The automatic update facility – if understood correctly – could also help ensure third party Viewers adhere to certain standards defined by LL. If this is feasible, then it might be a way of LL boxing clever and giving their third party Viewer policy some teeth.
Overall, while not overwhelmed by Viewer 2.0, I’m also not about to crucify it. Allowing for the caveat of LL fixing some of the larger issues I’ve mentioned – I can actually see it working very well. It really comes down to people being prepared to accept it is something new, and that as such, they are going to have to adapt.
Other than the dodos among us, of course….
Since writing the above, I’ve discovered a few things that help Viewer 2.0:
- Typing the name of a region in the Address bar will Tp you there. Duh, this is probably documented by LL, so I’m just slow on the uptake
- The Chat and IM windows can lose with idiotic headers with profile picks by going to ME > PREFERENCES > CHAT and checking ENABLE PLAIN CHAT TEXT HISTORY.
- Inventory: open it in the Sidebar and then go to the little cog at the bottom of the window, click OPEN IN NEW WINDOW, and presto! the old, floating inventory window! Admittedly, you have to keep it minimised when not using it, to prevent it reverting to the Sidebar – but at least it is there!
- And – You can create prims directly without having to open the Editing Palette. However, it only works when you are on open ground: simply right-click the ground and select BUILD from the Context menu. I boobed here, as I assumed BUILD in this menu would pop-up the Editing palette, just is the Context Menu for prims does. Mea Culpa!
- Some handy tweaks from Alexandra Fride. I can vouch for the tweaks to add an ABOUT LAND button to the navigation bar and to makde “BUILD” in all Context menus default to CREATE. I *did* have issues with making the Chat * IM windows transparent – as all pop-up windows when transparent….and hard to see!