Linden Homes: recent expansions future thoughts

Welcome to Bellisseria

Since their introduction in April 2019, Linden Lab have released more than 10,000 new Linden Homes across Bellisseria, including the southern extension to the continent and southwards towards the Mainland continent of Jeogeot. They represent an extensive mix of themes: “traditional” homes, houseboats, campers & trailers and Victorian, all of which have proven very popular – as evidenced by the speed with which releases have tended to be snapped up.

The more recent updates have seen the southern section of Bellisseria that arrived with the release of the Victorian type of home directly connected with the northern, and additional off-shore expansions that place Linden Homes in the waters off the north-west coast of Jeogeot. The latter do so by offering what might be seen as the first “cookie cutter” element of the new Linden Homes, duplicating as it does the original houseboat expansion, together with a couple of the sand bar layouts from elsewhere around the continent.

Victorian Houses and the railway in the southern extension to Bellisseria

These extensions fulfil Patch’s promise that the new continent for Linden Homes would directly connect Jeogeot with Sansara to the north, providing water access (including the coastal waters of Bellisseria) between the two, and which goes well beyond the narrow corridor of water originally linking Jeogeot to Bellisseria.

In addition, the extensions close to Jeogeot also encompass one of the earliest Mole builds – Pyri Peaks. It was designed to offer anearly attempt at an interactive adventure involving a storyline, a fun fair and a network of underground tunnels and chambers. It is a setting I wrote about in 2013  with Pyri Peaks: the mystery of the lost Moles (2013), and whilst it is perhaps a little long in the tooth by today’s building / design standards, it is good to see it folded-in to the new Linden Homes in a move that might encourage interest in this part of SL history.

Pyri Peaks: home of the Pyri Fun Fair and now within sight / reach of Linden Homes

Whilst there are still houses within Bellisseria yet to be released, just where any future new locations for the homes might go raises an interesting point to ponder. One doesn’t have to look too far west of Bellisseria to note the number of private regions lying in that direction, together with the likes of the recently-arrived SS Galaxy, the QA versions of the Shop’n’Hop regions as well as the actual shopping event regions.

While these latter regions might be relocated to provide a little more western room to expansion, it would seem the the eastern side offers a far better opportunity, although this runs the risk of sliding into the open space to the east of Jeogeot, which might eventually lead to that continent looking crowded-in and limit expansion somewhat. So, might the Linden seek to offer a new continent elsewhere at some point in 2020? If so, will it see further home types?

Campers and Trailers in the Linden Homes regions extension just off the coast of Jeogeot

Offering new styles of Linden Home certainly helps maintain interest – but it comes with a potential risk: new houses could encourage those with Linden Homes to vacate and rotate from type to type, making it difficult  / frustrating for others who have yet to claim a home and who want to get one of the newer styles (something that has already been the case).

That said, were I to be asked, and given the potential for a more “offshore” style development alongside Bellisseria, I’d love to see something along the lines of houses built along a network of canals, with each house having a modest boat house or mooring space within the parcel and suitable for a small boat or two. Admittedly, it would require careful design to provide a mix of houses, waterways and footpaths (rather than roads) to connect everything together (and likely require a fair number of bridges), but such a design could generate interest and provide something more unique in terms of layout and options.

There are still regions in Bellisseria awaiting release to user, such as this area of Traditional Homes, sitting in the hills overlooking the southern extension to the continent

I’m pretty sure others have ideas for what they’d like to see, if there are to be further Linden Home types – feel free to comment with ideas! I’m also sure the Lab has plans of their own in terms of house types, if more are to be offered. In the meantime, as noted, there are still numerous regions in Bellisseria and the southern extension still to be finished, and the LDPW are once again back at work to get them finished and available as part of the weekly release cycles.

SS Galaxy drops anchor at Bellisseria

The SS Galaxy anchored off of Bellisseria

In a surprise move over the last couple of day, The SS Galaxy, the iconic 3-region long static cruise ship, quietly weighed anchor and gently made revolutions to slip away from her long-term home adjacent to the United Sailing Sims, south of Blake Sea and then steam across the open seas to arrive off the west coast of Bellisseria, where she has apparently lowered her anchors once more, within (very long, admittedly!) eyesight of the houseboat neighbourhood I treat as my second SL home.

