Text clients reviewed 3: Radegast

We’re all familiar with the Second Life Viewer in one flavour or another. But what about the non-graphical “lightweight” clients that are available for accessing SL when using a “full” Viewer isn’t always an option?

Like the Viewer, these “lightweight”, or text-only clients come in a number of flavours, some of which can run on computers and others on mobile devices. Given I don’t have a suitable mobile device, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the former, focusing on the Windows platform, and given some kind of insight into their features and capabilities for those who have never used them. So over the course of three articles, I’ll be taking a look at Libretto, Metabolt and Radegast – all of which are on the SL TPV Directory, and all are still very much under enhancement.

Radegast

  • Platform(s): Windows / Linux (Windows reviewed)
  • Available from: http://radegast.org/wp/
  • Version reviewed: 1.28.872

Radegast pitches itself as , “Light-weight feature rich non-graphical client, ideal for situations where full 3D rendering client is less than ideal option, for instance, an office environment, running on low performance computers and similar” – and given just what the client is capable of, this is something of an understated description.

Unlike Metabolt and Libretto, which I’ve also reviewed as a part of this series, Radegast is available in both a Windows and a Linux flavour – although it is the Windows version that is investigated here. Comprising a downloaded .EXE installer, the client installed itself easily enough and when started presented a very professional-looking log-in / splash screen featuring a crisp and clean design.

Following Viewer 2’s example, Radegast dispenses with requesting your first name and last name in individual fields, but simply asks for your user name and password. Beneath these are options to enter / select your preferred log-in location and to select your preferred grid Use the drop-down list or supply the required uri; the grid will automatically be added to the list).

Once logged-in, you are transferred to the chat window, as shown below.

Menus

  • File: provides options to upload images / objects, start another Radegast session (so you can log-in another avatar), the ability to disconnect / reconnect to SL with the current avatar without needing to manually log-in; and an option to quit Radegast
  • World: presents a set of familiar in-world actions, such as setting Fly, Always Run, Ground Sit, Stand, Stop all Animations, set Busy / Away,create a landmark, teleport home, etc. Two interesting options are also offered: the ability to change your Display Name, and the ability to view parcel / region information (and, if you own the sim, to restart it)
  • Tools: access a series of tools, the majority of which are self-explanatory, and of which My Attachmentsis most interesting, as this displays a list of attachments worn by your avatar, allowing you to:
    • VIEW any attachment in an image window where you can rotate it, zoom in and out on it, etc.
    • TOUCH it (if it is a scripted object) to access and use the associated menu – just as you would if you were using a regular Viewer.
  • Plugins: Allows you to run / manage additional Radegast plugins (which fall outside the scope of this review in consideration of article length)
  • Help: (extreme right of Radegast window) accesses a comprehensive set of help options, including a useful set of keyboard shortcuts.

Window Tabs

  • Chat: displays the chat window, show above.
  • Friends: opens the Friends tab. Here you can:
    • IM a friend, view their profile (in a Viewer 1-style profile window), offer to teleport them to you, pay them, or remove them from your friends list.
    • IMing a friend opens a new tabbed window to converse with them
    • You can also set / revoke map, edit and see permissions against Friends from this tab
  • Groups: displays a list of your current Groups, and allows you to start a Group IM, activate a Group tag, view Group information, leave a Group, invite someone into your Groups, and even create a new Group
  • Inventory: is a powerful window that allows you to view, sort and organise your inventory. In addition, you can use it to create new inventory items, wear or remove clothing / attachments, review information (creator, UUID, permissions, etc.) for a specific item (left-click to select) and transfer items to other avatars (permissions allowing). a search function is included to make locating objects easier

  • Search: allows you to search for people, groups and places
  • Map: accesses the SL world map and provides the same functions as a graphical Viewer
  • Objects: accesses the Object Manager (see below)
  • Media: accesses the parcel media stream controls, allowing you to set the volume, start / stop the client fro relaying local sounds, etc.
  • Voice: accesses the SL Voice options.

A point to note when using menu options that open a window or any of the window tabs is that when you open an additional window, a further tab appears under the Menu / Window Tabs area:

The menu displayed by right-clicking on a tab is particularly useful:

  • Detach: detaches the window from Radegast and places it in an independent floater. Closed the floater (red X) to re-dock it with the main Radegast window
  • Merge With: allows you to merge one window with another.
    • This will change the Merge With option to Split, allowing you to separate the windows once more
  • Close: closes the selected window (in addition to using the two options shown in the image above)

Object Manager Window

This is a powerful feature within Radegast when interacting with objects around you.

