A Bright Canopy set to open over Second Life and OpenSim

BC logoBright Canopy, the new streaming service, which allows users on low-end computers to access both Second Life and OpenSim has announced it will officially launch on Saturday, August 29th at a single monthly subscription price, which for the first 90 days (at least) will be $17.00 a month.

The service, which was established by SL users Bill Glover and his wife, Jeri (known in-world as Chaos Priestman and Beth Robbani respectively in-world),  arose directly as a result of the May 2015 closure of the SL Go streaming service provided by former on-line streaming games supplier, OnLive. What’s more, and on a personal note, I’m pleased to be able to say that this blog had a hand in bringing things about – although my involvement as a beta user hasn’t been as extensive as I’d hoped.

As a result of the cessation of SL Go as a result of OnLive’s decision to sell, I ruminated on the potential of the Lab running a streamed SL service through Amazon AppSstream. This caught Bill’s eye and imagination, prompting him to comment:

Let’s just do it ourselves! You really got me thinking. I’d can launch a service right now if I get enough folks for Beta.

Bill and Jeri Glover: heading the Bright Canopy team, and long-term Second Life users
Bill and Jeri Glover: heading the Bright Canopy team, and long-term Second Life users

Things further progressed when I wrote about Nebadon Izumi’s work in getting the viewer and OpenSim delivered over AppStream.  My article prompted Nikola Bozinovic, founder and CEO of Frame, a cloud-based service focused on delivering Windows applications to users,  to suggest his service could be used to deliver Second Life through the cloud.

Bill and Nikola quickly got their heads together, and within 24 hours, they had their own proof-of-concept running, delivering the official SL viewer over Frame via Amazon.

Bright Canopy streams SL and OpenSim directly to your web browser, offering those on low-specification computers to enjoy the full graphic richness of both platforms with (allowing for network vagaries) low latency
Bright Canopy streams SL and OpenSim directly to your web browser, offering those on low-specification computers to enjoy the full graphic richness of both platforms with (allowing for network vagaries) low latency – note the data, bottom left (via Bright Canopy)

Not long after that, and with the support of SL and OpenSim users, a small alpha test commenced, which expanded to an invite-only pre-launch beta, which again in turn gradually opened its doors wider and wider as time as progressed and issues dealt with.

Nikola Bozinovic, founder of Frame, who extended an invitation to try the service as a possible means of accessing Second Life (and other grids) from the cloud
Nikola Bozinovic, founder of Frame, who extended an invitation to try his service as a means of accessing Second Life (and other grids) from the cloud – and thus paved the way for Bright Canopy to deliver

While operating as independent companies, the synergy between Frame and Bright Canopy has been impressive, with the former working hard to ensure the latter can provide a scalable, robust service, as Bill has worked to ensure the viewer behaves itself when streamed and can support the services users expect – notably voice.

“Frame is excited to provide infrastructure support to make projects like Bright Canopy scale globally,” Nikola stated during the official launch announcement. “Bill has captured the imagination and the energy of the Second Life community. We’ve been impressed by the cooperative and open approach of the Bright Canopy team.”

One of the core benefits of running with Frame, is the company has an established track record in delivering Windows applications over cloud services (indeed, in June 2015, Frame closed a further US $10 million round of funding, such is the scope of interest in their approach). This means they have the technical expertise to be able to help Bright Canopy scale over time, and to offer the kind of delivery speeds users expect (local network vagaries allowing). The company already has a global presence itself, notably utilising Amazon’s backbone, with points of presence across the United States, Europe, Asia and South America.

Initially, Bright Canopy ran using only Frame’s presence in California. Even so, and for many in the USA and Europe, results were impressive. Later, Dublin was added to the mix, offering greatly reduced latency to beta users in Europe.  With the launch on August 29th, Bright Canopy will additionally leverage Frame’s presence on the US East Coast to again enhance the service.

One of the key aspects of Bright Canopy being partnered with Frame is that the latter already has multiple points-of-presence with Amazon around the world - so Bright Canopy can leverage these as global demands requires. At launch, Bright Canopy runs out of California, serving the USA, and Dublin, serving Europe
One of the key aspects of Bright Canopy being partnered with Frame is that the latter already has multiple points-of-presence with Amazon around the world – so Bright Canopy can leverage these as global demands requires. At launch, Bright Canopy runs out of California, serving the USA, and Dublin, serving Europe

The new monthly pricing plan, which will completely replace the hourly plan used during the beta period, has initially been set at US $17.00 a month for the first 90 days. However, Bright Canopy warn that this may be subject to increase – although they hope very much to avoid this.

