Happy Birthday Phoenix

On September 3rd 2010, Jessica Lyon added an entry to her personal blog. It read, in part:

“My name is Jessica Lyon. My goal during my time with the Emerald Project, was always to give the users what they want. That goal has never and will never change. I’m very happy to announce, it continues…

“A few days ago, I assembled a team of developers to work on a new viewer. Some who were originally Emerald developers, some who were not. All are respected reputable residents in the SecondLife Community. The goal was simple, to provide users with what they want and do it transparently.

“I’m am very proud to announce the launch of the Phoenix Viewer.”

Phoenix was aptly named, rising from the ashes of the Emerald project, to soar gracefully as potentially the more successful and popular of all Second Life third-party Viewers – and all in the space of a few short months.

The Phoenix party with dramatic windlight settings active

To mark the anniversary of that blog post and Phoenix’s birth, Jessica and her team held a party, hosted by Ed Merryman on Wailele Moku sim.

Jessica Lyon

Some 50 people were on the sim for most of the celebrations, which included speeches, music and dancing and general merriment.

Many of the Phoenix development and support teams were present, including Jessica herself, who was out on the dance floor and mingling, and there were opportunities to be had to chat about Phoenix and Firestorm.

It’s been a remarkable twelve months for the Phoenix team. Not only have they met  – and exceed the wants and hopes and desires of a huge number of former Emerald users and overcome the angst and concerns that surrounded that particular episode of SL history, they’ve worked equally hard on developing Phoenix’s potential successor, Firestorm, which is already proving to be a huge success even before it has reached the status of a formal release.

So it’s been a remarkable and productive – not to mention successful – year. As a former Phoenix user now committed to Firestorm, I’d like to give my thanks to Jessica and the team for all of their effort over the year and say that I hope this is the first of many such birthday celebrations for both Phoenix and Firestorm in Second Life and in the OpenSim environment.

Happy Birthday, Phoenix!

Update Sept 4th

Here’s the birthday speeches via metamix TV.

Astra – a Viewer 1-based TPV with mesh rendering

Updated August 31st: Those working on Astra 1.5.10.(2) have asked me to point out that this release is still experimental, and can be unstable at times – see comments at the end of this piece.

Viewer 1.x and mesh are not things we’re used to seeing together where Second Life is concerned. However, with mesh also making its presence felt in OpenSim, it was likely that code to render mesh in a Viewer 1.x TPV would come about at some point.

Astra Viewer is an open source Viewer linked to Astra Grid / Aurora-Sim out of Pleiades Consulting of Canada. The current release, 1.0.0 is available from the Astra Viewer website. However, there is a 1.5.10 release for Windows that can be obtained from the Aurora-Sim repository that is of interest because it can render mesh objects.

It’s unclear as to how widely available this release of Astra is supposed to be; I e-mailed the individual listed as a the main coder for the version several days ago as to use, etc, but have so far failed to receive any reply. However, news of its availability is spreading through Twitter.

Astra 1.5.10 does have almost everything you’d expect from a V1.x-TPV: client-side AO, RLV/a support (accessed from the Advanced menu, a-la Imprudence), radar, V1 avatar physics, V1 shadow rendering, etc. But it’s the mesh rendering that is of interest, and it’s good.

As mesh support is (for me at least), hard to find out in OpenSim land*, I admit that I *did* sneak into Second Life using Astra in order to test it. I’m not sure if this was entirely against the rules – SL is included in Astra’s Grid Manager, but I have no idea if Astra has been self-certified under the requirements of Linden Lab’s Thirf-Party Viewer Policy. It doesn’t appear on the TPV Directory – but this actually isn’t necessarily indicative of non-certification, as certified Viewer do not have to be listed in the Directory.

Leaving that aside, I have to say, the code works fine, as the image below shows.

Two of Claudia222 Jewell’s magnificent mesh sculptures rendered in Astra.

There’s no upload option in the Viewer at present, tho. Whether this will be added in time, I have no idea.

Another view of one of Claudia222’s creations, captured in the Asta Viewer.

Overall, Astra is pretty much what you’d expect from a 1.x Viewer. The Grid Manager selection is short (defaults to AnSky Grid on initial start-up), but adding new grids follows the usual format, and as such, isn’t a hurdle to overcome.

As I said above, it’s not clear if the Viewer has been self-certified for SL use (I’ve e-mailed the perople developing it, but haven’t heard back as yet), but given the amount of resistance to the likes of Viewer “3” within Second Life, the existence of the code to render mesh objects in the 1.x Viewer is liableto be of keen interest of 1.x TPV developers.