Using this tool you can:

  • Scan your immediate vicinity for objects (set your desired scan range)
  • Interact with objects using the In-world tools – walk to an object, point to it, sit on it, stand up from it, mute it, etc.
  • If the object is touchable, you can use TOUCH/CLICK; if it contains any menu that is open to other avatars to use, the menu will be displayed & can be used just as you would in a graphical Viewer
  • View the contents of an object (CONTENTS) to check scripts and other items it might contain
  • Display a 3D image of the object (3D View) and:
    • Zoom in/out on it, rotate it, etc., using the ALT key and your mouse
    • Right-click on the image and display a list of actions you can take with it (sit on it, return it, etc.)
    • View its wireframe, etc.
  • You can additionally view details of a selected object and its child components.

Radar, Movement and Interaction

The radar can scan the entire sim you are on (up to 4096 metres altitute), and list all occupants by name and distance from you. Left-clicking on a name activates the radar buttons to the right of the radar list for that avatar. Alternatively, you can right-click on an avatar name and display a menu with more detailed options. In both cases, actions that cannot be used with the selected avatar (e.g. because they are out of range or you don’t have permissions for the action, such as Eject or Ban), will be greyed-out.

Movement can be handled in a number of ways:

  • By using the Object Manager to select an object and using WALK TO to walk to it
  • Using the Map to teleport to a selected destination
  • Accepting a teleport offer from a friend
  • Use the Radar to select someone nearby and then FOLLOW them
  • Using the Movement keys, located in the Chat window, under the Radar options: ^ moves your avatar forward; << turns your avatar to its left; >> turns your avatar to its right; R moves your avatar backwards.

An interesting means of direct interaction with another avatar, beyond chat and IM, is the  ATTN/Attachments button/menu option in the Radar display.

This opens a window listing all attachments the selected avatar is wearing, together with a VIEW button, which will display a 3D image of the selected objected when clicked, much like the 3D VIEW button in the Object Manager. If the attachment is touchable, an additional TOUCH button will be displayed;  if the attachment contains any menu that is open to other avatars to use, the menu will be displayed & can be used just as you would in a graphical Viewer. This makes it possible for users to enjoy something of a higher level of personal interaction possible when using Radegast when compared to other text-based clients, and could be useful in certain situations.

3D Scene Rendering

However, for those who would still like a visual element to their Second Life experience, but who cannot use their Viewer for whatever reason, the Radegast team is currently developing a “3D Scene Viewer”. This is quite simply stunning, even in the pre-release mode. Simply put, it gives you a window on what is going on around you in-world.

You can pan, zoom, and move around the image, see other avatars moving around, and your own avatar will respond to your use of the movement keys in the Chat window. Much of this capability is still under development, so I couldn’t test it thoroughly without encountering crash issues, but again, it looks set to be an excellent addition to Radegast that will lift it head-and-shoulders above other text clients; although whether one can continue to call it a “thin” client is technically debatable – with the rendering option running, Radegast’s memory usage ballooned from 79,392K to a huge average of 239,536K (which compares to Firestorm’s 381,080K and Phoenix’s 198,324K averages). One cannot fault the feature on this, however. I’ll be curious to see how this develops and whether it’ll be able to handle things like mesh.

Radegast and other Grids

A major plus point for Radegast is that it supports other grids, making it a good option if you have a presence on several grids and need a text-based client to access them. I tried Radegast with both InWorldz and Avination – neither of which are on the default list of grids, and logging in to both was as simple as giving my avatar details, selecting CUSTOM from the list of grids and then entering the login URI for the grid to which I wanted to connect. Once the grid details had been entered, the grid name was also automatically added to the drop-down list of available grids.

Website

The Radegast website matches the client – very well put together, informative and demonstrating that the client has both a strong development cycle. The wiki provides a good measure of documentation and a nice range of screenshots, although elements of it (such as the help pages) have been deleted (presumably to be re-written), and the link back to the main site didn’t work in Chrome.

Use and Opinion

Radegast is polished, professional and impressive. While the client can look a little complex, getting to grips with it is easy, and it offers considerable flexibility of use. I’ve by no means covered everything in this review; rather I’ve covered the features and capabilities that are liable to see the most use, and haven’t mentioned things like speech recognition for voice commands or the ALICE AI plug-in. If you want to find out about these, and other features, I suggest you give Radegast a go; you’ll find it a fascinating tool to play with.

