NiranV Dean has been back working on Niran’s Viewer, and in doing so has lifted the viewer to version 2.0 with a number of initial Betas. On Wednesday October 24th, he made a final release, 2.0.2185, which he calls Niran’s Viewer Rebooted, given the amount of additional work put into it, which finally saw him bypass his planned 1.5 release.
As the last release of Niran’s Viewer in these pages was version 1.46, the following will touch on elements previously released in 1.47 – 1.49 as well.
Download and Installation
The download file remains an archive EXE, rather than an actual installer, and is just on 50MB in size. It will extract the files into a default directory Nirans Viewer in C:\Program Files. If you’ve had a previous version of Niran’s Viewer installed, it is strongly recommended that you remove it first, together with all cache and settings files. The viewer itself has no uninstaller, some removal is a matter of deleting the program folder. The locations for all three are:
Viewer: C:\Program Files\NiransViewer (delete this entire folder)
Cache: C:\Users\[user name] \AppData\Local\NiransViewer (delete this folder)
Settings: C:\Users\[user name] \AppData\Roaming\NiransViewer (delete this folder and all sub-folders inside).
First Time Running
Once you’ve made your initial keyboard camera preferences selection, the log-in screen features a new video from NiranV. I have to admit, I’m curious as to the music track and whether it is taken from something or original, as I rather like the keyboard arrangement in it.
You may get an anti-virus alert relating to the SLVOICE.EXE plugin – if you do, make sure that it is the plugin being referenced and clear it. The log-in splash screen is again liable to be something of a surprise to first-time users. There is no familiar splash screen feed from Linden Lab here. Instead, and providing you’re running flash, there’s a YouTube video NiranV has put together and which will play while you enter your log-in credentials in the panel to the right.
Note that Niran’s Viewer isn’t intended for use on OpenSim, so the other grids selection is limited to the SL Agni (main) and Aditi (Beta) grids. Once you’ve entered your you log-in credentials, you’re treated to a series of hints and tips as the viewer logs-in to Second Life.
Niran’s alternative to the usual Preferences floater started appearing in version 1.46 of the viewer, where he referred to it as his “Skyrim influence”. It’s slowly been maturing through a number of releases since then, and with version 2.0, it completely replaces the old Preferences floater, which is no longer available within the viewer.
Accessed via the Preferences toolbar button, CTRL-P or NV->EDIT->PREFERENCES, the overlay does exactly what it says – overlays the in-world view.
To the left of the overlay are the main options: Display, Audio Controls, Camera, Chat, User, Interface and Viewer. Depending on the complexity of the screens / options associated with this, clicking on one of them may display a panel directly, or may open-up a sub-menu of further options which in turn will open up individual panels on the right of the overlay.
Please use the page numbers below left to continue reading this article
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?
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.
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.
Now, 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).
Niran’s Viewer continues to be updated on a weekly basis, with various new ideas being tried out. Version 1.46 sees an interesting take on the viewer Preferences, and as such, I thought it worth a look, as well as providing an update on some of the changes occurring in recent releases.
Download and Installation – 1.46
The x64 download weighed-in at just over 41Mb
On starting the viewer the first time, I received a virus threat warning for SLPlugin.exe. This tends to be a frequent false positive for the likes of Nortons, but rarer with AVG; this is one of the few times I have had the warning flagged.
New Preferences Layout
The most significant change within this release is to Preferences. As well as including the main Preferences floater (NV->FILE->PREFERENCES or CTRL-P), NiranV has included an experimental Preferences overlay, which can be accessed via the F2 key (you will have to re-assign any gesture using F2 to another key in order for this to work).
NiranV describes this as his “Skyrim inspired” approach to Preferences – and I have to say that, overall, I like the concept.
