Some may count this post as premature, but given we’re now into July, and what is coming down the road, I’m getting my goodbyes in early.
Viewer 1 has been with us since Second Life opened its doors. Over the years, it has seen features added, tools moved around, the capability for API elements to be introduced (perhaps the most widely-used being Marine Kelley’s Restrained Love Viewer); the code has been open-sourced, allowing a raft of famous (and not a few infamous) Viewers to come into use: the OnRez Viewer, Cool Viewer, Rainbow Viewer, Meerkat, Imprudence, Phoenix and of course the “Devil incarnate” itself: Emerald (and that’s without mentioning the various “blackhat” Viewers).
Many changes to the Viewer were welcome (remember the introduction of the first skin option? of Windlight?), many were being decried and striking fear in the hearts of some even before they rolled out (remember the hoo-haw in some camps over the arrival of Voice?); others were met with much facepalming and LL’s apparent failure to grasp how people used their viewer (remember the consternation when the chat windows all changed and “communicate” turned up?). Some of the criticism aimed at the Viewer and LL was justified; a lot of it wasn’t. But through it all, Viewer 1.x, in all its many guises has remained a perennial favourite among Second Life users. Not even the demise of the official 1.x series of Viewer did much to put a dent in this: people simply switched over to V1-based TPVs in preference to going over the Viewer 2.
Now all of that is about to change. In truth, the writing has been on the wall for V1-based Viewers for the last 12 months or so: ever since Linden Lab depreciated all versions of their Viewer prior to 1.23.5 and then turned off Snowglobe work in favour of Snowstorm for Viewer 2.x.
From this month, however, even those using V1 TPVs are going to have to consider where they are going to move to next. As LL remind us (via retweets of this announcement, at least through @SecondLife), mesh commences its roll-out this month, starting with, I understand, the Blue Steel Release Channel prior to the remaining Release Channels & the rest of the main grid being mesh-enabled by the end of August.
Ergo, if people want to see mesh objects, they are going to have to move to a V2-based viewer. What’s more, unless the TPV developers have persuaded LL otherwise, it is possible those wanting to upload mesh imports will be forced to use Viewer 2 for this purpose, given LL were looking to ring-fence this capability (whether this is still the case is unclear – like much else around mesh).
Nor does the bad news for Viewer 1 end there; Oz Linden is on record as saying that developers of such Viewers are facing an uphill battle: “[A]ny Viewer that isn’t being actively maintained is going to start having fairly serious problems over the next months. We’re making a lot of changes… if viewers don’t keep up, things will break.”
The fact is, it will become harder and harder for TPV devs to try and maintain Viewer 1 code. Kirstenlee Cinquetti saw the writing on the wall over a year ago, and has moved over entirely to the development of the outstanding S21 Viewer. Announcements made at the end of last year concerning the future of the Viewer 1 Search prompted Phoenix and Imprudence to start down the road to developing a V2-based Viewer each. While Imprudence are still putting effort into their V1-based 1.4 Viewer, it is evident that their longer-term aim is not merge this work into their V2 Kokua Viewer, while Phoenix already have the outstanding Firestorm available. Individual TPV developers are also transitioning: Lance Corrimal hasn’t done anything significant with his V1-based Viewer since the end of April, while his V2-based Viewer comes on in leaps and bounds.
It is going to take a while for mesh to really make its presence felt – assuming, again, that the roll-out goes smoothly and without any major updates; it’s also possible that some TPV developers will look to try and backport the Search 2 functionality into their offerings in the hope of keeping things alive. So it’s possible that some may try to cling to Viewer 1 for a little longer; but while it may be seen as an unpopular statement in some quarters, the era of Viewer 1 really is now drawing to a close.
I don’t say that with any sense of superiority (I am an unabashed V2-based Viewer convert – Firestorm and Kirstenlee’s S21); I started out with Viewer 1 (version 1.14 or 1.15), and personally have no problems with it. But, sad to say, we all come to a time where, for better or worse (depending on one’s own feelings), we must move with the tide.