I found very few issues with the client, although response times when logging-in to other grids were noticeably slower by comparison to SL, but that was about it. As expected, sitting on a object can sometimes be touch-and-go unless there are handy-dandy poseballs – but that’s to be expected.

Overall, I personally put this as the best of the current non-graphical Windows clients on offer via the TPV Directory; ideal for those with a presence on multiple grids, or who find themselves in environments where logging-in to SL using a full Viewer isn’t possible, and who wish to be able to enjoy a level of direct interaction with friends – something that will be enhanced even further once the 3D scene rendering is fully incorporated into the client.

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Text clients reviewed 2: Metabolt

Metabolt-logoWe’re all familiar with the Second Life Viewer in one flavour or another. But what about the non-graphical “lightweight” clients that are available for accessing SL when using a “full” Viewer isn’t always an option?

Like the Viewer, these “lightweight”, or text-only clients come in a number of flavours, some of which can run on computers and others on mobile devices. Given I don’t have a suitable mobile device, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the former, focusing on the Windows platform, and given some kind of insight into their features and capabilities for those who have never used them. So over the course of three articles, I’ll be taking a look at Libretto, Metabolt and Radegast – all of which are on the SL TPV Directory, and all are still very much under enhancement.

Metabolt

Metabolt modestly describes itself as, “a thin text client with rich features to enable users to perform most important functions in SL”

Installation comprises downloading a ZIP file, extracting the contents to a temporary folder and then installing from there, which is somewhat long-winded, but the results are worth it.

From the start it is clear that Metabolt is intended to cover a lot of bases, allowing you to not only log-in to Second Life’s Main grid, but also to the Beta aditi grid, and to a number of pre-defined OS grids. You can even define a custom log-in for any grid not on the list, providing you have the necessary login uri. As with a graphical Viewer, you can additionally set your preferred log-in location. Finally, on logging-in, your avatar’s details are saved by Metabolt & can be selected from a drop-down drop-down list (First Name), simplifying the logging-in process in future sessions.

A successful log-in to Metabolt takes you directly to the Chat window (below).

Menu bar

  • Applications Menu: provides access to a comprehensive set of preferences, some of which (Text, etc.), mirror the chat preferences in the SL Viewer, while others (such as the AI icon), are specific to Metabolt
  • World: provides a series of in-world and avatar-specific options, including the ability to animate your avatar (so you can dance if you log-in at a club, rather than standing like a lemon); allows you to Tp Home or set a Tp point where you are, rebake (useful if someone informs you that you are a cloud in-world), go to your account history page at secondlife.com, etc.
  • Tools: provides access to a range of tools, including a searchable grid map, complete with teleport options, a separate teleport option, an exceptionally powerful Object Manager (see below), an upload tool for images, and various other tools
  • Logs: allows you to define save locations for for Metabolt chat and IM log files (a-la the Viewer), and accesses a log of all teleports made while using Metabolt
  • Utilities: Reloads the AIML libraries associated with the AI plugin and allows you to launch the official SL Viewer, if you have it installed.

Window Tabs

  • Chat: displays the chat window, show above.
  • Friends: opens the Friends tab. Here you can:
    • IM a friend, view their profile (in a Viewer 1-style profile window), offer to teleport them to you, pay them, or remove them from your friends list.
    • IMing a friend opens a new tabbed window which in turn provides options to view their profile, save a log of the conversation, review the history of the conversation and even mute them
    • You can also set / revoke map, edit and see permissions against Friends from this tab
  • Groups: displays a list of your current Groups, and allows you to start a Group IM, activate a Group tag, view Group information, leave a Group, invite someone into your Groups, and even create a new Group
  • Inventory: is a powerful window that allows you to view, sort and organise your inventory, look at item properties and wear / remove / transfer items, as well a perform a number of other tasks as shown below.

  • Search: opens a Viewer 2-type search window, allowing you to search in-world and the SL forums and related sites
  • IMbox: allows you to review and reply to unread IMs you’ve received from other avatars.

To the right side of the window tab is a small computer icon which will display a drop-down menu:

  • Merge with: allows you to merge a selected window with another window and display them in a single tab. The option will then change to Split, allowing you to separate the two windows once more
  • Deatch: will detach a selected window tab from Metabolt and display it in its own floater. Use the Reattach option in the floater, or simple close the floater to redock the window with Metabolt.

