Blog end: August

I don’t tend to do month-end reviews for this blog, but August has been quite extraordinary all ways around. News has poured forth from Linden Lab and elsewhere; we’ve had SLCC, mesh, and numerous other events that have been keeping a lot of people busy.

For me, it has meant that this blog, which usually trundles along quietly with a few thousand page views a month, has hit over 14,000 page views for August, and blasted through 51,000 views since I started it. These may be modest figures for some blogs, but I’m just stunned and overwhelmed. As such, I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who came and looked, and read and shared your thoughts and feedback.

I’ve been averaging around a post a day – and at times through the month around 4 or 5 posts a day while hitting seven in one day mid-month. I’ve blogged every day bar the 9th and 27th, although the 13th shows a blank on the calendar despite the fact I published a page-based item then. All told, it’s fair to say I feel liked I’ve lived more inside WordPress than in-world!

So what has been going on?

Well, mesh was obviously the biggest news of the month, with my selection of four videos from YouTube drawing huge attention (Thank you Linden Lab for the blog link!); while the notice that mesh was commencing roll-out also gained a lot of attention, together with my July *simple* guide to mesh and mesh and your Viewer – both of which I’ve attempted to keep updated – coming in for attention in August. Mesh also saw Viewer 2 increment to Viewer 3, a strange way to mark the roll-out, but there you go.

It is also fair to say that with mesh, I did get a couple of things wrong. In July I bid a personal goodbye to Viewer 1 and 1.x TPVs and listed mesh as one of the potential reasons people will be pulling away. Of course, I’d neglected to consider mesh being out on OpenSim as well. Hence, while there may well be concerns about keeping 1.x Viewers up-to-date and functional, mesh may not be one of them, as experimental releases this month of Asta and Cool VL Viewer demonstrate.

I also reported on a Region Setting Linden Lab appeared to be including in Viewer 3 that would enable sim owners to disable mesh rendering. However, although it took a while, Charlar Linden eventually admitted by way of the JIRA on the matter that the option wasn’t actually supposed to be in the Viewer. Which in itself leaves a lot unsaid and questions that will probably never be answered.

Of course, with mesh can the new 64m native prim size, which has been at least as popular as the arrival of mesh.

August also saw SLCC 2011 take place, with a very strong presence from Linden Lab, with some excellent keynote and breakout presentations from Rodvik, the Product Team, Viale and Brett, and Charlar and Runitai on…mesh.SL residents were also activie in both keynote addresses and running and participating in talks and panels, making the entire convention a well-rounded event, that was well put together both in Oakland and in-world on four beautiful sims.

SLCC left me feeling positive bouyed up with all that is happening within Second Life and Linden Lab. Which is not to say the company has some way to go towards getting things like Customer Support sorted out – but all those attending slcc physically or virtually all came away with a feeling that we’ve got “our” Lab back after its desert sojourn 2008-2010. Much of this latter emotion was superbly captured by Draxtor Despres in his post-convention video:

Firestorm made news as well, with the announcement that a new release will be rolling out in September, with a raft of new features and capabilities that are likely to vastly increase its popularity within the community. Chief among these is liable to be the new Contact Sets.

Elsewhere, the month also saw the announcement of a new on-line collaborative effort with The Blu; while in-world, we had the Zexpo Festival kicking-off, and Burn-2 started ramping-up in earnest and the first LEA Full Sim Art series was announced.

The Blu

Of course, there was much I missed or didn’t have time to cover – such as the temporary closure of the Metaverse Island, as reported upon by Daniel Voyager, and the on-going SpotON3D patents controversy that I barely touched upon, but which Maria Korolov has been following closely over at Hypergrid Business. So all-in-all it’s been a massively-busy month for everyone, and one that I’ve really enjoyed.

Again, thanks for all your support.

Advertisements

Text clients reviewed 4: SLiteChat

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  – Libretto, Metabolt and Radegast – I’ve previously looked at in terms of the Windows platform. SLiteChat is another such client, available for Windows, Linux and Mac, and it gets the Pey treatment here.

SLiteChat

In terms of overall functionality, SLiteChat sits on the Libretto side of the scales – if all you need is a rapid means of logging-in to SL and conversing and carrying out some basic tasks, it is ideal. It installs smoothly from the .EXE (binaries also available), and when launched – unlike the first three clients I reviewed in this series – doesn’t present you with a log-in screen. Instead, the application window is displayed, with a prompt for you to log-in.

