The grid divide: TPVs and OpenSim support

At the start of the month, Hypergrid Business reported on Linden Lab’s removal of support for the –loginURI parameter from versions of the SL Viewer.

This command is most commonly used to modify the command path used to launch the viewer, allowing it to connect to grids other than Second Life. It has already been removed from the latest development ad beta versions of the viewer, and as such will find its way to the release version in the near future.

For the majority of people who use the official viewer and only access Second Life, the announcement passed largely unnoticed. Even among those who do routinely bounce between Second Life and other grids using TPVs, the impact of the change was minimal – most viewers openly supporting access to both Second Life and OpenSim grids tend to do so through the use of a grid selector / grid manager option – which remained unaffected by the change.

The Shape of Things to Come

However, the removal of support for –loginURI was the tip of the iceberg.

In April of this year, Linden Lab announced a sub-licencing arrangement involving the Havok physics engine. While there is already some Havok functionality evident in the viewer as it is (used in conjunction with mesh uploads and pathfinding), the licence arrangement enables Linden Lab to develop a library of Havok functions for the viewer. In time, this may prove to have significant benefits for Second Life; however, there is a catch.

Once the new Havok libraries are in place and available for use, the terms of the sub-licence require that any viewer accessing them only connects to Second Life. Period. Ergo, no grid selector, no grid manager and no support of –loginURI or any other means of provisioning OpenSim log-in support for such viewers.

In other words, once the arrangement is up and running, those TPVs that currently support both Second Life and OpenSim access, and which are eligible to make use of the new LL Havok libraries, have to make a choice as to their future direction:

  • Do they sign-up to the new sub-licence agreement to gain access to the new libraries and completely forgo any OpenSim support they may have provided?
  • Do they fork their development to provide two flavours of their viewer – one configured to access SL only and make use of the new Havok libraries, the other specifically aimed at OpenSim and unable to access the Havok functions?
  • Do they abandon SL altogether and instead focus solely on OpenSim?
  • Do they perhaps opt to forgo the use of the new library functions and continue “as is”, ignoring any new capabilities provisioned via the Havok libraries?

The option to fork development between SL and OpenSim probably comes down to matters of bandwidth, maintenance and audience. Does a TPV have the bandwidth to develop two flavours of viewer? Does it enjoy a sufficiently largely audience in both SL and OpenSim to warrant the time and effort needed to do so?

Firestorm

The Firestorm team announced in June that they would continue to support both Second Life and OpenSim by forking the development of the Firestom viewer between the two in the near future (if this has not in fact already happened in the intervening time).

While one version of Firestorm will remain focused on Second Life, the second branch will be geared towards general support of the OpenSim platform and not incorporate code from Linden Lab that is ring-fenced by the new sub-licence arrangement.

Niran’s

In July, NiranV Dean confirmed Niran’s Viewer would not be supporting OpenSim – although the decision was possibly as much based on a personal preference as having anything to do with the upcoming Havok sub-licence situation.

Dolphin

dolphin-logoNow, with the new sub-licence arrangement looming, Dolphin Viewer developer Lance Corrimal formally announced on August 18th that future versions of Dolphin will be solely focused on Second Life as he doesn’t have the bandwidth to maintain three flavours of his viewer across two environments (Second Life and OpenSim). He will, however, be providing a clone of the original repository should anyone wish to fork it and make an OpenSim specific version.

It remains to be seen if other TPVs will make formal announcements and which route they will opt to take.

Looking to the Future

Some commentators, on hearing the news regarding –loginURI, reacted negatively, with some citing the move as a further indication of the demise of SL. These reactions would appear unwarranted. It is unlikely that any split in how either Second Life and OpenSim are accessed is going to have a major impact on either the use of SL or its longevity.

Similarly, while some may be personally inconvenienced (having to move between two viewers depending on whether they are logging-in to SL or an OpenSim grid),  it is hard not to see this situation as anything but beneficial for OpenSim. If nothing else, it frees those viewer developers who wish to focus on OpenSim to develop functionality and capabilities  within the viewer that are specifically geared to the platform (e.g. much improved OSSL support) and unfettered from any constraints or worries about maintaining compatibility with SL (such as the 4,096-region teleport limit).