Object Manager Window

This is a powerful feature within Metabolt when interacting with objects around you. Using this tool you can:

  • Scan your immediate vicinity for objects (set your desired scan range)
  • Interact with objects using the In-world tools – walk to an object, point to it, sit on it, stand up from it, mute it, etc.
  • View the contents of an object (CONTENTS) to check scripts and other items it might contain
  • Display a 3D image of the object (3D View) and:
    • Zoom in/out on it, rotate it, etc., using the ALT key and your mouse
    • Right-click on the image to display a list of actions you can take with it (sit on it, return it, etc.)
    • Use the camera icon at the bottom of the image window to save the image to your hard drive
  • You can additionally view details of a selected object and its child components.

The Object Manager includes a button to touch items around you and which should – I think – bring-up any menu associated with them to allow you to interact with it; however, this option does not appear to work as expected at present: a window is opened for the Touched object, but no actual menu is displayed.

Moving using Metabolt

Moving around in-world using Metabolt is obviously not easy – you can’t see where your avatar is going, or who or what is in the way. However, movement is possible in a number of ways, including:

  • By using the Object Manager window and selecting an object then clicking on GO TO (to walk to it) or LOCATION to teleport to it
  • By opening the map (TOOLS -> MAP or CTRL-M) and displaying a region before setting your desired co-ordinates and teleporting to it
  • Using the movement and direction keys, in combination with the map / mini-map
  • Having someone teleport you to them (TP offers appear in red alongside the Window Tabs)
  • Getting friends around you to help direct you as you use the movement keys.
  • Using the radar FOLLOW or GOTO buttons (see below).

None of these options – other than teleporting to fixed points – are terribly effective, but can at times help with things, and can be fun to try!

Radar Buttons

Another useful set of tools are the radar buttons, which are displayed in the Chat window. These become activate when an avatar name is selected from the list of nearby avatars, and are described below

Metabolt and other Grids

A major plus point for Metabolt is that it supports other grids, making it a good contender if you have a presence on several grids and need a text-based client to access them. I tried Metabolt with both InWorldz and Avination – neither of which are on the default list of grids, and logging in to both was as simple as giving my avatar details, selecting OTHER… from the drop-down list of grids and then giving the login URI for the grid to which I wanted to connect. If I have a complaint here, it is that the grid name isn’t added to the list of available grids, so you have to re-enter the URI each time you wish to enter a grid that isn’t listed.

Website

The Metabolt website is very polished and provides excellent support in the form of a set of wiki pages, one of which provides a series of additional plug-ins to the “basic” client, as well as a reasonably-good Help section. There is also a forum for users as well, which appears to be in reasonable use, suggesting that there is lots of help to be had there from other users, should you need it.

Use and Opinion

Metabolt can appear a little off-putting with the log-in page ads (although there is an option to remove these if you donate to the project) – but don’t let them stop you trying out the client, as it may prove to be what you’re looking for when you can’t use the full Viewer.

Despite the apparent complexity of the main window, getting to grips with Metabolt is very easy, and you should encounter few problems in using it for basic tasks. That said, refinement of some of the more advanced options – such as touching objects – is required.

I’m personally not convinced of the need to include movement keys – unless there are plans to include some kind of 3D real-time rendering tool, a-la Radegast. I also felt the overall colour scheme could be improved; some of the background colours on the Object Manager buttons might make reading the button labels hard for some people. Sitting on a object was also sometimes touch-and-go due to not being able to define precisely WHERE on an object you might want to sit (unless a poseball is available for selection); but this is an issue for any non-graphical client offering this type of functionality.

That said, Metabolt is certainly a more involved text client than Libretto, and can enable you to do a lot more while without full graphical access to a grid. Overall a very good application with an impressive feature list.

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Text clients reviewed 1: Libretto

We’re all familiar with the Second Life Viewer in one flavour or another. But what about the non-graphical “lightweight” clients that are available for accessing SL when using a “full” Viewer isn’t always an option?

Like the Viewer, these “lightweight”, or text-only clients come in a number of flavours, some of which can run on computers and others on mobile devices. Given I don’t have a suitable mobile device, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the former, focusing on the Windows platform, and given some kind of insight into their features and capabilities for those who have never used them. So over the course of three articles, I’ll be taking a look at Libretto, Metabolt and Radegast – all of which are on the SL TPV Directory, and all are still very much under enhancement.

Libretto

Libretto describes itself as, “A light weight, text-only viewer for Second Life. It’s designed to resemble and function as an instant messaging client, that can be used in an office environment, on low performance/bandwidth computers, or when multiple instances are needed.”

It is delivered as a standard .EXE install file for Windows, requiring a quick A/V scan prior to a double-click to install it with minimal fuss.