Right now, the option is clearly experimental and offers access to a limited set of Preferences options, so it is a little hard to judge as to how well it will scale and whether it will provide improved access to all Preferences options. However, the potential would appear to be there – and the ability to use the entire screen rather than a defined floater area would appear to offer significant advantages in terms of information presentation. As it stands, my only potential critiques of the approach is that:
Some of the text within the Preferences is poorly defined against the background (this has been something of a problem in general with Preferences in the viewer)
Some people might not like the fact that in using an overlay in this manner they cannot access other on-screen floaters (such as being able to IM others with Preferences open). A way around this might be to offer a toggle switch allowing users to display Preferences either as an overlay or as a “traditional” floater
I’m personally not so bothered by the second issue as I am by the first; elements of Preferences in Niran’s Viewer have always been hard to read at times, although swapping skins has tended to alleviate the problem. However, everything in the overlay Preferences is displayed on a relatively dark background which tends to mask some text in the displays very well (see the image above), exacerbating the problem of legibility.
Nevertheless, I’ll be watching to see how this idea develops over time, and how NiranV translates-over the use of multiple sub-tabs within a panel (e.g. incorporates the RLVa and Setup sub-tabs into Viewer, for example).
Server-side Avatar Baking
This release of Niran’s viewer includes a debug setting to “enable” server-side avatar baking. As this service is not actually available at present – and is unlikely to be rolled-out for least another 4-to-6 months – it is probably worthwhile pointing out that enabling the debug setting will not alter the way in which your avatar is baked.
Other Recent Updates
The following is a summary of the significant changes made to Niran’s Viewer since I last blogged on it:
1.40: saw the machinima sidebar (released in 1.39) modified so it slides over the Ui, rather than shunting things to one side (a-la the original Viewer 2 Sidebar); the Picks and Places floaters were added to NV->EDIT
1.41: primarily saw the update / addition of Windlight presets
1.42: local chat fixes to show the speaking indicator correctly; toggle check box added to the Machinima Sidebar for easy switching between Region default and Custom Windlight
1.43: ability to sat the time after which the Navigation bar will auto-hide; new World Map layout; ability to right-click/zoom to People floater for avatars within draw distance; alignment with LL’s code releases
1.44: replaced rendering engine with the current Linden Lab rendering code; addition of spell checking.
Performance has been a mixed bag for me with this viewer – and NiranV Dean has some comments in the release notes for 1.46 on the subject. Overall, performance on my usual system & with the usual settings (see the panel on the right of the home page of this blog), I had the following results, based on my home sim with 4 other avatars present. With deferred / shadows and lighting disabled: ground level: 14-17fps; 370m: 35-39fps; 2875m: 48-50fps. With shadows and lighting enabled: ground level: 7-9fps; 370m: 11-12fps; 2875m 13-14fps. All of this was remarkably consistent, and only slightly lower in all cases than I’ve experienced of late with other viewers.
Today sees Niran’s Viewer release 1.39 hit the grid, the latest in NiranV Dean’s weekly roll-outs which started shortly after the latest time I ran a major review of the Viewer (version 1.33). Given the Viewer is now on a weekly release cycle that sees smaller, more incremental changes made to it that may not easily lend themselves to in-depth reviews, I thought I’d provide a summary of the major features that have been rolling-out with the last few releases (1.34 through 1.39).
Version 1.35 introduced a new start-up splash screen, displayed automatically when running the Viewer for the first time. This screen builds on the “classic” and “shooter/RPG” keyboard layout options introduced in Version 1.33.
With Version 1.35, those using Niran’s Viewer for the first time are offered the choice of keyboard layouts via an initial splash screen. Note that as Shooter / RPG is the default layout, selecting Classic requires the Viewer is restarted before logging-in.
Once selected, the splash screen changes to display the usual login-in screen with background movie. Once logged-in, the keyboard layout can still be changed via Preferences->User Options ->Advanced once the Viewer was started, although a Viewer restart is required to completed the swap.
Version 1.37 further enhanced this capability by adding a LAYOUT SELECTION option to display the log-in splash screen choices, making it easier to switch between layouts prior to logging-in to SL (Viewer restart still required).