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17 thoughts on “The grid divide: TPVs and OpenSim support

  1. A fifth possibility open to TPVs is to pass on the Havok components in favor of open sourced replacements. This has already been done for the convex hull decomposition provided by Havok on the official viewer for mesh uploads. Many TPVs use HACD for this instead.

    LL is certainly well within their rights to make use of Havok functionality. They’re able to do this while remaining open source to the letter, if not in spirit. And I don’t doubt that Havok provides much ready-made functionality that’s hard to resist. Just the same, these choices are a bit hostile to the open source community. Replacing those functions provided by Havok with open source alternatives probably isn’t trivial, but it would remove constraints on freedom to use the code in a broader, more innovative matter without onerous burdens of maintaining multiple viewer versions and agreeing to a third party’s proprietary license.

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    1. Thing is, could this ultimately cost Havok dearly in the long term? I mean, if this prompts the open-source crowd to create their own total replacements for everything Havok does and more, Havok could find themselves out of the loop, businesswise, if opensim eventually grows way bigger than SL in the number of people logged in and active, particularly if SL subsequently implodes because of that. Short-term thinking with blinders on has probably harmed more businesses than one might expect.

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      1. I’m sure Havok would be willing to discuss licensing terms with you, given sufficient money sent their way. It seems unreasonable for Linden Lab to sublicense to people who aren’t using or contributing to their service in any way – and equally unreasonable for anyone else to expect them to.

        Havok Physics is used in far more than SL; I doubt they’d even notice if SL fell off the map. Furthermore, nobody has actually duplicated Havok functionality for SL; they’ve simply replaced Havok calls with calls to libraries others already wrote. The tricky part was done already, and Havok doesn’t seem to be hurting for their existence.

        It’s also worth noting that LL has implied that it will not look kindly upon developers with a Havok license who attempt to duplicate the functionality. “Don’t do that.”

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  2. This is one of the cases where futurology is hard 🙂

    On one hand, let’s be honest: there are very few people active on OpenSim. Really, even though Hypergrid Business shows that in terms of landmass, there might be more OS-based regions than SL-based ones (land is cheap or free in OpenSim, after all), in terms of active users, all the myriad grids have, at most, some 30,000 active users. Just the top ones have more than a thousand. The rest is heavily fragmented.

    So TPV developers will have to think if it’s better to support merely a million users on SL or make a huge effort to keep those 30,000 OpenSim users happy.

    I’m sure that the top commercial OpenSim grid operators are not worried. They will stick to one or two TPVs, make sure their developers keep updating the code, and let their own users migrate to whomever is left to support OpenSim.

    The only sad thing is that this will mean less choice for OpenSim users. But “less choice” doesn’t mean “no choice”.

    On the other hand, this shows how lack of cooperation weakens communities. Unlike other open source communities, in the SL/OS world, everybody does their own forks of LL’s code — because in most cases (the Exodus example being a recent exception), LL is unwilling to use any contributed code. So this made TPVs pretty much isolated from each other and from LL. Similarly, on OpenSim, where there is actually a wonderful technology able to link all OS-based grids together — HyperGrid — almost none of the commercial grid providers allow it. A few might allow HyperGrid-teleporting out of their grids, but disallow teleporting in, for the same reasons as LL: protecting their investment. While this is reasonable and understandable, it just weakens the OpenSim community, when everybody is using a “special” version of OpenSim and a “special” version of a viewer to connect to them. It’s quite different to say “LL has a bit less than 30,000 regions, while OpenSim has more, even though LL has 30 times more active users than OpenSim” than “There are thousands of OpenSim grids out there that don’t communicate with each other. The largest ones — which are just a handful — have a few thousands of users at best. All are closed, have their own version of OpenSim, and require a separate viewer”. Facing that chaotic mess of a thoroughly disconnected metaverse, TPVs might feel that the effort to support all of that is simply overwhelming.