Once installed, it certainly looks somewhat like Microsoft Messenger, with the log-in screen comprising a window onto Libretto announcements and a log-in area with the obligatory check-box for accepting the SL ToS (with link for reviewing!) for people using the client for the first time.

A nice touch is once you have logged in with an avatar, the details for the avatar are saved by Libretto and can be accessed from the drop-down list displayed next to NAME.

As you are logged in, the Libretto window splits into a two-pane display, with any Message of the Day from LL is displayed in the upper section (where all messages appear), while the lower section lists all those in your immediate vicinity (if any).  There are several elements to this display, which are explained below.

The Menu Bar

  • File: allows you to Logout of Second Life and return to the Libretto log-in screen, or Quit (log out of SL and shut down Libretto)
  • Edit: currently displays the Preferences pop-up which allows you to:
    • Define your e-mail preferences
    • Select whether to run Libretto whenever you start Windows
    • Select Libretto to automatically log you in to Second Life when it is started (useful if you predominantly use only the one avatar with Libretto)
  • World: currently allows you to teleport to your home location – note this can cause Libretto to go unresponsive while the teleport is in progress
  • View: allows you to display / hide the Window tabs (see below) at the bottom of the Libretto window, and change the default colour for the Libretto client
  • Help: displays information about the Libretto client.

Action Buttons

The Action buttons are displayed in both the “people nearby” window pane and the Friends tab, and allow you to carry out a range of tasks:

  • View a person’s profile (seen in a separate pop-up window that closely resembles the old Viewer 1.x style of profile display)
  • Open an IM conversation with them
  • Teleport them to you
  • Pay them
  • Remove them as a Friend
  • Invite them into a Group.

A down-pointing arrow to the right of the buttons takes you to an option to remove or add buttons to the list. Buttons are activated by left-clicking on an specific avatar name and then clicking on the required button (buttons become coloured when active).

Window Tabs

Controlled from the VIEW option in the Menu Bar, these provide access to a range of dedicated tabbed windows:

  • Friends: displays your Friends list, complete with the Action Buttons, described above
  • Groups: displays all your Groups, with a set of Action Buttons that allow you to: display information on a specific Group (left click the Group name to select); IM the Group; activate the Group tag for your avatar; leave the Group
  • Objects: displays a list of objects surrounding your avatar (may need to use the Refresh button to get the list to display), together with buttons to Sit on a selected object (left-click to select the object from the list), and your avatar’s status will change to SITTING at the bottom of the Libretto window while the SIT button will change to STAND; and a button to Touch a selected object
  • Inventory: allows you to peruse your inventory, with a Share button to give items to other avatars (click on the item to be given, then SHARE & select the name of the avatar (from those nearby & your Friends list) to whom you wish to give the item (permissions allowing). Note that you can also accept inventory offers from others using Libretto as well
  • Find People: opens a search window allowing you to search for a specific avatar (first name; first name+ last name). Matching results are displayed in a list, and the window includes the Action Buttons described above to view an individual’s profile, etc.

Clicking on an tab name in VIEW will open the associated tab, which can then be closed either by clicking on the tab name in VIEW or by clicking on the X in the tab itself, at the bottom of the Libretto window.

Multiple Instances

Libretto handles multiple instances without issue – simply double-click on the application icon to start an additional session.

Website

The Libretto website is adequate, if a little basic in looks and information – but then, the application is so intuitive, you’re unlikely to be spending a lot of time there.

Use and Opinion

Using Libretto is very intuitive and easy to get to grips with. It may not offer all the capabilities found in other text clients, but it really does do, “exactly what it says on the packet” without the need to refer to lengthy help files or anything. Working in chat or IM is easy, while the Action Buttons provide enough functionality to get things done.

Libretto is still a work-in-progress, and it is certainly the most lightweight of the three clients I’m reviewing. The window layouts are all clean and easy-to-follow (although the colours are perhaps not so easy on the eye: for “red” read “pink” and for “blue” read “violet”). The current options are sufficient to take care of many basic tasks that don’t rely on an in-world view.

Overall, an extremely intuitive application that exceptionally easy to pick-up and use.

The Viewer as a browser plug-in

SpotON3D is an OSGrid that has implemented a novel means of accessing a grid: by making the Viewer a browser plug-in that works with IE, Firefox and Chrome – although currently only on the Windows platform (Mac and Linux to follow). For those with a Facebook account, you can also apparently access the Viewer from FB, but as I’m not registered with FB, I canot tell you how!

