Text clients reviewed 1: Libretto

Note: Libretto ceased development in 2013.

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

  • Platform(s): Windows
  • Available from: http://www.librettoviewer.com/
  • Version reviewed: 0.13.0

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”