    But there is no way to “force” the mentality to change, get OpenSim grids connecting to each other freely, and allow all viewers to access all grids. Commercial OpenSim grid operators just compete among each other and wait for the weakest link to fail, and hope that they’re the strongest one and survive another year. This is a lose-lose situation: the OpenSim community gets weakened for being split among thousands of grids; TPV developers get tired of supporting such a mess; and ultimately grid operators will face the same troubles as LL does — supporting a large grid requires a lot of expensive resources, and there is no hope but to raise prices — or give up.

    All this might be totally wrong, though. 🙂 I foresee that the largest OpenSim grid operators will continue to support their “own” viewers, and smaller grids will continue to hyperlink to each other hoping to remain relevant and catch the attention of the odd friendly TPV developer. So the difference will not be huge.

    But investing real effort on a TPV to give OpenSim-specific features? Hmm. I don’t know. I think this will happen only on the “official” TPVs from the major grid operators, but not from the rest. It’s simply too hard to do otherwise.

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    1. I agree the it’s potentially not in the interets of the TPV to go too far down the OpenSim support road while trying to also trying to keep abreast with SL developments; that would stretch resources very thin (remembering that even Firestorm has a relatively small team of developers). However, stranger things have happened

      But I’m not really talking in terms of TPVs per se. I’m talking about any viewer developers who may opt to move into OpenSim work and leave SL entirely – and I can think of a number who may well be tempted to do so. There are already several OpenSim-focused viewer available, and at least one very V1-based viewer that has been very popular within the OpenSim environment. Who can say whether or not these may been seen as attractive propositions to take-up by developers who see all this as a case of a further attempt by LL to confine freedom of development among independent viewer devs (a view I don’t personally hold, but there have been dark mutterings along these lines wrt other decisions on the part of LL)?

      As to “size” and “numbers” I’m not sure that they are the criteria on which to project the development of OpenSim-specific viewers. There are several TPVs accessing SL that have comparatively small users bases – yet they survive very well because they are what the developers want to build. So why not the same OpenSim? Where hypergrid is concerned – I agree, there are limitations at present; but there is work going on to try and resolve issues around the likes of protecting intellectual property when using hypergrid to move between grids – so it might be unwise to put that in a box just yet :).

      So, the question for me is not so much whether any specific viewer might opt to jump (with perhaps one exception, I think the dice are clearly in favour of SL in that regard), but rather where developers working on the code used in viewers may opt to place themselves.

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  3. There is no way to know how many people are using OpenSim software. Period.

    The grid estimates are only the tip of the iceberg.

    I have several OpenSim regions on my computer that have never, ever, been counted or connected to a public grid. The same is true for many educational, institutional, commercial, and governmental users of OpenSim simulators.

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  4. To bad cause Dolphin was really a great choice to Open sims community, it has grid selector, it runs on Linux and Apple as well!
    Still I can’t agree more that this will only make Open Sim grow stronger, as the constrains due to old tech that Second Life still uses, will finnaly be broken and as the time pases, more and more find the alternative grids a way to enjoy virtual Worlds withouth the hassle of having to deal with a company that will never learn how to support and listen to its user base!
    And Lanii is right, no matter how LLL /Lindrn lab Lovers, opposed to Second Live lovers, the way it should be!) argue, the fact is that Open Sim commercial or not, grids and private grids (Does even any here knows that any can start and host a private grid, that can connect to any other via hypergrid in a matter of a few minutes from your own computer?!) are steadly growing, at the costs of Linden Lab way of dealing with customers (See the latest land lords that are quiting!) and there is no way (The beauty of Open source and freedom, you can’t quantify All in strict numbers!) is far bigger then any chart can show (Is not why LL refused to give up data, lol!)

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  5. Together with the Steam announcement, the restrictions on the new Havok make a lot of sense. It has been observed by well-informed bloggers over the past couple of months that Linden Lab seem to readjust their business model and their policy, working on other non-SL related products and such. Shifting to Steam will, I suspect, inevitably change Second Life, too, and make it another product. In which way that might affect me, I cannot tell yet.