The problem here is that Bright Canopy is currently being provisioned via Amazon’s Spot Instances. Normally, these are the most cost-effective way to deliver a service, but they have lately been subject to an insane bidding war, resulting in massive price spikes.

Spot Instance pricing with Amazon is making it difficult for Bright Canopy to firmly pin-down their monthly subscription price – click for full size

This means that Bright Canopy need to watch the situation very carefully, as Bill explained in the launch announcement:

Our early bird price is going to be an experiment for 90 days. If you’ve been following the blog, you know we’ve seen price fluctuations on the back-end, and we still need to watch actual usage of the service. $17 is a sustainable price if the instance costs return to their typical, historical values. It is not a sustainable price with the current spike in instance price. We may need to get creative with how we split instances, or we may need to raise prices. We intend to remain transparent as always and will keep you posted. Our goal is to continue to maintain a sustainable, affordable service.

If a price increase is required, it will be announced when Bright Canopy have had an opportunity to assess the best way forward, and with sufficient time for users to determine how they’d like to proceed.

Continue reading “A Bright Canopy set to open over Second Life and OpenSim”

Advertisements

Streaming Second Life (and other grids): Frame enters the arena

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.

Nikola Bozinovic, founder of Frame, who extended an invitation to try the service as a possible means of accessing Second Life (and other grids) from the cloud
Nikola Bozinovic, founder of Frame, who extended an invitation to try the service as a possible means of accessing Second Life (and other grids) from the cloud

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.

A quick summary of the technical aspects of Frame (image courtesy of Nikola
A quick summary of the technical aspects of Frame (image courtesy of Nikola

Getting Started On your Own With Frame

Anyone wishing to try accessing Second Life through Frame can do so by requesting access to Frame Personal. An access code will be sent to you, allowing you to set-up your Frame account, and select the nearest PoP to you, and your preferred server type  (I opted for the four core system with 16Gb of memory and 20 free hours running a JavaScript client).

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.
Adding new applications to Frame is a matter of using the Manage Windows Apps (main menu) and the Add New Windows App function to run a virtual desktop from which you can browser for the application's installer and then download and install it. Frame will then automatically "onboard" it, and the application simply needs to be "switched on" via the toggle to the right of it
Adding new applications
  • 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.

Continue reading “Streaming Second Life (and other grids): Frame enters the arena”

Using Amazon AppStream to stream a viewer

Update, Saturday April 11th: Bill Glover, who has also shown a keen interest in the possibility of using Amazon AppStream, has been carrying out his own experiments with Firestorm and Second Life. He notes of his experience:

I set-up a stream with the Firestorm and was able to use it from both a Chromebook and an Android phone. It was really very responsive over a hotel wifi network, but there are many caveats.

It works, but it’s expensive and nowhere near being useful for just casually streaming SL without some custom client development and viewer integration.

You can read his initial thoughts on things over on his blog.

On Wednesday, April 8th, and following the announcement that the SL Go service is to be discontinued, I speculated on how the Lab (or indeed, someone else) might offer up an alternative to fill the void left once SL Go ceases at the end of the month.

After looking at various alternatives (including Highwind’s GDN – Highwinds being one of LL’s CDN providers), a conversation with Dennis Harper pointed me towards Amazon AppStream, and the more I read, the more it seemed to be a viable option, and hence it became the focus of my article.

As a result, Nebadon Izumi (Michael Emory Cerquoni) sat down to see just how easy (or not) to get something up and running, albeit using OS Grid and the OnLook viewer, and reported some success, as soon in the video below (please use the gear icon to flick it over to 720p when watching if it doesn’t automatically play in HD).

“What made me think to try was your article,” Nebadon told me as we discussed this initial attempt, although he admitted. “You get 20 hours of free streaming per month with Basic Amazon AWS account (required to access the AppStream service), then its 83 cents per hour. I also tried this on my Android Tablet, but while the graphics were beautiful, input is a problem, and the viewer will need overlay controls like SL Go, which will require development.”

Once he had his account created, Nebadon was able to install the viewer and use the supplied web browser to obtain and install the VS C++ 2010 re-distributable packages he needed in order to run the Singularity-based OnLook viewer, “you can go anywhere on the web and download any software you need to make your application run,” he noted to me. “Once I had these and the viewer installed, it took about 20-30 minutes for the viewer to deploy, and I got a set of instructions on how people can connect to it.” The whole process took him, he estimates, about 2 hours.

