Firestorm 3.2 Release: In-depth

Note: thie version reviewed here is 3.2.2.24336 with the openGL fixes. If you continue to have issues with Firestorm, try 3.2.1.24179

firestorm-logoIt’s here, and it has the OpenGL fixes. And it is quite simply superb.

Firestorm 3 is everything a Second Life Viewer should be – and so much more. So much, in fact, that putting together a review has been something of a headache for me – where do I start, how do I order things?

One thing I will say right off the bat – and that is to give a very personal thank you to Jessica Lyon in particular for giving me the means to get started on this review ahead of the official release.

The Log-in Screen

The first of the big changes hit you right from the start: the log-in / splash screen has been significantly revised, incorporating much of the Viewer 3 log-in screen capabilities and, in some areas, extending them.

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Making a Splash: the Firestorm log-in screen

At the top of the screen are four headers. The first three of these, Destinations, Events and What’s Hot Now, pull information directly from the Viewer 3 log-in screen I reviewed back in August 2011.  For those who have not encountered this up until now:

  • Clicking on any of the drop-downs will display a sliding panel of Destinations, Upcoming Events, and “hot” places to visit (the latter determined by the number of people currently visiting it)
Finding a place to go has never been so easy
Finding a place to go has never been so easy
  • Opening any one of those drop-down will, very tidily, close the previously-open drop-down
  • Hovering the mouse over the middle of any of the images in a panel will display a SELECT button; clicking on this will open a pop-up of further information, together with a notice that your start location on logging-in has been set to the selected location

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  • You can still switch back to your Home or Last Location via the START AT option at the bottom of the log-in screen.

The last option is that of Firestorm Information, which is open by default. This provides links to the Firestorm download page, the wiki pages and the JIRA; the Firestorm Blog; and information on the Viewer version currently under development. most significantly of all, it includes links to the SL Grid Status Page, allowing users to immediately see if there are any known problems of which they need to be aware.

I am an unabashed fan of the Viewer 3 log-in screen; that Firestorm has adopted it is a major plus in my book. That they are further willing to go where Linden Lab apparently refuse, despite repeated cajoling through the likes of Twitter by a lot of people, gains it another huge tick in the Pey Book of Viewer Satisfaction. Would that LL understood the need to put this information front-and-centre, especially given that with the best will in the world, the grid dows tend to go Swedish Chef every so often and bork, bork, bork. But then, the Firestorm developers are all regular users of the platform…

At the bottom of the log-in screen are the familiar log-in credentials boxes. As is common for TPVs (and previous versions of Firestorm), the Viewer can store log-in information for different accounts, making logging-in with an Alt, etc, a matter of simply selecting a name (or indeed, name / grid combination) from a drop-down list. A DELETE THIS ENTRY button allows for the removal of any selected account from the Viewer’s records.

Default Settings (Viewer Modes)

Choose your desired mode
Choose your desired mode

The log-in area also includes a DEFAULT SETTINGS drop-down. This allows you to chose from one of three operating modes for the Viewer. These are: Phoenix, Hybrid, and V3.

I’ve already outlined the three UI looks, and this version doesn’t change them that much, so I won’t spend time on them here per se; however, for the curious of mind, the default settings for each mode can be found in the table below (from the Firestorm wiki).

Defaults for the three Viewer modes
Defaults for the three Viewer modes

Note: Phoenix does not mean the Viewer will present a Phoenix / Viewer 1.x-style interface.

Preferences

Firestorm’s preferences have had a major overhaul, with many options being more pragmatically grouped and thus hopefully easier to find. I’ve tried out outline the key changes below. You can also find a quick reference table to the changes in the Firestorm wiki.

General

Move or type: you choose
Move or type: you choose

The general tab now includes and EXTRAS panel that allows you to:

  • Select whether the Viewer display your own or other people’s in-world profile or your / their web profile
  • Whether the WASD keys will move your avatar or focus the cursor on the chat bar (also found in the Chat tab).

Note: By default, Pressing Letter Keys is set to START LOCAL CHAT for the Phoenix mode, but set to AFFECTS MOVEMENT for the Hybrid / V3 modes.

Chat

The Chat tab rationalises the majority of options associated with setting chat preferences. As well as presenting the expected Chat options, the tabs originally located in Preferences->Firestorm->Chat (General (renamed “Firestorm”), Radar and Keyword Alerts). This tab also includes:

  • Popular chat log options also found in Preferences->Privacy
  • The option to auto-hide the main Chat Bar
  • The new Viewer translation tool options
  • A Notifications tab, allowing you to define how IM and Group Chat notifications are handled using either the Viewer 3 pop-ups an/or in the chat console (i.e. lower left-hand corner of your screen, as per Phoenix / Viewer 1.x)
  • A Text Input tab comprising the Spell Check and AutoCorrect functions
AutoCorrect and Spell Check - together under Preferences->Chat
AutoCorrect and Spell Check – together under Preferences->Chat

Graphics

The graphics tab see the arrival of a FULLSCREEN mode for Firestorm. The option requires a restart to take effect, but renders the Viewer beautifully on screen without the usual application window.