    Linden Lab certainly want a (demographic and qualitative) change in their user base and a change of their current business model because there is a pressing need for it. Relying on land sales, which I understand presently generate about 80 per cent of the revenue, isn’t exactly healthy. How many residents of the often quoted 1,000,000 regulars beside the 230,000 or something premium members bring this kind of money in, anyway? Plus, for all I know, the number of regulars has stagnated for years.

    Linden Lab allowing Firestorm, as to my knowledge the V3-based TPV with the largest user base, to come up with an OpenSim fork makes much more sense now. First of all because OpenSim isn’t a competitive threat to Linden Lab in terms of user numbers, others have already explained that. And, secondly, an OpenSim Firestorm may take a lot of non-profitable users out of Linden Lab’s hair, i. e. off their servers where they only cost them money. Convenient.

    My concluding rough guess: It’s not only about not sub-licencing the new Havok for anything but Second Life. Linden Lab won’t let TPVs use other nifty things to come, too. Bye-bye, open source… In the long run (which would in IT-world terms mean within the next 18 months) TPVs as we know them now will be history, or I am the more deceived.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t exactly blame Linden Lab for doing what they are doing (apart from them not doing it in style). Each and every commercial enterprise is looking for customers who will give them their money in the future. An unprofitable established user base does not count much in business terms. It’s a burden to get rid of. Isn’t capitalism great? Whatever. That’s how it works.

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    1. Yup. LL have been steadily moving away from focusing on what has been SL’s “established” user-base almost since Rod Humble joined the company. Darrius Gothly recently beat me to the punch in a post expressing just this (serves me right for shelving my article in order to report on the Shiny 🙂 ).

      I’ve commented at length on the SL revenue model. While currently unfavourable to the company’s long-term viability, it is something that currently has them hoist by their own petard: there is little they can directly do about it (i.e. lower tier) without potentially doing more immediate harm to their revenue flow than the current decline in the number of private regions will achieve over time. And while changes will doubtless come (the new product lines etc., as indicated in my article), how much these help relieve the pressure on SL as a major revenue stream remains to be seen, and is unlikely to be known for months at best after the eventual launch of said products.

      As such, the company’s life-blood is going to be land tier for the immediate – and possibly foreseeable future. That leaves LL with a big question mark hanging over their moves to find new audiences and new demographics: will these people be willing to put their money into the platform the same way the “traditional” user base has?.

      And that’s a huge question to address. Given that game players are more likely going to want to come in to SL and get on with the business of plying games; they’re going to expect something of a structured environment in which that can be done – and SL is far from that at present. Game developers and modders might find the environment attractive – especially with the upcoming materials processing capabilities, etc.) – but again, there is a big ask involved in getting them to pay for virtual land in SL in order for them to go ahead and create – especially with so many “free” sandboxes available in which they can do so.

      Given this, and while it is easy to potentially dismiss the established user base as “unprofitable”, the fact is that they are actually the sole means by which LL generate profit. Ergo, the company cannot readily dispense with them, either directly or through any perception of a TPV “bridge” to OpenSim (which I agree, is not a direct competitive threat to Linden Lab). nor do I believe that they are actively trying to do so (they are just incredibly ham-fisted in the way they do, as a company, interact with their users). To do so would be foolhardly, even assuming said users were willing to make the move (and despite all the railing against LL, the vast majority are not, simply because they have pumped so much money into the platform over the years).

      I certainly don’t blame Linden Lab for seeking to find the means to bring new demographics into Second Life. However, the issue in that regard is not so much “bringing people in”; the company has actually been doing that very successfully for over a year now, with between 12,000 and 20,000 new sign-ups per day. The problem is actually harnessing enough of those new sign-ups so they become – to use Rod Humble’s term – users who “stick” and become involved in SL both as users and as paying customers. This is something in which the company has repeatedly failed, and linking-up with Steam is no additional guarantee of success, not without some radical changes as to how incoming users are handled (and interestingly enough, Rod Humble himself spent a month probing this issue himself during June / July). As such, the Steam link-up is quiet possibly going to be something both companies enter into on a trial basis, with LL in particular looking to test the water and see how things go.

