The release of the SL development viewer containing CHUI came on February 26th (22.214.171.1240826). This was followed 24 hours later with a beta viewer release on the 27th February, again containing the CHUI code (126.96.36.1990825). Both of these releases see the SL beta and development viewers move to the 3.5 code base.
As well as CHUI’s new conversational and chat log floaters, which I previewed a while back – although it has had a number of changes since then – the viewer brings a number of changes to the overall way in which user communications are handled by the viewer, including a new set of chat preference options for handling incoming messages and notifications.
The most immediate change with CHUI is the conversations floater, which may open automatically as the viewer is started if you have received offline IM or are receiving incoming messages from HUDs, etc., while logging in.
For those who have been using TPVs as their primary viewers, the updated CHUI Conversations floater will appear very familiar, as it gathers IM windows and Local Chat into the same panel. On the left is a vertical tab display which will list all open conversations, whether individual IMs or group chats, and which includes four buttons. On the right is the actual conversation window, which has six buttons associated with it, not all of which many be active at all times (the first three are automatically disabled in local chat, for example).
These buttons put all of the most common controls required for text / voice conversations within the floater itself, providing it with considerable power and ease-of-use. The chat window display options, of example, allow you to switch quickly between displaying chat headers (the little icon bars within the conversation) or removing them (so that just names and text are displayed) and whether or not to show the time, or even the name of the other person in one-to-one IM conversations.
As noted in my original preview of CHUI, the minimise buttons on the floater are particularly useful, as they offer a number of ways in which the amount of screen space is taken up by the floater. The buttons can be used individually or together, to radically reduce the amount of space the floater takes up.
A slight quibble with these buttons is that while the tab window has a corresponding maximise button if it is reduced, the chat window does not – you have to click on either the Local Chat tab or an IM tab in order to display your conversations once more.
What is likely to be the most popular button on this floater, however, is the “Add to Conversation” button in the chat window. Until now, IM conversations involving more than two people has been a matter of using the viewer’s Conference Call option, which launches a group chat style conversation all participants must join. This has always been flaky at best – invites don’t always work, the conversation suffers very bad lag, people get booted from it unexpectedly, etc. With CHUI adding someone to a conversation is simply a matter of clicking the button and typing-in a name or selecting it from your Friends list or the list of Nearby avatars. Simples.
Right-clicking on a tab in the left of the floater will bring-up a context-sensitive menu, allowing you to carry out a number of additional activities, depending on whether you are engaged in a one-to-one IM, a group chat, etc. These include: offering a teleport, making a payment to the person, viewing an individual’s or group’s profile, activate the groups, tag, leave the group, and so on.
The Conversation Log is also likely to be a popular feature. It provides a list of all the conversations you’ve had in the last 30 days, whether with friends or non-friends, and offline IMs.
From it, you can open the complete history of your communications with another person, thus eliminating a lot of the need to search for conversation logs on your hard drive. You do, however, still need to enable the Preferences option to save chat logs on your computer in order for the Conversation Log to work.
A further notable change with CHUI is the loss of chiclets from the top (/bottom, on some TPVs) right of the viewer window. While notifications of incoming messages are still displayed if the Conversation floater is closed, when they fade from the screen, there is no corresponding chiclet. Instead, a number of options are offered by which you can be visually notified of incoming messages.
These options can be set individually for incoming IMs from friends, incoming IMs from non-friends, conference IMs, group chats and nearby chat, and can be found in Preferences > Chat.
However, it is worth noting these options only apply if the Conversations floater is closed. If the floater is open / minimised, the most that will happen with an incoming message is that the tab / icon will flash – and then only if it is not already the focus of the floater.
The Chat Preferences also contains the option for saving logs,which has been moved from the Privacy tab, and adds an option to delete conversation log files from your hard drive. A further change to Preferences see a button added to the Privacy tab, providing access to the Block (mute) list.
CHUI would appear to be a direct response to at least some of the criticism levelled at the SL viewer, and an attempt to capitalise on some of the popular communications options found in some third-party viewers. Certainly, the Conversations floater is, for me at least, a major step forward and incorporates some nice features, particularly in the button options and the ways it can be minimised.
In discussing the UI at various LL-lead meetings, a number of us raised the point that the floater does perhaps miss one button option – teleport. Having quick and easy access to the ability to offer a teleport to someone is popular within TPVs, and I’m a little surprised LL didn’t heed requests and incorporate a button as well – OK, so the option is still available via menu, but it does make accessing the option tedious.
I have to admit, I’m not so fond of the loss of chiclets – I actually find them a very useful and unobtrusive means of tracking conversations when I want everything else closed on my viewer because I’m building or taking snaps. Sure, CHUI provides alternative notification options, but I confess I don’t actually find them to be an improvement; potentially the reverse in fact.
For those familiar with something like Firestorm, with access to things like the Friends and Group lists also integrated into the Conversations floater, and the ability to change the layout of the floater tabs between vertical and horizontal, CHUI is unlikely to offer any significant benefits. In fact, it is fair to say that it will be interesting to see just which of the CHUI capabilities the various TPVs will opt to adopt going forward – once they’ve managed the monster task of merging-up the code (which apparently comprises in excess of 1,000 commits).
Those who use the SL viewer as their default however, are liable to find CHUI an interesting experience – and for those who have been around a while – a little bit of a hark back to the days of the v1.x UI in the integrated chat / IM approach. The aforementioned niggles aside, I’d venture to say that it is very much an improvement over the way in which conversations are handled in the official viewer at present and offers a flexible approach to managing conversations.
As it is, and if all goes according to LL’s plans, CHUI is currently set for, to quote Oz Linden, “A good long run” in beta. Therefore, if you are interested in trying it out for yourself, follow the link below.
- SL beta viewer – CHUI release
- Viewer release notes
- My initial preview notes on CHUI
- LL’s announcement on the launch of the CHUI preview