Dubbed The Queen of the Saggitartian Sea, the SS Galaxy was laid down in 2007, and has remained throughout the intervening years a stunning example of what can be achieves with the humble 10x10x10 prim when suitably sized and cut. Billed as “the largest build in Second Life”, the ship is split across three regions – Galaxy FORE, Galaxy MID and Galaxy AFT, and for the first part of her life served as a floating home for those seeking a more unusual place to live, (with furnished rentals running from cabins offered at L$35 with no prim allowance, to single and double suites (L$550/week with 200 LI and L$1,000/week with 300 LI) all the way up to the likes of the VIP suites and Captain’s suites (L$1,500/with with 500 LI and L$5,500/week with 1500 LI), with numerous public facilities and event spaces (swimming pools, club, restaurant, ballroom, chapel for weddings, skydiving, mini golf, etc.), as well as an on-board shopping mall.

SS Galaxy: the art gallery created by Frost Mole

In 2015 it appeared as if the Galaxy’s “cruising” days had come to an end. As I reported in SS Galaxy: a last cruise into the sunset (April 2015), it was announced that for various reasons (none connected with issues of tier), the ship would be closing and removed from the gird.

However, the announcement raised a lot of concern over the potential loss of such an iconic vessel and historic build, that the owners and Linden Lab got together to discuss the Lab to take over running the Galaxy as something of a museum piece, with the removal of all commercial operations (rentals and stores). I was able to break the news in SS Galaxy refits for a new role after the ship’s long-term owner, DBDigital Epsilon, sent me a note (also released on the official SS Galaxy website) that the agreement had been reached.

SS Galaxy

By August 2015, with the ship relocated slighted from her original position, the work in refurbishing the ship had reached a point where public access was once again permitted, and I was given something of a heads-up on the news and a tour by Frost Mole, who had been leading the work on the refitting (see SS Galaxy lowers her gangways to visitors once more).

At that time, much of the work had been completed, although Frost noted she was hoping to do more. In particular, a balloon tour had been added to the stern helipads and a hang glider to one of the forward helipads, while some of the private areas of the ship had converted into public spaces – such as an art gallery -, and some of the lower decks received things like a new bowling alley, with the mooring stations saw the addition of 7-Seas fishing and swan boat rezzers. Sadly, the skydiving system vanished at the same time – something I personally miss, as over the years, I’d used it to introduce a few people to the sport via the Galaxy; but that’s the way things go; but the top-of-the-hour firework displays are still active.

SS Galaxy: looking over the ship at Bellisseria

When the Lab took on the Galaxy, Keira Linden noted that the ship would be made available for public events, and while some were held there (such as a couple of impromptu Lab / Mole / resident get-togethers), nothing was ever really formally put in place to make it obvious residents might use the ship for events. Whether this will not change with her move to Bellisseria remains to be seen – but given the amount of social activity within the Bellisseria community, the liner could become a popular venue, and encourage a wider audience.

The news of the move has been spreading outwards for the 24-ish hours since the Galaxy arrived off of Bellisseria. Initially inaccessible immediately after the move, she is now once again open to public access. Thus fair the responses within various forum threads (see here and here as examples) has been positive, and there has been a fair amount of traffic onto and off of the ship.

SS Galaxy: one of the upper deck pools

SLurl Details and Links

Names Changes: rounding-up what’s known ahead of any launch

Name Changes – the ability for Premium subscribers to be able to choose their own first and last names – is due to be deployed in 2020, possibly as soon as February. I’ve provided two prior summary updates on what has been released about the capability already.

However, while much of what is already known is unlikely yo e news to many, I thought that now we’re almost on the cusp of the capability being made available, I’d pull all of what is known from those updates and via more recent Lab-led meetings to offer what is (I hope) a reasonably complete, one-stop summary of what is known, and what might be surmised fee-wise.