Version 1.39 also adds audio to the log-in screen, so that the video, called “Sad World”, displayed on the log-in splash screen now has an audible soundtrack. If you’ve not watched the video with sound before, it’s really worth stopping on your way into Niran’s Viewer and doing so – the soundtrack adds significant depth to the video.
Return of the Sidebar!
When Viewer 2 came out, the Sidebar was – frankly – a royal mess. The intent was good, but given it came from a company that self-proclaims itself to be “interface design specialists” (80/20.com), the actual implementation was potentially the biggest pile of fetid dingo’s kidneys ever to obliterate people’s in-world experience of Second Life.
However, over time (and largely thanks to TPVs showing the way), the Sidebar evolved and actually became something pretty usable – and it is fair to say that since it’s demise, it has been sorely missed by a lot of people. I freely admit that there are elements of it I miss…
Now, Version 1.39 of Niran’s Viewer sees the Sidebar make something of a return, in the form of the Machinima Options.
Activated using the F1 key, the new Sidebar takes the form of a full-height panel that gracefully slides out from the right side of the screen. With this release, it gently moves chiclets and buttons to the left as well, but Niran plans to make the panel an overlay with the next release, so it will slide OVER chiclets and button, rather than moving them.
The panel is admittedly a bit of a monster, but for those into photography and machinima, provides a fast way of accessing and adjusting options on-the-fly. Looking at it, I’d personally like to see the capability extended to include other options – perhaps via tabbed access built-in to the panel at the top, or down the side, a-la Viewer 2 (but with the tabs themselves completely hidden as a part of the panel, rather than sitting on the right of the of your in-world view, a-la Viewer 2).
NiranV has provided a video demonstrating how the panel will look when it is working as an overlay:
Version 1.36 introduced “Achievements” to the Viewer. This is a light-hearted means of emulating RPG-type “achievements” gained through the use of the Viewer. As you perform certain tasks, etc., so they are highlighted in a list you can view via NV->View->Earned Achievements, and colour awards are given.
The system isn’t intended to offer anything substantial – just some light-hearted fun.
Other Nips and Tucks
Version 1.34: corrected a double-click to teleport on the minimap so that double-click does teleport you to the point on the map you click, rather than opening the world map
Version 1.35: introduced split-line titles on notifiers, etc., to enable easier reading (continued in some of the later releases as well)
Tweaked the UI so that when the Navigation Bar, etc., at the top of the screen is set to auto-hide, any UI buttons located at the top of the screen will automatically re-align against the upper limit of the window, and then drop back down below the Navigation Bar when that latter is displayed
Introduced a dynamically re-sizing Group Notice panel within the Group floater, making the composition of longer Notices easier
Re-added the Restore to Last Position option to the menu when right-clicking on items in inventory.
Version 1.37: stabilised mesh rendering
Added spinners to Windlight floater settings
Re-working of the Picks and Classified floaters
Version 1.39: revised teleport progress to render the UI while teleporting – further updates coming on this.
In addition, each release has seen a range of additional small updates and bug fixes, and I recommend those that haven’t kept pace with updates take a look at Niran’s blog and the change logs provided there.
I did not update to versions 1.34 through 1.36. However, versions 1.37 through 1.39 continue to run well on my older-spec PC (see the home page on this blog for details & for my usual test parameters). Frame rates easily matched version 1.33, so it is now only my personal preferences vis-a-vis UI and layout that keep me from using Niran’s Viewer full-time.
The fact that the Viewer is now on a weekly release cycle means the changes being made are now more incremental than radical, but this is no bad thing, NiranV is clearly enhancing and refining what works and focusing on those areas his users are giving solid feedback on. This doesn’t mean that new features aren’t being developed – the Sidebar approach shows that – but it does mean that the Viewer’s development path is liable to be more of a gentle curve, again as one would expect from any maturing product.