      As to TPVs and viewer development, I agree that 18 months is a long time. However, while the TPVP changes earlier this year and the arrival of the sub-licence agreement limit viewer development outside of LL’s control in some areas, it is equally true that TPVs still enjoy considerable freedom in others. And as the new materials processing announcement shows, LL look like they are acting on their claim to be willing to work in collaboration with TPV developers on large-scale projects to improve SL. I hope that continues. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see where the land lies in early 2014.

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      1. Don’t get me wrong, I take it that Second Life residents, even the very vocal trolls all around the blogs and inworld, will hardly migrate in large numbers to other grids any time soon. Simply because other grids are not known yet as to be attractive enough. But that is, like everything else, subject to change and may be totally different in six, nine, or twelve months.

        What with the Steam deal: If Linden Lab expected free game developers to move into Second Life in large numbers and rent land at the regular extortionate prices, I much fear they were in for a big surprise. Almost nobody in his senses would do that. The obvious approach from the Linden Lab side would rather be to give anybody who comes up with a promising idea, which complies with any requirements Linden Lab would want to see met, the space they need (within reasonable limits) and take a cut of, say, 30 per cent of income. Which would be in the range of Apple’s App Store, a not exactly unsuccessful model.

        Whatever. Linden Lab have an infamous tradition in operating on the brink of suicide by management. So this may or may not blow up in their faces with no music as well. Thinking of Kingdon come (and gone) and the hilarious attempt to acquire the zillions of Facebook-users by an ill-conceived web-style browser known as Viewer 2. Which didn’t work.

        Rodvik Humble has a big name and a successful history in the computer-games industry. Still doesn’t mean he has a clue what Second Life is about. Maybe that’s why he’s turning to business segments he’s more familiar with. Safe grounds. Could turn out to be treading on thin ice though.

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        1. Not sure I entirely agree with other grids (one might argue that there are strong “ex-SL” communities active in the likes of InWorldz and Avination, and while many of us view SL as our home, we do spend time in other worlds as well and may even have holdings elsewhere. But yes, the “big unknown” does play a part when it comes to people being willing to consider making the jump; then there is that long hard look into inventories and how much they represent in terms of expenditure.

          Will that be the case in twelve months? That’s a hard prediction to make. On the one hand, I suspect it will be. Yet, on the other, I’m very aware that at the end of SLCC-2011 I felt a sense of renewed optimism for SL, but today a lot of that optimism has been badly eroded, and I can’t help but look at Linden Lab as the cause for a lot of that erosion.

          It’s hard to see your idea of LL provisioning space (aka “land”) in the manner you suggest without it leading to a range of potential problems. Who pays for the server space while the game (or whatever) is being developed? Where is the guarantee sufficient revenue can actually be generated to satisfy LL’s needs? How will this sit alongside the current revenue model and people already paying up to $295 for the privilege of maintaining regions? How does LL introduce such a system that benefits all of their customers without the risk of damaging the economy or current revenue levels. It’s an interesting idea, though.

          As mentioned in my last reply, I’m not sure LL are hoping for great swathes of new users to suddenly appear in-world; rather they ar seeking alternative approaches to gaining a steady influx from which a percentage can be better converted into those willing to invest time and money into SL for whatever reason suits them. In this, the attempt potentially isn’t that far removed from strategies that have come and gone before. Where Rod Humble actually has possibly been a little more savvy is that he’s potentially steered the board into waters he better understands in the attempt to grow the user base, rather than having them punt for whatever seems to be a good idea. Problem is, and to use a slightly different analogy to yours (and keeping the nautical theme I’ve started), the waters may be more familiar to him – but they are no less full of rocks and shoals.