And the tide is now assuredly flowing to Viewer 2’s shore.
There has been much to-do on the matter of Search. It’s perhaps the most consistently controversial element in Second Life in terms of ongoing debate, with many complaining that it has been “broken” since the birth of Viewer 2, and that Linden Lab have been slow in responding to issues and problems.
At the same time we have LL working to try to improve things, tweaking this, changing that, taking on feedback somewhere else – all of which has culminated in the arrival of the Search Viewer project and the “new” Viewer 2 Search – which people are saying actually isn’t half-bad.
I’ve been playing with the “new” Search since it was made available through the Firestorm Public Beta, and I have to say that in many respects, I like it: the opening screen is clean and clearly laid out, it recaptures some of what Search 1 had and earlier versions of Search 2 lacked, etc. In other respects I still find it a bloody annoyance.
So if I were asked, what would I like to see in Search, what would my answer be?
Well, first the good – and I’m deliberately focused on the look and feel and use of the search window as it is presented to us, rather than digging into the intricacies of word lists, gaming and everything else that goes into making the wider subject for Search and Second Life such a hotbed of debate.
I’d certainly keep the new front page layout. It’s clean, it’s easy to follow, and it has all the core items required to facilitate a search. At the top of the page is the main search bar, withthe ability to define searches by category via a drop-down list.
The rest of the page layout is pretty much self-explanatory and easy to follow (although I am curious as to how ads for the “highlights” in Events, etc., tabs & in Classified are selected, and how frequently they are rotated for ads from other creators).
After this, however, I’m less enthusiastic about how information is presented. The fact is, whatever the “under-the-hood” improvements that have been made, Search still wastes space and takes up more screen real estate than I personally feel is necessary.
Look at the example above. There is much that is useful in it – the Filters on the left, the main results area, etc. – but the fact is it is poorly presented and wasteful. Why aren’t the filter options tabbed across the top, in keeping with the Events, Destinations and Land tabs on the home page? This is not only more logical, it frees-up the main section of the window to allow more information to potentially be displayed. Similarly, why the vertical column to the right for Classifieds? Why not use the bottom part of the window, again in keeping with the home page?
Then there is the fact that if you want to drill down to detailed information on anything, you get chucked out of the Search window and into the Sidebar. Sometimes (as with profiles) this might be useful, but given the dearth of information the Sidebar now tends to offer for things like Places, this is frequently a wasted exercise and so doubly annoying. Things are equally irritating when you’re searching through a set of results for something specific and wind up having to shuffle back and forth between Search and Sidebar, impersonating a tennis ball in the middle of a Nadal / Djonkovic rally.
Which is a shame, as it really needn’t be like this.
All it takes is a little forethought
The “powerful” aspect of the Viewer 1 Search has always been the convenience with which results are displayed. For the majority of searches, everything is focused on a single window split into two panes: on the left is a list of initial results, on the right space to display focused results.
This is not 100% ideal, but it does tend to give maximum bang to the buck on any given search. When running a search on people, land, places and the like, this is massively convenient, allowing you to quickly flick back and forth between a list of results and the details on each one without taking up masses of screen space (so you can even keep an eye on what is happening around you in-world).
My ideal Search
My ideal search would therefore take the strengths of Viewer 1 and the “new” Search (tabs, filters, home page, etc.) and (where appropriate) the two-pane design of Viewer 1 Search and bring them together in a Search window that avoids the Sidebar and presents information in a manner that is fast and convenient to use – as in the example I’ve cobbled together rather roughly below.
Of course, some of the tabs would need to be tweaked somewhat. Events, for example, would require an ability to search by event type, data, times, etc. – but this capability is already supplied in the left-side filters on the “new” search, and should be relatively easy to incorporate them in my revised layout as a drop-down series of options.
The image above isn’t perfect – I’m not terrifically clever with graphics, but I think it gives a reasonable idea of what could have been done, and even provides room here and there for things to be tweaked.
Can it be done? Well, why not? Will it be done? Probably not. But I can dream, can’t I?