Of all the recent updates, 1.35-1.39 inclusive, it is the Sidebar that fascinates me the most. This offers significant opportunities in providing access to a lot of Viewer functionality and of addressing the wants and needs of those who lament the passing of the later iterations of the Sidebar (oddly enough, and while I hated the Sidebar initially, I’m one of the latter, having come to find it exceptionally handy as implemented in TPVs such at Kirsten’s and Firestorm). My only complaint with recent releases is that the version numbering is somewhat out-of-sequence between the blog and the Viewer itself; for example: the latest release outlined here is referred to as release “1.39 (1277)” in the blog, however, HELP in the Viewer refers to it as release 3.3.5 (1277). The last two or three releases have been the same. While this is a minor niggle, it would be nice to see consistency in version numbering.
Earlier this month I took a quick look at the Preview Release of Niran’s Viewer 1.33, focusing on the UI work NiranV Dean has been carrying out within the release – part of an ongoing project to provide a more efficient Viewer front-end. Today sees the launch for the final version of 1.33, and in NiranV’s own words, this is a “major, major release” for a wide range of reasons. As promised in my last report on the Viewer, I’ve taken time to have a nice, long play with the Windows version.
First and foremost, after a long and incredible development curve, Niran’s Viewer has been accepted for listing in the Third-party Viewer Directory and should appear there in the next week or so – congratulations to Niran on all the work that has gone into the Viewer, and to Tarnix for the development of the Linux version.
The 1.33 release comes in two flavours: without and with the Mesh Parametric Deformer. The reason for this is simple, the code doesn’t set well with the Viewer – which might be, as NiranV acknowledges, due to issues with the Deformer working on his development hardware, but which could also be related to conflicts between the code and the Viewer’s rendering pipe. However, as NiranV notes in his blog: “You should be able to experience the Deformer mostly normal if you activate Deferred, Shadows and Ambient Occlusion, meaning that the separate release is only for those who can run [in this mode] and [who] want to test it to give Qarl Feedback.”
The Windows installer package weighs-in at 40Mb, and now creates a desktop shortcut icon (yay! no more hunting through Explorer and shunting bits around). Installation itself is, as always, fast and smooth, with the change log displayed in the opening window for those who are curious but who haven’t actually delved into Niran’s blog to read the information there.
On start-up, and for the first time with Niran’s Viewer, I did encounter a virus threat warning from AVG. This is something that is not uncommon among Viewers, with a number of TPVs (and the odd release of the Official Viewer) throwing up warnings on occasion. It certainly be taken to mean the Viewer is up to mischief. LL themselves provide some guidance on avoiding false threats. As the alert was related to the slplugin.exe file (a common cause of false virus alerts), I felt confident in marking the alert as a false flag and continuing.
As mentioned above, the User Interface is very much one of the focal points of NiranV’s work on the Viewer, and I took a look at some of the upcoming features in my overview of the initial Preview release. As such this is the logical place to start with this look.
The first noticeable thing with this release is the on logging-in the UI is extremely clean and minimal. with both bars and buttons only appearing at the top of the window, rather than the top and left, as with earlier versions.
The buttons displayed by default are Speak, Voice, People, Picks, Places, View, Inventory and Appearance, which represent an interesting mix and which, in a nod to Kirsten’s Viewer, are initially displayed in “S19” format. There’s still no option to left/right align buttons either at the top or the bottom of the window (or to the top/bottom of the window if you place buttons on either side of your world view), so I’ll keep pestering NiranV on this :).
If I’m totally honest, the top button bar is something I’m personally not overly keen on: when active, it actually blocks the uppermost section of the screen from use, so you can’t “dock” (or more correctly in the case of the 3.2 FUI align) floaters with the top bars: there will always be a gap. But this is just a personal niggle on my part.
A nice touch with Niran’s Viewer, for those who don’t use the top of the window for anything at all, is the ability to hide the Navigation Bar, etc., at the top of the screen completely when not in use (the mini-Location bar is automatically displayed in its place) by setting Preferences->User Interface Options->UI Customisation->HIDE TOPBAR AUTOMATICALLY. Introduced a couple of releases ago, this is still something I like rather a lot, given I don’t use the top button bar.