At home in SL – in a browser

While intended primarily for the SpotON (and VeeSome) grid(s), the Viewer is based on Snowglobe code (with the addition of some of Henri Beachamp’s extras), and so works with SL and other OS Grids.

Setting-up

  • Go to http://3durl.com/world. You’ll be asked to download and install the SpotON plug-in.
    • The installation of the plug-in will require you to close your browser.
    • The installation process will also create a application icon in your Programs list, allowing you to run the browser as a standalone item, as well as via the web.
  • Once installation has completed, return to 3durl.com/world, where you will need to register with one of the offered grids (shown below).
Log-in / Registration page
  • Registration comprises:
    • Selecting one of the two grid options
    • Choosing your default avatar
    • Providing a name and password for the avatar
    • Providing an E-mail address for your Master Account (you can register up to five avatars against the Account)
    • Replying to the Account activation e-mail that will be sent to you.
  • Once you’ve activated your account, return to the SpotON log-in / Registration page and use the panel on the left to log-in. This will automatically log you into whichever grid you registered with – which you are free to explore, obviously.

Getting to Second Life and Elsewhere

To get to SL or another grid, go to FILE -> LOGOUT. You will be logged out of the current Grid and a splash screen will be displayed, complete with both a GRIDS button and a QUICK GRID SELECT button. You can use the latter to access Second Life as one of the pre-defined Grids in the Viewers, or the former to bring-up the Grid Selection window and add an additional grid.

Grid selection options

Any grids added using the Grid Manager will automatically appear in the Quick Select button as well, making switching between grids very easy; just remember that the Viewer is optimised for SpotON.

In InWroldz In my Browser

Quick Tip

By default, you can only log-in to either the SpotON or the VeeSome grid from the 3durl.com log-in page (depending on which one you chose when signing-up). However, if you want to be able to get to SL or another grid without having to log-in and out with SpotON or VeeSome, you can:

  • At the 3durl.com log-in page, enter an incorrect user name / password
  • The plugin will attempt to log you in, but when authentication fails, the Viewer splash screen will be displayed
  • You can now select your preferred grid from the QUICK SELECT button & supply the required log-in information
  • Occasionally the splash screen may refresh and default back to either SpotON or VeeSome as the logging-in grid, should this happen, simply click on the GRID button and select your grid from the Grid Manager window and APPLY and OK.

Some things to bear in mind:

  • SpotON isn’t listed on the SL Third Party Viewer Directory as yet, so there is a risk it is not register for use with SL (not that registered Viewer *have* to be listed in the Directory)
  • It is based on the SL Viewer 1.23 so no multi-attach options as yet or vertical IM tabs and only minimal skin support (although it does have Mu poses (use “:” for “/me”) OOC auto-complete and RLV/a)

Test Systems and Performance

I tested the Viewer-as-a plugin on three systems, using the same versions of Firefox, IE and Chrome on each. The three test systems comprised:

  • Desktop PC: Intel Q6600 quad core  2.3Ghz 3Gb; Windows 7 32-bit + SP1; nVidia 9800 + 1GB
  • Acer Eee PC 1201N Netbook: Intel Atom 330 quad core 1.6GHz 2Gb; Windows 7 32-bit + SP1; nVidia Ion2 graphics 256Mb
  • Sony Vaio UMPC: Intel Core Solo U1500 1.33GHz 1Gb; Windows Vista + Service Packs; Intel 945 graphics chipset, shared memory

Overall, the performance on each was pretty similar to running the Viewer in a standalone mode, other than the fact that visually and fps-wise the Viewer fell somewhat behind the latest offerings from LL and others – but then the code base is significantly older as well, so this is not surprising.

Why Do This?

Given there is little performance-wise to be gained in using the Viewer in this way, coupled with the fact that you are still effectively downloading a Viewer to your PC for grid access, it is tempting to ask why bother? After all, if a computer can run a Viewer in this manner, it is probably going to be able to run a standalone Viewer. So where are the advantages in this approach? I put this question to SpotON3D Manager Victor Hua.

“The biggest advantage is ease of access. Giving people the ability to log in with a minimum amount of effort,” he replied. “Many businesses and educators would like to see the client run as a web based plugin, most likely for those same reasons. Also, having it as a Facebook app opens up the venue for a much larger audience and helps spread and improve adoption.”

The ease-of-access approach is an interesting one (if not entirely new), as it is something grid-based worlds are often critiqued about. However, the real issue with getting to grips with any grid-based world is not so much downloading and installing the Viewer as it is in using it; and here this approach offers no real advantage. But that said, it cannot be denied that many people are more comfortable downloading and using browser plug-ins than perhaps they are downloading and installing dedicated applications. This being the case, presenting the Viewer as a browser plugin, regardless of the fact it is full capable of standalone us, may well persuade people to dip a toe or two into the virtual waters.