This is obviously a long way short of providing a full-blown service, and anyone wishing to use Amazon AppStream as the basis for a streaming solution for their grid who obviously have to dig a lot deep into issues of cost and pricing, payment mechanisms, potential demand, management, scaling, and so on; it also has yet to be tried with a viewer connecting to SL. Nevertheless, as a trial exercise, Nebadon’s work at least shows that the viewer can be streamed relatively easily using AppStream, and that’s a good place to start.

The Federal Consortium of Virtual Worlds 2015 workshop

Moses

The US Army’s Military Open Simulator Enterprise Strategy (MOSES) and AvaCon have announced the first Federal Consortium of Virtual Worlds (FCVW) workshop, which will take place in a specially built virtual conference centre on Friday, March 6th and Saturday March 7th, 2015.

The workshop will be an active experience, with on-line exhibits and presentations provided in an interactive manner. Workshop participants are encouraged to engage and interact with the presenters, and the exhibits will range from cultural training material in a mock village to scientific ethical dilemmas in a city landscape.

The press release for the workshop notes that:

Virtual world technology has matured significantly and rapidly over the past eight years to the point where hundreds of people are able to simultaneously participate in an on-line event. The workshop is open to military and civilian personnel, including the public. The conference will be held entirely within an Open Simulator virtual environment, and reservations will be free for attendees.

The workshop will be a multi-track event, featuring keynote speakers and break-out sessions, and the FCVW and conference organisers are inviting proposals to be a speaker, presenter, or performer in one of the following tracks:

  • The Alternative User Interfaces track 
  • The Metacognition
  • Military Applications track
  • Security, Privacy and Identity track

In addition, the Knowledge Transfer track seeks public sector participants for a panel entitled Public Service Education in Virtual Worlds: Past, Present, and Future, which will discuss public service education uses for virtual world learning simulations as well as will feature panelists’ views on public service virtual world education projects from the past, present, and future. Participants in this discussion will be able to showcase relevant Open Simulator virtual world learning simulations via OAR and IAR uploads to be coordinated with the workshop organisers.

Full details on the above tracks, including information on areas of interest applicable to each of them, can be found in the workshop Call for Proposals page of the official website. Proposals must be received by the organisers by Monday, January 5th, 2015.

About the FCVW

The Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds (FCVW) supports individuals and organisations from government (federal, state, local, and international), academia, and corporate sesectors to improve government collaboration through the use of virtual worlds, enrich collaborative online experiences, explore technologies that may enhance telework, and foster cross-agency collaboration.

About MOSES

The Military Open Simulator Enterprise Strategy (MOSES) is operated by the operated by the US Army’s Simulation & Training Technology Center (STTC), a part of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Human Research and Engineering Directorate. It is a coalition of military, industry, and academic partners who share a common interest in the advancement of virtual world technology for simulation based training and education. The MOSES Project seeks to address issues surrounding current game based virtual environment training systems in the two key areas of scalability and flexibility, and create a practical and deployable virtual simulation-based training system capable of providing a learner with a means to test skills in an accreditable manner. http://militarymetaverse.org/

About Avacon

AvaCon, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the growth, enhancement, and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces. We hold conventions and meetings to promote educational and scientific inquiry into these spaces, and to support organized fan activities, including performances, lectures, art, music, machinima, and much more. Our primary goal is to connect and support the diverse communities and practitioners involved in co-creating and using virtual worlds, and to educate the public and our constituents about the emerging ecosystem of technologies broadly known as the metaverse.

Pixieviewer Updated

Thomas Buchauer continues to work on Pixieviewer the in-browser viewer he’s developing for OpenSim use. The new release still sees the viewer restricted to his own Pixiegrid environment – which has also been updated – and brings with it changes to the UI and promises of things to come.

The new version surfaced at the end of March, together with a blog post from Thomas outlining the updates and looking ahead to what he’s planning to add to the viewer. The latter items Thomas lists as:

  • Private Messages and  User Profiles
  • Media Tools which will allow the display any Document (ppt, pdf, doc, xls etc) or any Image directly in-world without converting them first, and which will also will support video streaming
  • Guest Logins which will allow logins directly from a link without any questions and registration – clicking the link will open Pixieviewer and deliver a user to the desired destination.

Updated UI

Logging-in to Pixieviewer remains unchanged. However, once in-world the updates to the UI are immediately clear. The somewhat bland UI I critiqued in terms of viewability in my original look at Pixieviewer has been replaced by a series of coloured buttons which do much to improve using  the viewer when using it on smaller screens.