In terms of the button options, Niran’s Viewer presents pretty much the standard set of buttons that come with the Official Viewer, so there is not the massive range of buttons that are displayed by other TPVs – which itself isn’t really a problem. One Button that does make its debut with this release is the SCRIPT button, which opens the Script Information floater.
When it comes to colours, Niran’s Viewer presents the most customisable UI of any Viewer, something I’ve again covered in the past. With this release, NiranV adds a new tweak to the use of colour: to denote options in both menus and Preferences tabs which may result in Viewer issues and / or crashes, or which should be used with caution on the part of users unfamiliar with them. Those options where caution is advised are coloured orange with this release, with the more experimental / specialised options coloured red (see right). NiranV indicates that these colours may change with a future release, but the idea is certainly a good one in terms of being a visual indicator (although there is a risk colouring an option will encourage people to “click and see”).
In a slightly tongue-in-cheek move, NiranV has coloured the option to Exit the Viewer red because after all, as he says, it does close down the Viewer and logs you out of Second Life!
A new addition to UI floaters comes in the form a pin icon in the top right corner of most (not all) floaters. Called “Fix it!”, this locks a given panel in the position in which it is currently displayed on-screen. Once active, the floater cannot be accidentally dragged elsewhere on the screen. For those involved in activities such as photography, machinima and combat, I imagine this could prove a useful option. The option is also likely to appeal to those who like to have certain core panels (such as inventory) function in a similar manner to when the Sidebar was available (i.e. always appearing on the right of the screen), as they can “lock-in” the floaters to do so – although in the latter case, it should be noted that the functionality currently isn’t persistent between re-logs, although this should be fixed in a future update.
All Viewers include the option to include a “lag meter” in the top right corner of the menu bar, which shows the Viewer’s performance in terms of a colour-coded graphics bar. NiranV has improved this by allowing you to toggle between the bar and a numeric frame rate display.
Again, this is only a subjective measure of performance, but for those puzzled as to whether the traditional bar is indicative of good or bad performance, the numeric display should help clarify matters.
The bet way to describe using the Niran’s Viewer UI is smooth. That you’re in something very different to other Viewers is evident the first time you move your camera view – everything pans and slides very smoothly, almost as if you’re on a cushion of air, with motion gliding to a gentle halt. Of course, you can achieve the same in other Viewers by altering your camera movement options, but NiranV has done it for you, making the entire experience a lot .. well … smoother.
This approach can be seen elsewhere in the Viewer, particularly the way options and sub-panels in floaters slide gracefully in or out of view. Take a look at one of Niran’s excellent videos for a practical demonstration:
Preferences are the clearest instance of significant changes to the UI. NiranV has done a considerable amount of work in this area to try to rationalise both the way in which Preferences presents options to us, and how we interact with it. A lot of this I covered last time around, but NiranV has continued to refine and improve.
The first noticeable thing on the redesign – at least for those who used the Preview 1 release of 1.33, is that the Preferences panel now auto-sizes itself correctly according to your screen resolution; there are no more scroll options to the left / right of the panel as described in my look at the initial Preview release.
Those coming to Niran’s Viewer for the first time are liable to find the Preferences panel something of a “?!” moment when first opening it; who wouldn’t after the basic layout of the panel having remained pretty much unchanged (other than for custom tabs) almost since the dawn of time? However, I have to say that, with a couple of very minor reservations, NiranV has produced an alternative Preferences panel that makes a heck of a lot of sense and encourages fast, easy use.
At the top are five major category tabs, most of which are pretty self-explanatory. Each of these has up to three sub-tabs (displayed at the bottom of the floater) which help rationalise and order functions and options. Additionally, some tabs may have context-specific options that are only display when certain options are enabled (such as with advanced rendering in the Display and Audio tab, or many have additional toggle buttons on the right to shift between sub-groups of options.