CHUI: progressing towards mainstream release

I first took a look at the CHUI – the Communications Hub User Interface – project viewer on its announcement and release back in October. Since then, as noted in my SL project news updates it has gone through recent updates as it progresses towards readiness for mainstream release, quite possibly in the early part of 2013.

The past week has seen new updates to both the “release” version of the project viewer (December 22nd) and also to the “development” version of the viewer (December 24th). Both are available from the viewer download wiki page.

The “main” release – viewer 3.4.3.268591, was announced via a forum post, which highlighted the updates as:

  • Addition of notifications and notification preferences
  • Smaller Conversations and People windows with increased resizability
  • Adding more ways to get to certain functions. For example, we added a speak button to the Conversations window toolbar
  • Improved performance
  • Bug fixes and polish
The new "Speak" button in the confersations floater - available for IMs and open chat
The new “Speak” button in the conversations floater – available for IMs and open chat

The resized floaters is a good step forward, as is the greater control now available in resizing windows. There are still some elements missing from the conversations floater people my find convenient (or at least annoying because of their absence), in particular:

  • An ability to range IMs horizontally rather than vertically: many people prefer to have their IMs ranged horizontally, possible as a holdover from the “old” integrated conversations floaters which stretched back in 1.23.5. The problem here is that any move to incorporate this into the design would break with ergonomics of the “collapsible” nature of the current floater using the right / left pointing chevron buttons
  • The inclusion of a teleport button for the IM windows: this is altogether more useful, and it is hard to see why this was dropped from the redesign, given it is part of the current IM floater layout, and most likely a button which sees frequent use. OK, so teleports can still be achieved via the right-click context menu, but if convenience is the name of the game, it is hard to see why the teleport button has been ignored
The three compact views of the Conversations floater: one reason horizon IM tabs may not be incorporated
The three compact views of the Conversations floater: one reason horizon IM tabs may not be incorporated

Whither the Survey?

One thing still very much missing from the CHUI project is the promised user survey. When the project viewer was first launched in October, the Lab specifically asked people to try it out and consider a number of questions relating to it, noting that, “We’ll ask you to complete a survey in approximately one week to gather your thoughts on these questions.”

The survey has yet to appear. Whether this is because the feedback coming through the CHUI JIRA has been sufficient for the project team (and the amazing Whirly Fizzle has been generating an incredible amount of detailed and informative feeback!) is unclear.

Current Status

The precise status of the project is unclear, but it appears to be reaching a “feature complete” status – which again raises the question as to whether we ill see a survey on the project or not. Merging the project viewer to the 3.4.3 code base would appear to move it one step closer towards a viewer development  / beta viewer merge (both are now 3.4.4 code), but there are wider issues within the viewer still be rectified. For example, nothing happens at all when right clicking on any object contents – the usual context menu fails to appear. It’s therefore unlikely that the CHUI code will make an appearance in a development or beta viewer until such time as it has been confirmed problems like this have been identified and resolved.

In the meantime, and if you haven’t already done so and would like to, the CHUI JIRA remains open for comment, and the project viewer can be obtained from the SL Alternate Viewers wiki page (links below).

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SL project news week 51/2

Server Deployments

The RC channel deployment took place on Wednesday 19th December as planned, with no major hiccups or issues apparently being felt / reported. This release saw all three RC channels receive the same package, which is the Magnum deployment from week 50, with a single additional bug fix.

The release notes (for Magnum, but applicable to all three RC channels) can be found here, and the forum discussion thread is still open should anyone have comments (allowing to the start of the holiday period & delays in any replies from LL).

