LL unveil the “Basic” Viewer

On the 16th March, Linden Lab pushed a new version of Viewer 2 into a Development release. Version has two modes associated with it: “Advanced” – the Viewer we are all now familiar with, and “Basic” – a version with a trimmed-down feature-set designed to get new users familiar with the Viewer and UI.

I downloaded a copy of the Viewer (thanks, Ann!), and took it for a spin. Here’s what I found.

Installation and Start-up

Installation is as you’d expect from a Second Life Viewer: simple and direct. Given this is a Development copy, it goes into its own folder, but be warned: the Viewer appears to use the same folders for caches, etc., as the Release version.

On starting the Viewer however, there is an immediate difference: the splash screen now has an additional button, which allows you to set the default mode of the Viewer – either BASIC or ADVANCED, with the former selected by default following installation.

The new Mode button

Toggling between the two modes is a little clumsy: you have to select the alternate mode, then quit the Viewer (you are prompted to do so) before manually re-starting. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue for those moving up from Basic to Advanced, but it would still be nice to see the re-start handled automatically: confirm your wish to quit and have the Viewer resume without you having to go find the icon and clicking on it once more.

The User Interface

Once the Viewer is started, things get interesting. For a start, there is no menu bar at the top of the screen, nor are there any options available to display one, or the Favourites bar by right-clicking up there. Instead, there is just the address bar and the media play / pause button and the volume control.

There is also no Sidebar.

The button bar at the bottom of the screen also demonstrates noticeable differences. The familiar chat box, Gesture and View buttons are there, everything else is somewhat different.

The Basic Mode Button bar

Replacing Speak (the Basic Mode does not support Voice), Move and Snapshot buttons, the new user has a range of function-specific buttons:


Opens up a full-width window across the bottom of the UI, displaying all the major destination categories, thus:

The Destination window

Click on a category, and a new set of options is displayed, complete with a Browser-analogous “back” option to get back to preceding views. Clicking on an actual destination will teleport the user there – something that is potentially a little disconcerting the first time it happens, as there is no pop-up to warn the users as to what is about to happen; the screen simply blanks to the black teleport screen. Given there is no World Map or search function, the Destination button is pretty much the only way of getting around the Grid with the Basic mode.

My Avatar

Opens up a full-width window in much the same way as Destinations, but this one featuring a range of avatar looks, defined both in terms of ethnicity and dress style

The My Avatar window

Clicking on an avatar option will automatically drive the user’s appearance and clothing to change to the selected option – again, a very clean, easy way for new users to quickly change their look and style to something they are happier with. Given there is no way to edit appearance, or get to any form of Inventory, it is also the only way to change an avatar’s appearance.


Opens up a compact form of the People tab from the more familiar Viewer 2 sidebar.  Most of the functionality here is the same as for the full Viewer, other than the options found under the Tools “cogwheel” icon. This has been simplified to have only the View Profile,  Add Friend, IM, Teleport and Block, Report and Zoom In options.


Opens up the Viewer Browser to display the avatar’s profile.

How To

This is potentially the most useful button for new users, and is well-presented for what it does. As the name implies, it presents a series of what I’d call “cue cards” on how to perform basic tasks: walking, talking, starting an IM, flying, changing the user’s view, using the keyboard to change the view, and using the Destination and Avatar buttons.

Options can either be paged through using the intuitive “>” and “<” buttons, or by clicking on the top menu and selecting an option from the drop-down list.

Two of the How To button “cue cards”

In-world Interactions

In terms of in-world interactions, the Basic Mode of the Viewer functions pretty much as with the “full” Viewer, but with a reduced option set; as one might expect, there are no  options to build or edit objects, for example. However, there are also some nice touches: left-click on the centre of another avatar, for example, and a blue dot is displayed. Release the mouse button and your avatar walks directly to them (although this can cause a few bumps and shoves if the route is not clear between the two avatars!).

Right-clicking on another avatar displays a simplified menu, comprising View Profile, Add Friend and IM, and the Block, Report and Zoom In options. Simply pointing at another avatar displays the familiar name pop-up and “information” symbol that in turn leads to their “mini-Profile” and IM / Profile / options buttons.

Similarly, right-clicking on an object provides a four-function menu comprising: Sit Here, Stand Up, Zoom In and Touch. The last displays any menu associated with the object (providing the menu is contained in the root prim, obviously).

One further thing that is glaringly absent from the Basic mode UI and in-world interactions, is that the user has no ability to either purchase Linden Dollars or make purchases. Given this is designed to be a basic introduction to Second Life, one can understand why such options have been left out. However, while “Shopping” itself is not included as a category in the Destination options, the new user isn’t going to travel far before they do encounter opportunities to buy things – and the fact that they can’t using the Basic mode could see it being abandoned before it has served its purpose.

Impressions and Thoughts

As a first-cut “introductory” Viewer, the Basic mode is not that bad; it offers what is essentially a point-and-click approach to finding your way around in-world – something that pundits have been crying out for – while at the same time presenting a relatively clean and easy-to-follow user interface that will help the new user gain familiarity with the basic functionality of the Viewer as a whole.

The Destinations button is particularly useful in getting new users out and about, again given there is now search or world map; while the avatar button makes it relatively easy to change looks – albeit it with shape as well.