Buttons

  • Exit: closes the SLiteChat window and quits the application
  • Login: displays the log-in floater
  • Logout: logs you out of your chosen grid, but leaves the SLiteChat application running
  • Teleport Home: when logged in, this will tp you to any home location you have set (or to your default logging-in point if none set)
  • Preferences: displays the Preferences floater
  • Check for Updates: will poll the SLiteChat website for any available updates.

Logging-in

Clicking the Login button displays the logging-in floater.

Enter the name of the avatar you wish to use to log-in to your grid in the First Name / Last Name box (in the case of Second Life, those without a last name should enter “Resident” after their first name). When logging in, note that:

  • All names and passwords entered into the client are recorded, and can but automatically entered into the fields during future log-ins by clicking on the down arrow at the right side of the First / Last name box and selecting the required avatar name
  • Log-in names are stored by grid; so if you log-in to multiple grids, select the grid first, and this will enable a list of avatars used to date to log-into that grid when the arrow to the right of the First / Last Name field is clicked.

The Grid drop-down (shown above) contains a pre-defined list of grids, which is slightly out-of-date at present.

Once logged-in, the full set of menu options becomes available to you

  • File: Provides the Login, Preferences and Exit options prior to being logged in, and Logout, Teleport Home, Preferences, Export Saved Conversations and Exit options when logged-in
  • View: allows you to toggle the Friends and Group windows on / off individually or together (if one is turned off, the other will expand to fill the space; if both are turned off, the chat display area expands to fill the space)
  • Friend: allows you to:
    • Search for a Friend: opens a floater window, enter the name of the person you are seeking in the top and their name is display in the main window. Entering a first name will display a list of matching first names. Highlight a name in the list to either send and IM or a Friendship request
    • Remove a Friend: left-click on a name in your Friends list and use this option to remove them as a Friend.
    • IM a Friend: left-click on a name in your Friends list and use this option to IM them – a separate tab will open in the main chat and message display area.
  • Group: this menu option is currently inactive
  • Help: Displays the Help floater and checks for updates to the application whether or not you are logged-in.

Friends and Group Lists

The Friends and Group list windows each have their own buttons and options.

The options are pretty self-explanatory, with the action buttons mirroring those found in the Friend and Group menus (with the caveat the latter menu options remain greyed out in the 1.6.3 release). As noted above, closing one or other window will automatically expand the other to fill the space, while closing both will expand the chat / message display area into the space. It’s also worth nothing that friends are automatically displayed alphabetically (first name) and split between online and offline.

Preferences

The Preferences button / menu option (under File) displays a floater of personal preference options for the client.These options are all fairly self-explanatory, although not all appear to be functioning properly.

  • The Google translation option no longer runs, probably as a result of the API for that service becoming a paid-for option
  • The options to save conversations (alongside the FILE -> EXPORT SAVED CONVERSATIONS) do not appear to be functioning.

Website

The SLiteChat website provides download links and basic documentation – including how to install, for those that would prefer to download the binaries – and a very good FAQ on common issues.

Use and Opinion

SLiteChat does precisely what it says on the box, and provides a clean, quick text-based client. It equals Libretto in most respects, although some functionality doesn’t appear to be entirely there at present. In the case of Groups, and the Group menu, this isn’t a problem, as the Group window action buttons all work. Some of the Preferences options do appear to need further work – either that or I was having a bad tech day when playing with the client. The Grid list needs updating, somewhat as well – and it would be nice to have the ability to add your own preferred grids to the list.

I’ve no idea where development stands at the moment – this release dates back to February 2011; I’ve IM’d the developer and will update here with more info should it come through.

However, none of the above stop SLiteChat from being a good, lightweight alternative to accessing SL when you’re unable to use your Viewer, and is certainly capable of letting you stay in contact with friends in-world.

Related Links

Update Sept 1st, 2011: Dooglio Mode managed to make contact with me today and confirmed that while development work has slowed, updates will hopefully be worked on in the near future.

Grendel’s monster: SL Customer Support

“I own three sims and have a Group of over six thousand plus people and…Customer Service won’t talk to me. So…I mean maybe y’all don’t have that experience or maybe y’all have 20,000…but how does a guy who’s never been to one of these conferences and is new get through when there is nowhere to go and Customer Services is … c’mon guys, it’s abysmal.

“I pay more for my Second Life than I do for my BMW – and they bring a car to my house, take my car away … they call me every day and tell me, ‘This is the problem’. I don’t get a call back [from Customer Support] for three weeks. I get nothing. I paid three hundred bucks just to come here to say that.”

The above comments were aired towards the end of the Social Life and Communities presentation at SLCC 2011, and were reflective of a growing frustration from sim owners and others at the lack of service from LL’s Customer Support.