SL Viewer Update

The last beta release of 2012 arrived on Thursday December 20th with the release of 3.4.4.268479 – which as the name suggests, uses the 3.4.4 code from viewer-development. Chief among the updates in this release include:

  • Moving viewer crash logger and SLPlugin from the Carbon API to Mac OSX Cocoa for the Mac viewer
  • Fixes for fontconfig crash-on-start issues experienced with Linux
  • Revisions for pathfinding options, including additional of tear-off option for Pathfinding menu when opened from Build menu; introduction of Region Rebake option to Pathfinding menu
  • Fixes for 3.4.2.266708 release issue of flexiprims stopping flexing after teleports
  • Further fixes for llTargetOmega() issues

The full set of release notes can be found here.

Forthcoming Viewer Graphics Enhancements

Alongside of the upcoming materials processing capabilities of normal and specular maps, the SL viewer will be receiving further rendering improvements in 2013, comprising:

  • Gamma correction capabilities
  • Improvements to the “Shiny” capabilities in the viewer (Build floater > Texture tab >Shiny button) when running in deferred mode, to make shine appear more as it does in the real world, with the level of shine based on the amount of reflected light / angle from which a shiny object is viewed from relative to the light source
  • In-world scene reflections on shiny surfaces.
Gamma correction: from Exodus to the SL viewer in 2013
Gamma correction: from Exodus to the SL viewer in 2013

Gamma correction is a process by which lighting on a screen can be adjusted to make it look more natural to the human eye by adjusting the RGB channels to give a more natural-light contrast. It can also be used to produce interesting photographic effects. Exodus viewer already has gamma correction, which can be adjusted via the Visual Settings floater (above).

A simple, if extreme, example of gamma correction: both images were taken under the same lighting conditions
A simple, if extreme, example of gamma correction used for a photographic effect: both images were taken under the same deferred lighting conditions, the image of the left with “normal” (default) gamma correction in the viewer, the one on the right taken with all three channels increased in value to produce an image with a much deeper contrast

As with materials processing, all three of the new capabilities are being introduced to the SL viewer via the Exodus team, lead by Geenz Spad, who indicated that in the case of gamma correction, the new capabilities will be somewhat more capable as a process within the SL viewer than is currently the case with the Exodus viewer.

As with material processing itself, which is still progressing, as I reported last time, there are no time frames as to when each of these new capabilities will be available within the viewer.

Threaded Region Crossing Code Test

Wednesday 19th December saw a “pile-on” test take place on Aditi for the new threaded region crossing code. The test has been called by Caleb Linden with a view to trying-out region crossing under a range of tests, including avatars with heavy scripted loads, repeated crossings by vehicles, via teleporting, etc.

In all, six regions were / are available for tests: GC Test 9, 10, 15 and 16 forming a block of four running in “threaded” mode, and GC Test 2 and 8 running in “unthreaded” mode, but otherwise the same server code.

Turn-out for the tests wasn’t particularly great (around 15 people together in the test region at any one time), with a range of ground and air vehicles being used to try-out the crossings and compare them directly with crossing between the two unthreaded regions (and testing between threaded / unthreaded).

The overall consensus from those at the tests were that crossings between threaded regions were somewhat improved – but the overall improvements were not that spectacular. At times recovery from loss of control of a vehicle appeared to be faster – a matter of one or two seconds – but at other times, things seemed to be the same, with vehicles ploughing through the ground / flying into the air for 6-7 seconds at a time before recovering, giving pretty similar results to those encountered crossing between threaded / unthreaded and between unthreaded regions.

Crossing between threaded regions in a vehicle: some improvements, but not a lot
Crossing between threaded regions in a vehicle: some improvements, but not a lot

Crossing between regions on foot, even under an excessive HUD / attachment script load (373 scripts accounting for 2.87800ms cpu time) and with vehicles zinging back and forth, did appear to me to be somewhat improved, with little or no “rubber banding” or walking off into the sunset, but a recovery of control after just a few paces.

Post-test, Caleb has requested those participating in the test file JIRA on any specific issues they encountered, and include “Region Crossing” in the description / subject heading for the report.

With thanks to Darien Cauldwell for information on the viewer enhancements discussed at the Opensource Dev meeting.

