Yesterday, the Phoenix / Firestorm team released a Beta version of Firestorm (officially called 188.8.131.5225), specifically aimed at mesh object rendering. The team is keen to emphasise that this is bordering on an “experimental” release, and urge anyone trying it out to read the accompanying release notes – of which more anon.
The release itself was almost destined not to take place; on Tuesday morning the team discovered a series of regression issues that needed to be resolved, then their service provider announced significant issues with their fibre, leaving the Phoenix servers only able to accept around 10 connections at a time!
Nevertheless, the team worked through issues and, following the fortnightly Phoenix Hour on MetaMix TV, the Beta was duly released. So – what is it like?
The differences between this version and earlier releases are apparent from the moment you install and run Firestorm. On the log-in screen alone are three new features:
- Log-in drop-down list: Firestorm gains the Phoenix username drop-down list with this release. If you use several alts, names and passwords can be retained by the Viewer and chosen from a drop-down list, making for easy selection. In a further nice touch, if you use the same name to log on to multiple grids, the Viewer will remember the specifics. For example, I have three entries under username: “Inara Pey”, which logs me into the SL Main grid; “Inara Pey @ Second Life Beta” which logs me in to aditi, and “Inara Pey @ InWorldz” which logs me in to InWorldz – the required Grid is automatically selected when I select the user name
- Beneath the Username field is a new button – DELETE THIS ENTRY (arrowed). This removes the details of the selected avatar from your log-in records held by the Viewer – again, useful if you have multiple avatars and discard one, or if you no longer log-in to a specific grid
- There is also now an option called DEFAULT SETTINGS. This allows you to select a default “UI” style with which to run the Viewer. By default, it is set to “Phoenix”. Clicking on the arrow to the right of the option displays the additional options of “V3” and “Hybrid” (boxed above).
Now, these have been described as setting different User Interface styles – and to a point, they do (setting V3, for example, will give you the familiar Sidebar tabs from Viewer 2.x/3.x); but if anyone is expecting “Phoenix” will deliver a full-blown Phoenix-esque V1.x UI will be in for a disappointment – the differences in presentation are far more subtle: “Phoenix” delivers a UI that is pretty much identical to the current Firestorm release UI, for example.
“Hybrid” refers to a new – and, I’d say cleaner – variant of the Firestorm UI developed for this release, which I’ve now set as my default (as far as possible – there is at least one issue with this release).
As with the Viewer Modes in Viewer 2.x / 3.x, changing the default settings will require you quit and restart Firestorm. While this requirement is the same as the official Viewer when switching between Basic and Advanced modes, it would be nice if this could be automated if at all possible: clicking the OK button shutting down and restarting the Viewer in one convenient go.
Navigation and other “Top” Bars
By default, both the Phoenix and Hybrid settings have the Navigation Bar at the top of the screen turned off, while the V3 option has it on, together with the Search bar. Speaking of the Search Bar, as there is an option to turn it off/on, it would be nice if this worked independently of the Navigation bar (currently turning Search on / off only makes a difference if the Navigation Bar is displayed). It’s a small thing, but would add to convenience of use.
The Favourites Bar is on by default in all three, and while I like the fact that in the Phoenix and Firestorm options it is on a transparent background, this may cause issues for some and it is frequently difficult to see against, say, the sky. I also like the Hybrid option’s transparency around the tool bar at the bottom of the screen; this is a nice touch and adds to the feeling that one has a greater in-world viewing area.
Of Sidebars and Pie Menus
The “V3” option of the UI obviously uses the V2.x/V3.x Sidebar and tabs, although options can be accessed from the toolbar at the bottom of the screen as well.
The “Hybrid” UI option uses the “tabless” Sidebar seen in earlier Firestorm releases, with options accessible from the toolbar buttons. In both cases, options can be “torn off” from the Sidebar and floated as independent windows, and will persist as such between log-ins.
The “Phoenix” UI option disposes with the Sidebar completely, and simply floats options in their own windows.
Both the Phoenix and Hybrid options utilise the Pie Menu by default – I would personally prefer the Context Menu were the default in the case of the latter, but I suspect I’d be in the minority for saying so! The V3 option uses the Context by default.
Major New Features
Volume Control Access
With this release, Firestorm inherits Phoenix’s quick-access panel for all volume control settings. Simply hover the mouse over the volume icon at the top right of the Firestorm window and the control panel will drop down.
All the expected options are there, with sliders, together with options to mute those that are frequently not used: streaming music, media and Voice.
Alongside the Quick Preferences button located down on the toolbar, this is perhaps one of the most eagerly awaited V1 TPV UI options to reach Firestorm.
Built-in Flight Assist
Adding to the client-side AO, Firestorm now sports a flight assist option. This is accessed through PREFERENCES -> FIRESTORM and then checking the ENABLE BRIDGE FLIGHT ASSIST option. As the option itself suggests, the Firestorm Bridge must be worn in order for the flight assist to work; furthermore, you should remove / turn off any other flight assist options before using the built-in flight assist, or you might experience all sorts of issues!
Camera Floater Updates
The camera floater receives an update in the new release, with the Phoenix and Hybrid versions receiving new buttons, while the V3 floater sits somewhere between the previous Firestorm version and the Viewer 3.x controls.
The layout of the new “Phoenix” / “Hybrid” floater makes it appear slightly larger on-screen, and also a little tricker to resize.
Contacts List Changes
The Contacts List has been updated to show whether friends have allowed you permission to map them / edit their items – all to the good. On the downside, a column to show Display Names has been added alongside user names, which tends to push out the size of the window unnecessarily.
It would be nice if there were an option to turn off either the user name column or the Display Name column in order to make the List less screen-consuming. If this could be coded, and reduce the amount of screen real estate lost to the window.