My original ruminations on Amazon AppStream have led to a couple of people giving the service a go. Nabadon’s Izumi has tried the service with the OnLook viewer and OS Grid, and Bill Glover has given feedback through his blog on using AppStream with Firestorm connecting to Second Life.
However, as several people have said, AppStream isn’t the only way to go – there are other options. One of these is Frame, which uses Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure cloud services. In fact, it was Frame’s founder, Nikola Bozinovic, who suggested people look at the service as s potential means of accessing SL and similar grids via the cloud through a comment he left on this blog. He also provided a link to a demonstration he his have said up using the official viewer, together with an invitation to try it out.
I don’t want to get blogged-down about what Frame is, but the infographic below should give the basics – suffice it to say here that it allows you to stream Windows and web apps, using a number of locations around the world, to a range of devices. It also provides a number of different use levels: Personal, Education, Business, and Platform. You can also find out more about it here.
The key point with Frame is that it potentially offers two approaches to accessing Second Life and other grids via the cloud:
- As a do-it-yourself option, where you can sign-up for a Personal account, upload your choice of viewer and run it yourself when needed
- As a packaged service similar to SL Go – which is how Bill Glover is approaching things through his Bright Canopy project, which has a demo up-and-running using Firestorm, and those interested can sign-up to find out about the work and try the demo version.
Nikola extended an invitation to me to try the Personal account / “do-it-yourself” option for myself, which I was happy to do as a proof-of-concept attempt, and this article is primarily focused on doing that, and providing some short-form feedback. As Bill is working on the packaged service option, I’m not touching too much on that at this point in time.
Getting Started On your Own With Frame
Once this has been done, the Launchpad is displayed. This is the normal starting point for Frame operations, and is used to manage the applications you’re running on the service (two are provided by default). This may take a short time to load the first time.
Adding a Viewer to your Frame Account
- click on the chevron next to the Frame logo in the top left corner of the screen and select Manage Windows Apps.
- A list of your installed applications is displayed (Tableau Public and Google Earth are provided by default).
- Click on Add New Windows App … under the list.
- Your virtual desktop will launch. Use the Chrome browser in the desktop to navigate to and download the Windows installer for your preferred viewer OR, if you have the EXE on your computer, use the Upload button (arrow in a circle) button in the lower right corner of the desktop screen to upload it.
- Run the installer as if you were installing the viewer on your PC.
- Once the viewer has installed, Frame will ask you if you wish to “on-board” it – confirm this, and accept the ToS – having read them, obviously! 😉 ).
- When the “on-board” process has finished (it takes about 15 seconds), go to the gear icon in the lower left of your virtual desktop and
DISCONNECT.This returns you to your Launchpad
- Activate the viewer by toggling the “switch” to the right of it so it turns blue (shown above). This adds the viewer (and any other app you activate) to your Frame dashboard.
- Click on Applications at the top of the screen to go to your dashboard. Double click the displayed viewer icon to launch the viewer.
While it may sound long-winded, the entire process of setting-up an application like this can be done in just a few minutes.
Running the Viewer on a Computer
The Good In Brief
- It works, and it really is a case of 1-2-3, and around 5-10 minutes to get yourself up-and-running
- The viewer isn’t locked into a 720p streamed delivery, so issues of fuzziness / blurring are greatly reduced
- You get the viewer and all its bells and whistles (although some of this may have to change were the viewer to be provided through Frame as part of a service, rather than a DIY approach)
- As you have your own virtual desktop, you can set it up to save snapshots, viewer settings, chat / IM logs, etc.
- As Frame can connect to your Dropbox (if you use that service), with further cloud connectivity promised, you can use that as a more convenient option for saving chat logs, and snapshots for easier retrieval later
- As Frame includes the ability to upload from your own desktop, so you could in theory upload textures, mesh components, etc., to your virtual desktop and import them to SL from there
- Everything here is applicable to using Frame to connect a viewer of your choice to a grid of your choice (allowing for the usual viewer configuration requirements).
The Things To Consider
- The viewer is running unoptimised. This means that performance is nowhere near that of SL Go, and over a wi-fi connection may be little better than running the viewer locally on an old computer, with very low FPS – for older harder, a packaged service solution would be more appropriate – see below for more
- Frame rates appear to be “locked”, possibly as a result of the way the viewer handles multi-threading (apparently OnLive had to work some magic in this area to get really high frame rates) and your connection speed. Even on my top-end PC, I couldn’t get above 40 fps
- There is an issue when ALT-camming and with mouselook. While not perfect, it can be negated to a great extent by setting the
- Audio seems to compete for bandwidth with viewer object streaming to the point where it breaks-up simply by orbiting your camera around your avatar
- Things like Quicktime need configuration in order to run
- This approach doesn’t appear to be suitable for using the viewer on a tablet device, as some form of control overlay would preferably be required (probably best supplied through a packaged service), and on my Nexus 7 2013 HD, the viewer didn’t want to resize to fit the browser window, but extended well beyond the bottom and right sides of the screen and refused attempt to resize via pinch zoom, etc.
Thus, as a proof-of-concept, the do-it-yourself approach offers a mixed bag of results – but do keep in mind, things are still in their infancy, and Nikola and his team are still digesting the feedback they’ve had so far.
The other option for this kind of approach would be for a more managed service style solution along the lines of that offered by SL Go, which is likely to be more suited to those seeking a means of accessing a grid from lower-specification hardware. This is precisely what Bill Glover is investigating via his Bright Canopy, as mentioned earlier. Nikola and his team have been working with Bill on this, and Nikola is very enthusiastic about the way things are going.
“I think it’s very exciting that less than 48 hours after your and Bill’s initial posts we’re already talking low level-technical and business details and that things ‘work’ (though the experience needs to be polished, of course),” he said to me as we discussed both my feedback on the do-it-yourself option and the potential of Bill’s packaged service approach,
“In terms of a packaged service, like Bill is looking at, we’re looking at optimal infrastructure to support it,” Nikola continued. “Bill is using our Frame Platform, which is built for this exact use case, and we already have many tier-1 ISVs, like Adobe and Siemens, using it to deliver their applications.”
Of course, there’s also the issue of how much things are going to cost. But again, these are still early days. given this, Nikola was understandably cautious about saying too much at this point in time.
“I’d give it another day or two for everyone to digest what works and what needs to be built to turn this into a live, production-grade service,” he said. “But I think that both are viable options: those who want simplicity and curated experience will like packaged service, and others who might want to throw another app or game to the service themselves might be OK with Frame Personal — this is my best guess at this time.”
The one thing he did say on the matter of pricing what both reasonable and understandable. “OnLive ran their own data centres and servers which had to be factored into their pricing. We’re running on top of AWS and Azure and will be adding Google Cloud as well., but there is still obviously a pay-as-you-go cost of that underlying infrastructure. The goal is to create a healthy and sustainable pricing structure, and I’m sure we’ll figure out the optimal configuration.”
I’ll have more from both Bill and Nikola as things (hopefully) progress. In the meantime, if you want to try it out for yourself, the Frame Personal beta is open for you to do so – but again, please keep in mind, it is perhaps not the optimal approach for streaming to really low-end computers, so don’t expect SL Go type performance if you’re on such a system.