SL project news: week 51

Server Deployments week 51

Tuesday 18th December saw the Main Release channel get the maint-server release as deployed to Magnum in week 50, as Maestro Linden indicated might be the case during the Server Beta meeting on the 13th December. There have been some reports of teleport issues following the deployment, but these are thought to be a network-side issue, rather than a problem with the server code itself.

Release notes.

All three RC channels should be receiving the same package on Wednesday 19th December, 2012 which is also the Magnum deployment from week 50, with a single additional bug fix.

Release notes (for Magnum, but applicable to all three RC channels)

Forum thread for the deployments.

This is the last set of server-side deployments for 2012.

A low-key Simulator User Group meeting on 18th December, the last for 2012
A low-key Simulator User Group meeting on 18th December, the last for 2012

SL Viewer Updates

The release version of the official SL viewer rolled to the 3.4.3 code on Tuesday 18th December, with the release of 3.4.3.268262. Among a range of updates, this release include the major GPU table updates seen in recent beta viewer releases, the additional graphics settings and the tiling fix for high-resolution snapshot (MAINT-638). This release also sees the return of JIRA numbers to the release notes, matching the recent beta viewer release notes update.

The new "intermediary" graphics settings intended to better represent the capabilities of different GPU classes
The new “intermediary” graphics settings intended to better represent the default SL capabilities of different GPU classes

The beta viewer should be moving to the 3.4.4 code with the next release, although it is not clear whether this will be before or after the holiday period.

Interest List Update

Andrew Linden has been tweaking and optimising his Interest list code. The first phase of the new interest list code is aimed at reducing the amount of information being sent to the viewer by the server. Speaking at the Simulator User Group meeting on the 18th December, Andrew commented, “Last week I managed to find an optimisation opportunity in my Interest List project, which shaves a few hundred usec off of some cases where there are a lot of Full Object Updates. So this would translate to better server FPS when in large groups of avatars or when in the presence of stuff that is generating lots of full updates.”

As I reported last time, object updates take three forms, Full, Terse and Delete. Full updates are generated when an object is seen for the first time, or which is undergoing a constant change in appearance / position. Terse updates are sent only when an object changes its appearance / position. Under the current Interest list system, both types of update are sent to the viewer, regardless as to where the viewer actually needs to process them. A primary part of Andrew’s work has been reworking the code so that updates – particularly terse updates – are only sent to the viewer when the object generating them is in the camera’s field-of view. This new optimisation work should further help reduce the number of updates being sent to the viewer regardless as to whether or not it has to process them.

Continue reading “SL project news: week 51”

Threaded Region Crossing pile-on test

I’ve been covering the upcoming improvements to region crossings – referred to as threaded region crossings – in my weekly SL project reports.

During the Server Beta meeting on the 13th December 2012, the subject came up for brief discussion, during which I suggested to Caleb Linden (who is heading-up the work) that perhaps a pile-on test would be an idea.

I’ve no idea if he read my suggestion, or was already planning to go ahead with such a test, but on Monday 17th December, 2012, he posted an announcement of just such a test to the Server thread of the TEchnology forums. The announcement reads in full:

In an upcoming server build, Linden Lab has changed the way agents and their attachments get carried over in the event of a region crossing. And we need your help to test region crossing in a pile-on fashion.

On Wednesday, December 19th at 16:00 PDT (Pacific Daylight Time) please join IRC (EFNET -> #sltest) to launch Second Life and join us via the following SLurl GC Test 9

The details of the tests are here

https://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Threaded_Region_Crossing_Beta_Tests

In the meantime, please let us know if you need access the test regions mentioned on the wiki or have additional questions.

How the tests will be carried out, and on the wiki page, Caleb invites suggestions to be e-mailed / forwarded to him. Currently, ideas for testing include:

  • Region crossing with regular avatar
  • Region crossing via manual TP
  • Region crossing on a vehicle (including Mesh based vehicles)
  • Region crossing while sitting on moving objects
  • Region crossing via scripted TP
  • Region crossing with attachments of varying sizes (including complex HUDs)

Issues have already been found with the new code when wearing script heavy objects during a region crossing and with repeated region crossings on vehicles, and the pile-on test looks in part to be a further investigation of these issues, as well as testing for other possible problems.