The Basics

  • Name Changes will be a Premium-only benefit.
  • Qualifying users will be able to change their first and / or last name as often as they like.
  • First names will be entirely free-form.
  • Last names will be selectable from a list (see below for more).
  • Both first and last names can be up to 31 characters each.
  • Combinations of first name + last name must be unique, and can never be used by any other user.
  • Subject to final confirmation, it may be possible for a user to change back to a first name / last name they have previously used.
  • There will be a USD fee payable for each name change (see below for more).
  • The ability for Premium members to change their first / last names will be via an option on their secondlife.com dashboard, not an in-viewer option.
  • Names Changes will not be replacing Display Names, which will remain available for any user wishing to use it.

Last Names

  • The list of last names will likely be around 20-30 names, and subject to periodic update.
  • Previously used last names will not be made available for re-use.
  • Suggestions from users for possible last names may be taken by Linden Lab.
    • A Name Changes competition that saw the submission of 6,000 names closed on January 6th.
  • Two possible means for rotating names in the list that the Lab are considering are:
    • Replacing popular names from the list as they reach a certain number of people selecting them.
    • Replacing “unpopular” names if they fail to achieve a certain threshold of use over a period of time.

Fees

  • While it has yet to be officially confirmed, the fee for using Name Changes will likely be US $39.99 (based on Section 5 of the rules for the recent Last Names competition).
  • The fee will be charged whether changing only a first or last name, or both the first and last name.
  • When launched (at a date still to be determined) the new Premium Plus subscription will offer Name Changes at a lower fee (still TBA) than Premium membership.
  • The fee is being levied primarily to discourage users from making frequent changes to their user name, due to the potential impact on SL services (as everywhere a user name appears must be updated when a change is made).

Availability

  • It is hoped that Name Changes will be available in February 2020.
  • However, at the January 8th, 2020 Web User Group meeting, it was indicated that final deployment is dependent on the Lab finishing all remaining work on the capability and then testing it.

General Points

  • Name changes will be reflected across all of Second Life. This includes things like:
    • Other people’s Friends lists.
    • The Creator and Owner fields of the Edit / Build floater.
    • Group member lists.
    • Marketplace listings.
    • Chat and IM.
    • Plus anywhere else a “live” record of a user name is held.
  • Previous names should be retained by the system, so if you can remember someone’s previous name, you can search on that name and get their current name.
  • At the time of writing, it was still not clear whether a change of name will trigger a notification to those on a user’s Friends list or not.
  • It has taken a long time to implement because Second Life was never designed to support users changing their account name, and as the account name touches every aspects of the platform, the Lab had to go through all the places the user name touches and make sure that any updates correctly reach them without being missed / causing an adverse impact.
  • Incoming users will not be able to pick a last name when signing-up.
    • They will receive the default last name of “Resident”.
    • It they upgrade to Premium as part of the sing-up process, they will be able to change their name via their secondlife.com dashboard, just like other Premium subscribers.
    • Last name choice is not included in the sign-up process because a) it is a Premium benefit; b) it has been found to be a major blocker to users completing the sign-up process (which was a major reason last names were originally abandoned).
  • When using scripts to handle account / avatar-specific information, creators and scripts are strongly advised to use the Agent Key (avatar UUID) as their reference point, not the account name.

References

Linden Lab announce end of support for Windows 7

via and © Linden Lab

On Tuesday, January 14th, 2020, Microsoft is ending support for Windows 7. This means that while the operating system will continue to function beyond that date, Microsoft will no longer provide:

  • Technical support for any issues.
  • Software updates.
  • Security updates or fixes.

As as result of this, and as initially announced at the 2019 TPVD meetings week #50 summary, Linden Lab plan to cease their own support for Windows 7 from that date. This has now bee confirmed in an official blog post, which reads in part:

Accordingly, Linden Lab is updating our system requirements to remove Windows 7 from the versions we support. This does not mean that Second Life will stop working on Windows 7 immediately; existing viewers, and possibly some new viewers, should run as well as they did before. However, we will not be testing any viewers on Windows 7, so it is likely that compatibility problems will develop and increase over time. In addition, we will not attempt to fix any problems which occur only on unsupported operating systems (if a bug is reported against an unsupported system, we usually try to reproduce it on one that is supported; if we can’t, we don’t investigate further or attempt to fix it).

Those will have not upgraded to Windows 10 but have a valid copy of Windows 7 may still be able to upgrade using the Microsoft Windows 10 update site (note that free updates to Windows 10 were supposed to have been discontinued be Microsoft at the end of December 2017, but some are reporting it is still working via the Create Windows 10 Installation Media option).