It’ll be interesting to see where this idea goes, and whether anyone else will pick-up on it. For my part, I found it a fascinating experience to dabble around in a number of grids from my browser, and actually found this solution somewhat more preferable and convenient to use on the UMPC than using Radegast & its 3D scene rendering capability. That said, until someone comes up with a genuine solution that enables people to access grid-based virtual worlds from within a browser, as Tipodean are attempting to do, and which allows lower-end systems to access the virtual environment, then it is probable this solution will have limited appeal.

Updates

Aug 3rd:The issue of patients on the plugin aspect of this technology, coupled with issues around Viewer and GPL licensing, which are referred to by Kitely CEO Ilan Tochner in the comments below, are covered in-depth today by Maria Korolov at Hypergrid Business.

Aug 20th: As I’ve reported here, SpotON3D has now closed the ability to use the Viewer when presented through the browser with any other grid but their own.

InWorldz announces Joint Venture

InWorldz LLC, operators of the fast-growing InWorldz grid have today announced a significant joint venture with CariNet Inc. a quality-oriented service provider in the USA, to build a redundant 3D virtual world grid.

The Press Release from InWorldz reads in full:

InWorldz, LLC and CariNet Inc. To Power Virtual World Technology and Hosting Through Joint Venture

Venture to focus on quality of service, scalability, and core software to
promote growth and technical innovation

NY and SAN DIEGO, CA , July 30, 2011 – InWorldz, LLC a leading provider of virtual world services and CariNet Inc. a quality-oriented provider of dedicated servers, server clusters, and cloud computing announce plans to form a joint venture to build a redundant 3D virtual world grid capable of high performance and fast growth.

The venture builds around the original vision of the InWorldz founders. Known to their customers mainly by their pseudonyms, Elenia Llewellyn (real name Beth Reischl), Legion Hienrichs (real name John Arnolde), and Tranquillity Dexler (real name David Daeschler) have supported the continuing vision that everyone should be able to experience virtual world technologies and services in a way that enhances their lives and their own vision. Since it’s inception in February of 2009, InWorldz, LLC has listened to customer feedback and demand to provide it’s residents with the software, hardware, and tools they need to create dramatic simulations ranging from vast and mystical oceans, to artistic  depictions of real world cities. Building on a strong customer community and a solid technical background, the InWorldz grid has grown to over 800 customer owned regions on word of mouth alone.

CariNet Inc. has been a hosting leader since 1997, offering a wide variety of hosting options including dedicated servers, server clusters, public and private cloud offerings as well as server virtualization hypervisors. CariNet Inc. builds, owns and operates all of their datacenters and are capable of handling customers and demands of any size. CariNet Inc. currently services 7500+ customers around the globe.

CariNet Inc. provides a strong background and expertise in all things hosting. The CariNet team consists of a dedicated group of individuals willing to go the extra mile to make sure they have a quality product their customers can rely on. From power, to network, to hardware and software, CariNet Inc. has created a strong backbone for any business to tether their dreams to and let them run.

Enablement is the shared theme that has brought CariNet Inc. and InWorldz, LLC together. The joint venture will provide InWorldz with access to the latest in hardware and software technology available to support efficiency and scalability. Powered by this venture, InWorldz will have access to systems and expertise that will increase the effectiveness of their business processes, free up development resources, and increase profitability. The joint venture will provide both companies with the opportunity to continue to explore the growing virtual world market and provide the services and support that enable the individual as well as organizations who will use virtual world technologies in the future.

For further information contact:

Beth Reischl: Tel. (630) 504-8449; Email: press@inworldz.com

A very *simple* guide to mesh in SL

Mesh is coming: testing on the Main grid has started, LL are feeding us snippets of information and those watching it draw nearer are getting excited / concerned / upset / indifferent.

But what exactly does it all mean for those of us who have only a passing interest in such things? What will be the impact on the consumers among us rather than the content creators? What are we going to be seeing, what do we need to be aware of?

There are a lot of very basic questions such as these that are being asked – some of which are, in fairness, addressed in the SL mesh wiki pages (albeit with a lot of techspeak) – so I thought I’d try to put together a very simple outline of some of the key aspects to it all.