Note that this test will be on the beta Aditi grid, so you will need to be able to access that grid. If you haven’t done so in a while, you may want to check your ability to log-in, given recent issues. Also, as this is server-side code tests, it should not be required that you use a specific viewer, but keep an eye on the forum thread in case a decision is made to use a particular viewer.

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SL project news week 50/2: server and viewer

Server Deployments Update

The RC channel deployments went head as scheduled, and included the promised fix for offline IMs from scripted objects failing to reach people’s e-mail (BUG-1002). A further issue (BUG-1027) with group owners receiving garbled messages on ejecting group members was reported over the weekend of the 9/10th December, and this also received a fix which formed a part of the deployments.

As reported in part 1, Magnum received code to double the server-side memory allocation from 60KB to 120KB. Animations within SL have two core limits: loop time (30 seconds) and memory allocation (60KB). Apparently, some complex animations which ran within the 30-second time frame have been hitting the memory allocation limit. This initial change should help to ease that issue when encountered. A future change on the viewer-side of things should eventually increase the animation run-time as well, allowing for animations longer than 30 seconds to be uploaded and used.

Server Deployments Week 51

Given Magnum has all the same changes as both BlueSteel and Le Tigre, plus the additional stability improvements and memory leak fixes, it now looks likely that this code will be promoted to the Main Channel on week 51 (week commencing Monday 17th December).  No news was provided during the Server Beta meeting on any proposed RC releases during week 51.

Again, as a reminder, there will be no server code releases during weeks 52 (commencing Monday 24th December) and week 1, 2013 (commencing Monday 31st December). There will also be no further Server Beta meetings until Thursday January 3rd, 2013.

Viewer Updates

Linden Lab continue to work on the beta and development viewers in order to clear the backlog of releases resulting from the memory leak / crash issues. Currently, they are “almost” at the end of catching-up on the release schedule. Some of the focus at present is on the Mac side of things, with Oz Linden reporting that there should be “A bunch of changes for the Mac build and the Mac implementation coming into viewer development” over the next few days.

The beta viewer has seen a further 3.4.3 code release (3.4.3.268139 on December 14th). This should mark the last of the 3.4.3 code releases for the beta viewer prior to that code moving to the release viewer, possibly in week 51. After this, the beta viewer will move to the 3.4.4 code base, which will include the changes for the Mac side of things as well. This should then see the viewer branches all more-or-less back to a normal pace of development and update, with fresh releases on the order of every three weeks or so, including more HTTP service updates and improvements.

Tcmalloc has been set off to one side in order to clear the backlog, but “has not been forgotten”. Currently it is still enabled in the beta release, but appears to be disabled in upcoming viewer development versions.

Avatar Baking

The biggest news of the week came with the announcement that for Avatar Baking, the countdown has commenced. This is going to take the next few months to implement, and requires both changes on the server-side of things and significant changes to the viewer. An update had actually been promised at the Content Creation User Group on Monday 17th December, but given the large impact the changes have on viewers, Nyx Linden rightly announced the news relating to the project at the TPV Developer meeting on Friday 14th December.

Nyx linden discusses server-side baking at the TPV Developer meeting, Friday 14th December
Nyx linden discusses server-side baking at the TPV Developer meeting, Friday 14th December

Threaded Region Crossings

The work on multi-threaded region crossings is still with the LL QA team. In the meantime, further regions have been added to the simulator version (server code  DRTSIM-184) running the new code. Four of the latter are GC Test 9, GC Test 10, GC Test 15 and GC Test 16, which form a block of four regions which may assist with testing the capability (remember these SLurls are all to Aditi!). Caleb Linden has been testing the capability and reports that he has encountered some issues himself, with crashes during “automated horde testing” and with repeated crossing with heavy scripts. He’s interested in hearing constructive feedback from anyone willing to carry out informal tests on the code.