Again, note that that’s Lab’s decision does not mean users on Windows 7 will find themselves blocked from accessing Second Life on or after January 14th, 2020, but will continue to be able to use the platform as before. However, and as noted in the official blog post, such users:

  • Will not receive assistance from LL support should they encounter problems.
  • Will not have bugs they report investigated or fixed unless said bugs can be reproduced using Windows 8 or Windows 10.
  • May find that, over time, viewer updates may not function as expected on Windows 7, simply because updates and new features will no longer be tested against Windows 7.

Given the potential exposure to malicious activities, both Microsoft and Linden Lab point to the need for users to only utilise supported versions of Windows on their computers, and keep up-to-date will all official patches and releases.

A decade (+) of blogging: thoughts on Second Life

On the occasions of my 13th SL rezday, Erik Mondrian reminded me that 2019 marks my 10th year of blogging via WordPress (I’d used another platform for a couple of years prior to that). With his reminder, Erik presented me with a challenge:

A slightly belated Happy Rez Day, Inara! And, if I may, perhaps a challenge? Not that you’re short of things to write about, but if you have time: In the last 10 years, what do you feel has been one of the best changes/additions to SL? And what are your hopes for the next 5?

– Erik Mondrian, via Twitter

As I stated in my reply to that tweet, I’m note sure I could pin thoughts down to any one thing in terms of what has positively happened to Second Life; there are simply too many – and some tend to be interconnected in some ways. However, I’ve been cogitating Erik’s challenge, and here is (slightly later than planned) an abbreviated list of some of the things that I believe have either benefited SL or had a positive impact on it over the last decade or so, and which I’ve particularly appreciated during my time using the platform.

Communications with the Lab: the relationship between the Lab and SL users has tended to be a complex one. At the time I moved to blogging via WordPress, things were at a low ebb. There had been the Homestead region situation, together with the drive to make SL a more “business oriented” platform (vis: Mitch Kapor’s SL5B crossing the chasm address that appeared to suggest SL’s early adopters were interfering with trying to reach an early majority audience; suggestions that parts of the Mainland should be made “business only”; the (ill-fated) Second Life Enterprise (SLE) product development; lectures from form Lab employees on how users should dress their avatars “for business”, etc), all of which left a lot of SL users felling pretty disenfranchised.

However, starting with Rod Humble and particularly with Ebbe Altberg, the Lab has sought to strongly re-engage with its users and embrace them. Things haven’t always worked out in their entirety (communications did go a little backwards towards the end of Humble’s tenure); but there is no denying the improvements seen through activities such regular Town Hall / Lab Chat / Meet the Lindens events plus the likes of VWBPE addresses and Designing Worlds interviews, and the simple expedient of allowing LL staff to once again openly engage with users whilst using their “official” accounts.

Windlight: although it was originally introduced in 2007, Windlight had a profound effect on the appearance of Second Life that’s hard to overlook. Originally a third-party product Linden Lab acquired and which didn’t see all of its potential capabilities implemented (for whatever reason), the overall impact of Windlight shouldn’t be trivialised.  If you need an idea of how SL looked pre-Windlight  – with the exception of the old particle clouds – just disable the Basic Shaders in the viewer.

Open sourcing the viewer code: also introduced in 2007 and not without its share of hiccups / controversies (the Emerald viewer situation, for example), the open-source project has undoubtedly served SL well. It has allowed third-party viewers to thrive within a reasonable framework, and both exposing features hidden with the viewer’s debug settings and allowing developers to add their own options, allowing users a greater choice of client options. It has also provided the means for users to contribute potential improvements to the viewer back the the Lab, generating a a largely positive synergy between developers and the Lab.

Mesh model import: admittedly, the impact of mesh modelling in Second life cuts both ways: positive and negative. Leaving aside what might be regarded as its negative aspects, it has helped to improve SL’s look and feel, potentially made region design more accessible / attractive, and helped bring improvements to the avatar we might otherwise not have seen, or which may have not have been implemented until later in the platform’s life (e.g. Bento and Animesh).