However, while the How To button and “cue cards” have been well laid-out, one cannot help but think they would benefit from a few more items: how to jump, a quick explanation of left and right clicking on objects, etc., just for those that are nervous about simply diving in and click all over the place. Similar, a brief overview of common terms would not go amiss: what is a Profile? What is the “cogwheel” button? What does “Report” mean? And “Block”? “How do I unblock someone I blocked by mistake?”

Another concern is that while the Basic mode is very good as a first look, the step up to the “full” version of the Viewer is nevertheless huge. It would be useful if, on first detecting the mode has been changed, the Viewer itself could direct the use to the Quick Start Guide and offer the new user a smoother transition from Basic to Advanced modes. This would be invaluable, given the fact that core elements of functioning in Second Life – inventory, search – are completely absent from the Basic mode, and as such, liable to leave the user somewhat confused.

Finally, and given the recent RedZone situation, and the fact that devices like it are still very much in operation in-world, one would prefer to see the Viewer start-up in either Basic or Advanced modes with the media turned off – together with a How To “cue card” on how to turn it on. It would also be nice to see the Media Filter included as a part of the Basic Viewer, again with a simple “cue card” guide.

These points aside, the Basic mode is a good first step for users entering Second Life for the first time. Even the lack of any ability to buy things can be forgiven, despite my earlier reservations; it provides enough impetus for people to find their feet in SL and get the basics under their belt. Certainly, given this is only a first look, there doubtless can and will be opportunities to tweak it as people coming into SL are exposed to it, in order to ensure it does adequately meet the needs of new users.

Kudos to the team who have been working on it!

If you wish to have a look yourself, the Development version can be found here.

Hamlet – out of touch?

Ann OToole tweeted a link to Hamlet Au’s latest article over on New World Notes. Now, I’ve always viewed a lot of Hamlet’s writing with a critical eye, I’ll admit. While there have been times I’ve agreed with him – there have been equal times when I’ve found his views overly biased and, well, wanting.

In the case of his latest post, I have to say I find him not so much wanting, as flat-out wrong.

It is Hamlet’s contention that the real reason that Second Life is flatlining in terms of growth is down to no other reason than – wait for it – we the users ourselves.  We are apparently so frightened by the concept of change, that we are in effect preventing Linden Lab from making the kind of changes that are needed to “save” the platform; that the Lab is somehow paralysed because any attempt at change is instantly met by a howling outcry that rules against ideas being implemented.

As evidence of this, Hamlet cites two of his recent posts – one of which was a contentious push of his own Facebook agenda.  Leaving aside his attempted change-of-focus of that article when he refers to it in his latest piece, Hamlet fails to appreciate that the perceived “backlash” against his post was not so much because it demonstrated a reluctance among users to accept and embrace change, but rather against his position that the only way for Second Life to survive is to get a lot closer to Facebook.

Arguably, the reverse is actually the case. While many might not agree with him at times, John Dvorak makes a reasonably good case for Second Life keeping away from Facebook.

In repeatedly calling for “closer ties” to Facebook, Hamlet seems unable to grasp something: Second Life IS already a social medium. It’s also something, in fairness, that is lost on some at Linden Lab.

Where else can one experience such a rich and diverse world of entertainment, interaction and culture in such a free-form, immersive manner? Facebook? Not likely. Second Life encourages more than yet another point-and-click, “do as we say” approach to digital interaction. It inspires creativity; it encourages a deeper social interaction – of actually making friends rather than simply forming a small, closed circle of (generally) family and close friends. It gives wings to the imagination for those who wish to soar – prims and (soon) Mesh give rise to magnificent and engrossing worlds and environments that go far beyond the two-dimensional point-and-click ethos of Facebook.

Almost a year ago, Philip Rosedale spoke about “breaking down the walls” around the Second Life garden. It was an impassioned address. While there may have been various nuances to his speech, I really don’t think he was talking about replacing one set of walls for another. And make no mistake, by comparison with the richness the depth that can be found in Second Life, Facebook is a constrained, restrictive world of glass walls. This is not to say it is without value for those who use it – far from it. But when compared to Second Life, it cannot come across as anything less than shallow by comparison.

Certainly, there are areas where links between Second Life and Facebook should be explored and accepted: while it is unlikely that Second Life is going to have a mass appeal with Facebook users, it is nevertheless true that some Facebook users could very well find Second Life attractive. As such, there is benefit in leveraging Facebook as a means of advertising Second Life and reaching out to a wider audience. But again, this is way different to (as has unfortunately been the case) – trying to drive Second Life users into the waiting arms of Facebook.

Leaving the Facebook issue aside, it is hard to see where Hamlet can definitively state the existing user base is stagnating Second Life. Yes, there are at times very vocal minorities. Yes, people do at time dig their heels in at changes. However, I’ve yet to see either of these actually stop Linden Lab for the most part from implementing changes. Outcry didn’t stop the OpenSpace farrago, the Adult Policy Changes debacle and the like. And in many instances, changes are actively being cried out for – like Mesh.

There are many issues with Second Life, sure. There is much to be sorted out, technically and in terms of policy and direction. But to suggest that the problems associated with moving SL forward start and end with the current user base is to shoot very, very wide of the mark.

Whether Hamlet likes it or not, the established user base is actually passionate about the platform. We care about it and its future. It’s why many of us are here after years of highs and lows that have seen us at times battered and cajoled. Fact is, we probably have a clearer idea of what could make Second Life swing than any single individual caught by his own bias and – dare I say – feeling a little hurt at the reaction to his repeated flogging of the Facebook pony.