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Avatar Baking: “and the clock has started!”

Update, April 6th, 2013: Please also see my updated status report.

The new avatar baking project took a step closer on December 14th, as LL started to release more in the way of technical details on the project and launched a project viewer.

Avatar bake fail
Avatar bake fail

Code-named Project Sunshine, and a part of the Shining Project, this work is aimed at improving avatar baking and at eliminate bake fail issues.

The project represents a sizeable change in how Second Life works, and as such will take time to fully implement, requiring extensive changes to the viewer itself – something which Nyx Linden has previously referred to as, “Some pretty scary viewer re-architecting”, as well as a good part of the back-end services – hence why it has taken so long for the project to mature. Because of the degree of changes taking place, Linden Lab have consistently promised, via Oz Linden, that TPV developers would some eight weeks notice prior to any initial deployment of the new service in order for them to ensure they can integrate the required viewer-side code changes, test them, and ensure they can support the new service.

Speaking at the TPV Developer meeting on Friday 14th December, Oz reiterated the 8-week lead time before adding, “Today begins the clock! … You get at least two months from now before we begin rolling server-side baking out to the main grid, at least beyond a test region or two.” So while the precise timescale as to when the new baking service will start to appear on the main (Agni) grid remains open, TPVs can now start to engage in the project, a step which itself brings it one step closer to reaching the grid.

A Quick Recap: How It Is and How It Will Be

Currently, avatar baking is essentially driven from the viewer. In summary (and without drilling too much into detail), this means that when a system layer outfit or item of clothing is changed (including alpha layers), the updates are applied locally in the user’s viewer. They are then uploaded to the server the user is connected to, which then passes the updates out to the other viewers connected to it, so that other users get to see the change as well. This process has several points of potential failure: communications between the viewer and the server may be interrupted, for example, with the result that the server doesn’t receive all the information pertaining to an outfit change, with the result that  – again as just one example – the user sees their avatar perfectly fine, but others see the avatar as blurred / grey. In some instances, the process can fail such that while the user sees their avatar wearing the desired outfit, other see the same avatar still wearing the “old” outfit.

The new service will hopefully eliminate these issues by moving much of the emphasis for the baking process from the viewer to a new “Texture Compositing Service”. The viewer will retain some elements involved in avatar baking – the actual baking of the avatar shape (i.e. shape values and IDs) will still take place on the viewer side, for example. However, the new compositing service will take over most the donkey-work and handle the majority of avatar baking data and communications (excluding prim-based attachments).

As with many of the new services being introduced into Second Life by LL, the new baking service will be HTTP driven (the current system is UDP protocol based) which should have an additional benefit of speeding up the entire avatar load process when logging-in to SL and in fetching textures.

How the entire process should work can be summarised as follows:

  • The new service will use the Current Outfit folder as its viewer-side driver. This means that in order to use the service a viewer must have the Current Outfit folder properly implemented
  • When a rebake request is due (e.g. after a user has finished editing their appearance) the viewer sends a message to the baking service essentially asking it to look at the contents of the viewer’s Current Outfit folder and then return an updated appearance based on the contents of that folder
  • At the same time as the data is returned to the user’s viewer, it is also sent to the simulator to which the user’s viewer is connected, so that the simulator can send the appearance information to all other viewers connected to it.

To further TPV developers understand the new system and answer their questions,  Nyx Linden dropped by the TPV developer meeting on Friday 14th December. Note that what follows is an overview of Nyx’s discussion from the point-of-view of providing digestible information on the new service for “general” users, rather than a in-depth review of the full technicalities of the system and Q&A session.

Nyx linden discusses server-side baking at the TPV Developer meeting, Friday 14th December
Nyx linden discusses server-side baking at the TPV Developer meeting, Friday 14th December

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