Performance improvements: over the last decade, LL has worked extensively “under the hood” with Second Life to try to improve overall improvements, such as the long-term Project Shining. Running for some 2 years with the aim of improving object and avatar performance, it was followed by further projects and efforts to help improve performance in assorted areas. Some have had mixed initial impact, but all of which have, overall, helped to improve things for most users, even if only incrementally in some cases.

Materials, Bento and Animesh: all three have helped improve the look and feel of Second Life, making it more attractive to users old and new.

Looking to the next 5 years, there is much that might happen or which many would like to see happen – from technical aspects such as further improvements in simulator performance (e.g. script and physics performance, region crossing management), through to more esoteric aspects such as audience growth / user retention, fee balancing, etc. However, I’ll restrict my thoughts for the future to one topic: the transition to the cloud.

This work has already eaten into the Lab’s engineering and operating time over the two years, and will doubtless continue to be a significant focus for 2020. However, it is a leap into the unknown for Linden Lab and Second Life, both technically and in terms of operating outlay / revenue generation (e.g. capping the cost of having cloud servers running 24/7 in a manner that doesn’t require uncomfortable fee increases).

On the technical side, it’s more than likely that the focus on moving to the cloud has a higher priority that developing significant new features for SL – and perhaps even curtailed implementing updates that might be seen as having a limited lifespan, such as infrastructure changes that could be rendered obsolete following the cloud uplift, but which are nevertheless causing a lot of teeth grinding amongst users.

Even when the uplift itself is completed, it is likely that the transition will still require a significant among of settling-in and adjustments that will continue to occupy the operations and engineering teams. So there is a lot hinging on this move that will continue into the next couple of years, and that is important to the overall future of the platform.

Name Changes: poll update

In Name Changes: $40 per change(?), some thoughts and a poll (December 17th, 2019), I offered some thoughts on the proposed US $40.00 fee for name changes, together with a (very) rough-and-ready poll on how people feel about the capability and the fee (so rough-and-ready that on reflection, I should have structured it a little differently and  used Google Forms for the poll for greater flexibility rather than the tools provided by Automattic for WordPress.com users, which are perhaps a little too basic).

As I noted in that piece, since last names were eliminated in 2010 in favour of “Resident” and the use of Display Names, there have been frequent calls for them to be “returned” to SL. These calls started almost immediately after “Resident” was introduced, through both forum threads and via Jira feature requests. Such was the demand, that by late 2011, LL were actively looking into bringing last names back, although ultimately they gave up on that attempt.

However, I also noted that the fee itself might be a limiting factor (together with the fact that the option will be limited to Premium members), and whilst admittedly a small sampling, the results of my very straw man poll would seem to support this. Just under 61.5% of respondents indicated that they probably won’t use the service, whilst over 80% of those responding the the question on the fee indicated that they felt it was too high.

Results from my (very) rough-and-ready Name Changes poll

Given that most people will naturally be opposed to paying almost any kind of fee for anything (even the L$10 upload fee for textures / sounds / animations is a source of grumbles), then opposition to the Name Change fee is to be expected. But the volume of negative responses, together with the level of disinterest expressed in the capability, would seem to point to the fact that  – again allowing for the fact it is limited to Premium members, and the responses to the poll likely came from Basic members as well – the $39.99 fee may will be a limiting factor for users after Name Changes go live beyond the natural pause LL hope it will provide against too-frequent changes that might otherwise impact services – and might in time prove counter to the degree of effort LL have had to put into implementing the service.

Fee aside, comments that followed my December 17th article and made through the likes of Twitter and direct IM, suggest that Premium members who are eligible for the service may well be put off from using it due to what they perceive as a another potential shortfall: the inability to re-use last names previously made available by LL. Those who wish to take their partner’s last name, for example, are effectively unable to do so except by continuing to use Display Names, while those who have a favourite last name that has previously been offered by by the Lab will similarly be out of luck.

Sample comments on how the lack of the re-use of “old” last names is seen as a limiting aspect of Name Changes

Again, this is only a small sampling, and one that uses a very basic poll to gather feedback. Nevertheless, it does suggest that Name Changes may well face a very mixed reaction once deployed, the former interest among users to have a last names make a return to SL notwithstanding.