Note that this is not in any way a technical discourse on mesh and its pros and cons or how to create and upload mesh objects – articles penned by others far more competent than I are available in a number of blogs. Nor is it meant to be an exhaustive overview of mesh. It is simply a primer on the subject from the point-of-view of the consumer rather than the creator, and a look at what some of the fuss (good and bad) is about.

What is mesh?

A mesh – or rather a polygon mesh – is a means of generating 3D computer graphics. Polygon meshes come in a variety of forms, and can be created using a range of software applications. Second Life actually already uses meshes to some degree: avatars, for example are basic mesh objects. “Mesh” within Second life therefore really refers to the ability for users to create polygon mesh objects using suitable 3D rendering tools and then import them into Second Life for general use.

Why have mesh?

Second Life has often been critiqued for it’s somewhat primitive look: the in-world tools and shapes can be very limiting when it comes to trying to replicate more organic, natural, and real-world shapes. The use of mesh should allow content creators and Second Life users to import far more realistic-looking objects and items, overcoming this perceived limitation.

Multi-face rigged avatar mesh textured in SL (with thanks to LL)

Three types of mesh can be imported into Second Life:

  • simple mesh is a mesh with a single face. It can have a single colour and texture
  • multi-face mesh is a mesh that can have multiple colours and textures
  • rigged mesh is a mesh that conforms to your joints and motions. This means that you can wear a rigged model that changes the length and orientation of your avatar’s limbs and animates accordingly.

Note: it is possible for a mesh object to be a combination of these types; it can, for example be a multi-face rigged mesh, like “Seymour” in the image above. Meshes can also be textured prior to upload, as a part of the creation process, or once in-world.

Mesh objects for use in SL can be created in any 3D modelling tool that support the use of Collada 1.4 .DAE files for export. Such tools include high-end applications such as Autodesk Maya ($3,000+) through to the free tools like Blender and Google’s Sketchup. Linden Lab maintain a list of suitable applications on their wiki pages.

Common terms associated with mesh

Those familiar with building in SL may find it easier to consider mesh in the following ways:

  • Mesh – A collection of triangles with a single transformation matrix, roughly analogous to a “Prim” in SL (although not necessarily the equivalent of a prim – see PE, below).
  • Submesh – A subset of a mesh, equivalent to a face/side on a normal prim.
  • Model – A mesh or collection of meshes, equivalent to a coalesced (or linked) prim object.

PE – Prim Equivalence (now Land Impact)

Prim Equivalence (or to give it the official title: Prim Equivalent Weight) – abbreviated to PE, is one of the most important concepts for the “casual” mesh user / consumer, as well as a vital consideration for mesh creators. It has also been the subject of much controversy even before mesh has been launched on the Main grid. So with these points in mind, excuse me if I go on about it at some length.

Basically, PE is a means of trying to ensure that mesh objects and traditional prim objects receive fair shares of Viewer and server resources. Perhaps the easiest way to understand PE is to think of it as the number of prims that would be required to achieve the same level of detail, were they to be used instead of the mesh object.

PE itself is arrived at by taking the highest result from three performance weighting calculations made at the time a mesh is uploaded to Second Life. These are:

  • The server weight – (also referred to as the simulation weight in the wiki) the impact an object has on the server-side resources needed to manage it.
  • The streaming weight – essentially the bandwidth required for an object to be downloaded to your Viewer and rendered. Basically, the more complex the object = the higher the streaming weight
  • The physics weight – possibly the hardest to grasp, refer to the complexity of an object’s physics model. (This is also where Viewer developers have issues with coding their Viewers to enable mesh uploads, as I’ve reported on previously, as the code used by LL to calculate the physics weight utilises the Havok physics engine, which is not open-source. Therefore TPV developers need to find a means of calculating the physics weight either by using a suitable open-source physics engine, or by obtaining a Havok license.)

These weightings are calculated based on the complexity of the mesh itself and how well it has been defined and optimised during the creation process; they can also (in the case of the streaming and physics weights) be adjusted during the upload process. Get everything right, and a mesh object should have a manageable PE value. Get anything wrong, and one can end up with a horribly-massive PE count.

And even when it is done right, it is possible for an object to still end up with a PE count in the high hundreds, or for a mesh object to come off less favourably than it’s prim / sculptie equivalent (take a mesh tree with a PE of 9 or 10; are you more likely to buy that, or a sculptie tree that is just 1 or 2 prims, even if it is of a potentially lower visual quality?).

The PE for a mesh object can be seen using the Build menu of any mesh-capable Viewer, as shown below.

(model originally created for mesh upload testing by Jennifur Vultee)

Continue reading “A very *simple* guide to mesh in SL”