Test drive: Firestorm Beta

Yesterday I gave a rapid overview of Firestorm Beta. I’ve now had more of a chance to take it for a spin, so here’s a more detailed look.

Installation

First off, make sure you completely remove any previous versions of Firestorm prior to install – in the case of Windows, probably best to restart your PC after doing so and prior to installing the Beta. The Widows installer comes in at around the same size as the official Viewer 2 installer (25 Mb) and runs a seamless install, and places 151 Mb of data onto your hard drive.

The first thing you may notice on logging in – assuming you do not rez directly – is that Firestorm has borrowed from Imprudence  / Kokua, and while a cloud you are now an orange cloud, rather than the default grey mist.

Pie Anyone?

Pie or Context – you decide

The next two things you’re liable to notice is that there is now an AO button on the bottom toolbar, and if you click on anything, you get…a pie menu! Viewer 1 lovers, your prayers are answered.

I’m going to commit sacrilege here and say that, after using Firestorm and Viewer 2 and S20 / S21 for a while – and despite Phoenix still being my primary Viewer – I actually think the pie menu is vastly overrated (particularly given it varies so widely as to where anything is, depending upon which Viewer you use; one person’s Detach is another’s More, so to speak). I’ve found the Viewer 2 context menus to be far more consistent in options faster to learn and easier to use.

This being the case, I went straight to AVATAR -> PREFERENCES and pulled up the UI Extras. Much work has been done here to bring together some great UI customisation options on the Viewer – including a check option to toggle between the pie and context menus. I’m not going to run through the options – they are all pretty self-explanatory, and to be honest, most have been available in the earlier Preview options.

Updated Preferences tabs – new options

Other tabs within Preferences have also been massively improved. The Firestorm tab now includes pretty much everything those familiar with Phoenix would expect to see – with a lot of rationalisation and simplification of tabs and options. A nice touch here is that under FIRSTORM -> GENERAL you now get a greater choice in how names and display names are seen, and you can toggle between the Viewer 2 search and the “improved Viewer 2 beta” search (currently on the Search Project Viewer) – those who wish to compare and contrast and identify improvements can now have a field day playing with both! Within this sub-tab is one of my personal favourite new additions: TURN AVATAR AROUND WHEN WALKING BACKWARDS. This is something HUDdles has long had and I’ve really missed it when relying on built-in AOs.

A new element to the FIRESTORM tab is the VIEW sub-tab, which brings together several camera-related functions previously scattered around the place, if available at all. Along side it, the CHAT sub-tab has been massively expanded over earlier releases – and now includes a set of options related to … radar!

I See You!

Radar tabbed

Radar is one of the biggest bones of contention in Second Life. People either love it or loathe it – with those loathing it frequently loudly and persistently screaming here, there and everywhere about it being an “invasion of privacy” and a “tool for drama” (and in the latter case, totally missing the irony in the fact that they tend to be the ones creating the drama).

If I’m honest here, almost any tool in the Viewer can be used properly or to create mischief and the radar is no exception – it is how you choose to use it, and I think it fair to say that most people use it responsibly. Those screaming on…and on…and on… about it representing an invasion of privacy would do well to remember that privacy can be invaded simply by removing camera constraints, pushing up draw distance and camming-in remotely (all possible on the “official” Viewer).

As far as I’m concerned, radar is a HUGE boon. As a former estate manager, it enabled me to identify problem people / areas quickly, get directly to them and deal with matters / provide assistance. Combined with other tools, it enabled me to deal with trouble remotely and confirm the required action had been taken. Even today I find it very useful at times – and it is one of the reasons I’ve stuck it out with Phoenix for so long. Well, no more. I’m in love with the improved Firestorm radar.

Aswith the Preview, Radar forms a part of the PEOPLE tab on the Sidebar – but is much improved. For a start there is an optional minimap display; you can also adjust the scan range for the radar and alter the way avatar and adisplay names are displayed.

If you want a more Phoenix-like radar display, simply go to the tab PREFERENCES (shown in the image), uncheck the show minimap option, and then undock the PEOPLE tab from the sidebar and resize accordingly; however, be aware that doing so can make scrolling through your friend list a tad more tiresome. As with Phoenix, the radar also includes a right-click option when highlighting specific names, allowing you to IM people, etc.

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