Sound & Media

The Sound & Media tab has been refreshed, splitting media and Voice functions into two sub-tabs: General and Voice Settings. The General tab now includes the Media Audio Rolloff Distance settings originally located in Preferences->Advanced.

Sound & Media: new Voice tab and the Media Audio Rolloff sliders
Sound & Media: new Voice tab and the Media Audio Rolloff sliders

Move & View

The Move & View tab includes the Viewer 3.2 “click-to-move” functionality (which will reverse avatar mouse steering if you use it!), and moves the Firestorm Camera options originally found under PREFERENCES->FIRSTORM->VIEW to a new sub-tab called Firestorm.

Move & View: incorporate click-to-move and Firestorm's camera options
Move & View: incorporate click-to-move and Firestorm’s camera options

Privacy and Advanced

The Privacy tab is rationalised so that LookAt options are now located on their own sub-tab, including the LookAt Target option originally found in Preferences->Firestorm-General.

The Advanced tab has been reduced to the Viewer / grid / Advance / Developer Menu options.

User Interface

Originally called UI Extras, this tab now:

  • Includes the UI Scaling slider (originally in Preferences->Advanced)
  • Includes the lag meter check box (originally in Preferences->Firestorm->General)
  • Includes the Avatar Head movement options ( originally in Preferences->Firestorm–>Avatar)
  • Allows both script dialogue and Group notices to be displayed in the top right of the screen a-la Phoenix / Viewer 1.x.

The Font tab has been expanded to include options to adjust chat line spacing and folder item height.

Firestorm

The Firestorm tab has undergone significant changes

  • The General sub-tab has been rationalised as a result of options being either moved elsewhere or dropped
  • The Protection tab now include the Phoenix Spam Protection options
  • The Avatar tab replaces the View tab and combines the Avatar Head movement options with Selection Beam Particle options
Preferences->Firestorm->Avatar
Preferences->Firestorm->Avatar
  • The Windlight tab includes additional options for accepting region settings and cross-fading changes.

Chat Bar and Chat

The Chat Bar now includes two buttons: the first opens / closes the Nearby Chat floater, while the second opens the Conversations floater. However:

  • If the Nearby Chat floater is docked with Conversations (as it is by default), then both will appear to perform the same function.
  • With Nearby Chat undocked, Conversations opens to display your Contacts.

New Feature: Hiding the Chat Bar

Like Phoenix, the Firestorm Chat Bar can now be hidden:

  • Go to Avatar->Preferences->Chat->Firestorm and check AUTOHIDE MAIN CHAT BAR
  • The Chat Bar is now hidden.
  • To access it, tap ENTER – the Chat Bar will open at full window width
  • Type your text and press ENTER – the text is sent and displayed in the chat console or Nearby Chat (if open)
  • If you open the Chat in error, simply tap ENTER or ESC to close it without typing anything.

If you prefer, you can set the Chat Bar to open as soon as you start typing:

  • Go to Preferences->General->Extras or Preferences->Chat->General and make sure PRESSING LETTER KEYS is set to STARTS LOCAL CHAT
  • Pressing any letter, number or character key will now open the Chat Bar and capture your typing
  • As above, pressing ENTER will both display the test and close the Chat Bar

Note: setting this behaviour will disable the WASD keys as avatar movement keys.

To disable Chat Bar hide, the feature, go to Go to Avatar->Preferences->Chat->Firestorm and uncheck AUTOHIDE MAIN CHAT BAR. Remember to reset your the WASD functions, if required.

Additional New Chat Features

There are two further new chat options in this release:

  • Visible hint for when someone is typing: go to Preferences->Chat-> and check SHOW TYPING INDICATOR IN BUBBLES… tags will update to show if someone is typing, even if they have the typing animation turned off
  • You can display an optional channel selection box in Nearby Chat. Go to: Preferences->Chat-> and check SHOW CHANNEL SELECTION IN CHAT BAR
Channel display in chat

Chat Echo Fix

In previous versions of Firestorm, both the chat bar and Nearby Chat would echo whatever was typed into the other. This has been fixed so that text can be typed separately into each.

Camera Floater

FS3-13The Camera floater used within the Phoenix /Hybrid modes has been refined, with the view buttons (rear, front, 3/4s, zoom & Mouselook) now along the top of the floater. This makes the floater more compact, by some may find it harder to reposition once undocked from the toolbar as a result.

Quick Preferences

The Quick Preferences button now includes options to turn name tags over avatars off / on, and a time-of day slider for altering the region daylight in your own Viewer.

Mesh Uploads

One of the most eagerly-awaited capabilities within both Firestorm and Phoenix is that of mesh object uploads.

This release sees Firestorm gain the capability, thanks to Nicky Dasmijn. The upload process uses the latest Viewer 3 upload window, and while I am no mesh expert, it appears to match the official Viewer in terms of smoothness of operation.

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Note that the upload feature includes the fix for CTS-627 (Mesh upload crashes Linux).

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