This is not a new issue; Customer Support has been a thorn in Linden Lab’s side for a fair while. And not just Linden Lab, as anyone – Basic or Premium member – who has tried to raise a ticket and get a response knows only too well.

Such is the problem, that Rod Humble has, rightly, targeted Customer Support and Customer Services as something that needs to be overhauled. The problem seems to be the time its taking to see  – or even read about – anything tangible that is being done, coupled with the fact that at times Linden Lab see it purely as a “usability” issue (the suggestion being that if people are given the right tools, the problem will evaporate).The comments passed by the frustrated sim owner above was met with more-or-less this pigeon-holing of his problems, which were seen in terms purely of griefing.

While it is true that many issues around sim ownership, etc., can most likely be eased through the deployment of improved tools from LL – this is only a small part of the problem, and the fact is that Customer Support really needs to be overhauled from the ground up, because it simply isn’t working.

In fairness, LL are probably working hard to get on top of things – at times, some improvement has been noted, even if it is unfortunately short-lived. But when one of Second Life’s oldest and most well-known content creation teams announces that they have disposed of 50% of the sims they run in Second Life, simply as a result of issues  relating directly to Customer Support, then there can be no denying the issue is reaching a critical point.

Prim Perfect carries a report about Grendel’s Children, which has sold-off two out of the four sims it has been running for over four years and has been a star attraction within Second Life – not only for the quality of the products supplied by the team, but for the sheer magic of the sims themselves. Indeed, as the Prim Perfect article notes, such has been the fame of Grendel’s Children that even Philip Rosedale likened the success of the Grid itself to the success of Grendels when he said, “As goes Grendel’s, so goes the Grid”. Their reason for selling off the sims? Poor Customer Support.

I’ve been broadly positive about the change in approach and philosophy within Linden Lab when it comes to Second Life – and I still am. However, Grendel’s is a strong brand, it’s a known brand and one that has been making money in Second Life. As such, and while they are not planning on pulling out of Second Life entirely, divesting themselves of 50% of their land holdings simply because of ongoing issues around Customer Support is not a positive message to be hitting the airwaves where the Lab is concerned.

Cool VL Viewer gains mesh support

Fresh on the heels of Astra 1.5.10.(2) gaining mesh rendering support, Henri Beauchamp has issued an experimental release of the Cool VL Viewer, also with mesh rendering support.

As with all versions of the Cool VL Viewer, the experimental release requires Snowglobe 1.4.2 to be installed first, with the CL VL package then installed over it. This is smooth enough, taking just a few seconds to complete. Once installed, the Viewer can be loaded using the Cool VL Viewer icon not the Snowglobe icon.

Given it is one of the longest-running TPVs in SL, Cool VL Viewer comes with  everything you’d expect of a TPV, and I’m not going to repeat the impressive list of features here – as this item is about the mesh rendering (although I should point out the release also includes full support for dynamic lighting and shadows).

As with Astra 1.5.10.(2), I used the SL mesh sandboxes to test the Viewer and took a look around – starting with Don Linden’s familiar examples and Oskar Linden’s black duck in the background.

Mesh samples in Cool VL Viewer

As can be seen, they all rendered well in Cool VL Viewer for me, although there is an issue that Henri is aware of at present. Sometimes mesh objects get stuck in the lowest level of detail (LOD) setting, causing them to appear semi-rendered. In the case of in-world objects, a quick right-click fixes this.

Mesh objects LOD issue – right-click on the object to resolve

Sadly, the same solution doesn’t work on mesh clothing worn by others, which may also get stuck in the lowest LOD rendering. However, as this is only an experimental issues of the Cool VL Viewer, things should hopefully improve as the code is refined.

There is currently no upload option for mesh at present, so those wishing to upload will have to use either the official Viewer 3 or Kirstenlee’s S21 (build 9 and above); this is currently a fact of life for the majority of third-party Viewers, although the situation may obviously change in the future.

If I’m honest, the LOD issue was not something I encountered in testing Astra 1.5.10.(2) and mesh at the sandboxes – but Cool VL Viewer does score over Astra 1.5.10.(2) in that it is a recognised Second Life Viewer with a pedigree people know and love; this is liable to make this version very popular, and any bugs in the current release are, as mentioned above, bound to be worked out.

Cool VL Viewer 1.26.1.0 also scores over Astra 1.5.10.(2) at present in that it is also available as a Linux download.

So if you are a confirmed V1.x user, either on SL or OpenSim, and want to see mesh, why not give it a go? Just please bear in mind that it is currently experimental, as as such, may be subject to stability issues, so don’t get mad with Henri if it does!

The Links