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  6. > It’s hard to see your idea of LL provisioning space (aka “land”) in the
    > manner you suggest without it leading to a range of potential problems. Who
    > pays for the server space while the game (or whatever) is being developed?
    > Where is the guarantee sufficient revenue can actually be generated to
    > satisfy LL’s needs? How will this sit alongside the current revenue model
    > and people already paying up to $295 for the privilege of maintaining
    > regions? How does LL introduce such a system that benefits all of their
    > customers without the risk of damaging the economy or current revenue
    > levels.

    “Land” is a euphemism. In real-life terms it’s “server space”. And “server fees”, not “tiers”.

    If Linden Lab wanted to diversify inside Second Life as well, which I think they obviously do, they’d want to establish another business model for the hardcore-gaming stuff, maybe some such as I have described:

    “(…) anybody who comes up with a promising idea, which complies with any requirements Linden Lab would want to see met (…)”.

    One of the requirements quite naturally being that there would be a substantial revenue stream. There’s certainly the risk that things might not work as planned, but they’d have to make really good developers an offer which is hard to refuse anyway if they want them. I think Linden Lab have enough in-house gaming expertise to tell what’s a good idea and what isn’t so that said risk would be inside reasonable limits. I don’t see why different revenue schemes should necessarily conflict. As far as I can see, Linden Lab need to decouple their revenue stream from land sales. At least in the hardcore-gaming context.

    Apart from all that, I’m pretty sure that the server-side requirements for hardcore gaming would be somewhat different from the normal Second Life regions: much more firepower needed. Which means more than just one core per region, maybe much more prims per region and maybe considerably larger regions than just 256 x 256. I’ve learned that Linden Lab have invested massively in new hardware, so…

    On the user-side the requirements would be higher for hardcore-gaming purposes as well. Residents with too old/too feeble hardware won’t be able to play there.

    If Linden Lab do this right, it may pay off. Substantially.

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    1. Yes, “land” is “server space” hence my use of inverted commas in the first place.

      As to Linden Lab investing in new hardware – they’ve been doing that fairly regularly throughout the history of Second Life, most recently with the result of more simulators per core / CPU / server (leading some commentators to speculate that is the reason they’ve reduced the number of data centres they use).

      I’m not saying your model isn’t possible. I’m saying it is a massive risk to LL and not one that is going to happen in the near future (which is not the same discounting the idea in any way). While the company sometimes (to users’ eyes) appears reckless, it is actually quite conservative in it approach to managing its revenue stream. And whether you dismiss it or not, your idea still has to be balanced against the potentially negative impact on the current model.

      In terms of decoupling the revenue stream, I’ve long felt that is needed – and not just because of any gaming context. The current model is unsustainable, but reliance on it has left the company caught between a rock and a hard place. This is the major reason the company is investing in new products well removed from Second Life (“Patterns”, “Deo”). Providing they are stimulating enough and marketed correctly, these do present a means of decoupling the revenue stream in a manner that does not have any impact on SL whatsoever. As such, and again, given the company’s in-built conservatism, these are liable to be far more attractive to the board than attempting to widespread re-engineering of the SL platform itself in order to meet the needs of an untried market. Leave us not forget, LL have tried to do that in the past, and it didn’t work out that well for them.

      Of course, if the new products are a runaway success, that actually opens the doors to a who range of possibilities far beyond anything discussed here.

      As always, time will tell. Right now, LL need to establish if they have sufficient means on hand with the existing tools within SL (pathfinding, advanced creation tools, the current mesh implementation) to at least get some of those who may enter SL via Steam to “stick” – and determine how many of those coming through the Steam are in fact interested in exploiting the potential of SL as a possible “game enabling platform”.

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      1. The scenario I outlined is a pretty simple but feasible one and could be quite naturally just a limited experiment which would require very few resources and would thus generate very low costs. This would fit well enough into any kind of wait-and-see strategy. And it would be conservative enough as well, without any apparent risk that I can see. The new products will just provide a hell of a lot more elbow-room if they are going to sell well.

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