The updated Pixieviewer UI
The updated Pixieviewer UI

The buttons at the foot of the window are divided into three groups – what I’ve mentally labelled “personal”, “tools”, and “system”.

  • On the left are the “personal” buttons:
    • A “Home” button for teleporting you home (which currently returns you to the default Welcome area of Pixiegrid
    • A “User Profile” button – which will eventually provide access to … user profiles
  • In the centre are the “tool” buttons:
    • Chat
    • IM
    • Find Places – list and visit other locations
    • Media tool – not yet active
    • Build – the in-world building tools
  • On the right are the “system” buttons:
    • File a bug report / suggestion
    • Open the Pixieviewer blog (in a separate browser tab)
    • View statistics on the current scene
    • Log-out of Pixieviewer

There is one additional button, located in top left corner of the screen. the Audio / Video Conferencing button. According to the blog entry for the update: “If a Place has Conferencing enabled, you will see a blue conference icon that allows you to join or create a realtime Audio Video conference with unlimited number of users.”

The initial Audio / Video Conference window and activating camera / nictrophone access
The initial Audio / Video Conference window and activating camera / microphone access

The option is currently being tested, and the Welcome Area has conferencing enabled. Clicking on the button opens a window which includes a an option to allow Pixieviewer to grab control of your microphone / camera, together with options for accessing camera and microphone set-up. There are also buttons to log-out of a conference and hide the conference window (handy if you are engaged in voice-only conferencing while doing things). It currently appears as if anyone clicking on the Audio / Video Conferencing button will join an existing conference.

All of the buttons are labelled with icons, but rolling the mouse pointer over them displays easy-to-read hovertips.

Places

PixA2-3The Places button allows users to teleport elsewhere on a grid. Clicking it opens a floater listing the available places, complete with an image of each. Clicking on the blue arrow iconed button to the right of a place in the list will teleport you there.

Currently, Pixie grid has three available areas: Welcome Area (to which you can also return by clicking the Home button on the bottom left of the screen), a sandbox and a “Mirror Island” region.

The sandbox region is obviously an area designed to encourage people to try-out Pixieviewer’s build tools (which remain unchanged in this release), although all three regions are at present all build enabled. Given the sandbox is available, people are encouraged to us it when trying the viewer, rather than cluttering-up the Welcome area.

Continue reading “Pixieviewer Updated”

Playing with Pixieviewer

Thomas Buchauer has been working on developing a virtual world viewer-in-a-browser. The work is still very much in its alpha stages, but already shows sign of promise for those who are OpenSim-based.

Pixieviewer is available now as a special “first look” release, with access restricted to a special test grid called, appropriately enough, Pixiegrid. It is also in non-public testing with two OpenSim grids, and the aim appears to be to make it generally available as a browser-based means of access OpenSim environments at some point in the future. The viewer utilises HTML 5 (and so runs of Firefox, Chrome, etc.), and runs on any portable / mobile device capable of running WebGL.

PixieViewer: accessing OpenSim through a web browser
Pixieviewer: accessing OpenSim through a web browser

As an initial “first look” release, functionality is obviously limited – although already offering enough to get people playing with things and see the potential. Capabilities currently included in the viewer comprise chat, building both using primitive (“basic”) shapes and pre-set 3D models (mesh is supported although uploads are currently not enabled), and the ability to send content to a file suitable for 3D printing on your own (data exported as an STL file), or have the data sent to http://i.materialise.com, where you can preview and order 3D prints. Some basic object interaction is also possible as well – such as sitting on objects or clicking them to display pop-up with further information.

You’ll need to create a log-in account to the Pixiegrid in order to try-out the viewer, and you can do so directly through the viewer’s log-in page.

General Looks

The preview version loads fast – once you’ve registered an account, you can fire-up the viewer and are immediately delivered to the Pixiegrid preview area, where you can wander, try out various options (including the 3D printing), chat with others and explore what is already available.

3D printing from within PixieViewer
3D printing from within PixieViewer

Avatars come in default male and female forms and are non-customisable at present – although you might find your hair colour changes between log-ins; I’ve tended to find I’m either a blonde or a red-head when using the viewer. Movement  – both avatar and camera – is fairly basic, but more than adequate for getting around and seeing things; those who have followed Lumiya’s development will be aware how rapidly things like this improved, so it’s reasonable to expect PixieViewer will add further refinements as time and the technology allows.

Continue reading “Playing with Pixieviewer”