In the meantime, those on Windows wishing to try out Astra 1.5.10.(2) on suitable OpenSim grids can find it here.

* Francogrid and OSGrid have mesh-enabled regions.

(With thanks to Latif Khalifa).

Phoenix out

Phoenix have released the latest maintenance update to the Viewer. This comes with a number of bug fixes, including:

  • Phoenix appends (PH) in official support groups, with an option to disable
  • Fix for crash on changing shape and sometimes on appearance (fixes PHOE-59, and part of PHOE-3002)
  • Fix for crash when an animation is played on another avatar with an unknown joint
  • Partial fix for crash when script error buffer is overloaded by only displaying your own script errors by default.
  • Webkit related updates and fixes.
  • Linux Webkit updated to 4.7.1 (to same as windows and mac)
  • Fixes showcases not working for regions with a space in the name
  • Add Plugins and Javascript settings to web preferences
  • Add ability to disable SSL certificate errors in LLQtWebkit.
  • Add ability to add certificates.
  • Fixed Mac OSX Lion error messages about missing files
  • Updated bridge to prevent other objects from making your av move
  • Added option to disable server version change notifications, and set notifications to a lower priority
  • Updated copy paste code in build floater and fixed position on attachment
  • Avatar physics fixes – pie menu detach works, as does setting beer belly bounce on male
  • Handle llRegionSayTo() messages sent to local chat properly. Fixes PHOE-2998.
  • Webkit related upgrades and fixes
  • GPU list corrections and additions.

Of particular interest to many is the inclusion of the following functions:

  • The new Parcel Privacy options, and the ability to mute avatar sounds (generated by gestures) have been backported from Viewer 2
  • The “official” code for sharing region environment settings has been incorporated
  • STORM-1037 compliance has been added, and the redundant “hide URL” checkbox removed (redundant, as there are other means to obtain the URL even when the checkbox is ticked).
  • Viewer 2’s capability to mute avatar sounds at the parcel level
  • Phoenix can now detect whether a region supports the upcoming new maximum prim size of 64x64x64 (which will be introduced alongside mesh, as is currently available in the mesh-enabled sandboxes and private sims that signed-up to the Mesh/Live Volunteer program). This option will obviously become redundant once mesh is rolled out across the main Grid, but for now is useful, as it gives Phoenix users the opportunity to find a suitable sim and play with the new prim sizing capabilities.

Jessica also appears to have been following me around the mesh-enabled sims on both agni and aditi, as she also supplies a series of images showing mesh when seen in a mesh-capable viewer and a non-mesh viewer!

Over the Rainbow

Rainbow Viewer

One of my first experiences with V1 TPVs was via the Windows Cool Viewer compiled by Boy Lane, and which became the Rainbow Viewer. For a long time, this was simply my Viewer of choice. I was therefore intrigued to see that after over a year, Rainbow has been overhauled and made available once again.

Based on the 1.22 release of Viewer 1, Rainbow has a core of die-hard fans, and the new release does much to bring it up to par with the likes of Phoenix and Imprudence 1.3/1.4, given it now includes:

  • Client-side AO
  • Media filtering
  • TP history
  • Display Names
  • Multiple attachments (but like other V1 TPVs, no multiple wear for the same layer of clothing)
  • Tattoo and Alpha layers
  • Outfits creation
  • Prim alignment tool
  • Multiple grid support

Using Rainbow is like a blast from the past. At installation, you’re informed that you need to obtain several files from either the “official” Viewer 1 or from Snowglobe. This is something I haven’t had to do in ages, and while I can understand why Boy has gone this route (better performance where the Kakadu system is concerned), I nevertheless wonder as to how vulnerable this leaves Rainbow: Viewer 1 is no longer available and there is no guarantee LL might not at some point simply remove snowglobe access, given it is now a dead project.

Once in the Viewer – and my use of Firestorm of late notwithstanding – there was something nostalgic in using Rainbow; the interface, the Preferences options – all hark back to the “good old days” in many respects when things were indeed, “fast, fun and easy”. However, the nostalgia is actually very short-lived. There is much that Rainbow lacks that I find hard to do without: there is no vertical tabbing for IM windows, for example, and no Quick Preferences option (although granted, both may come). Even the inclusion of avatar physics is – to be honest – now dated. The Viewer 2 system (already adopted by Firestorm) is far superior for those willing to give it a go.

Where Rainbow is likely to score is in being aimed at other OS Grids. I tested it with InWorldz and Avination, both with few issues other than getting the “you have been logged out” message, complete with options to review chat / IMs each time I logged out of InWorldz, rather than getting s “clean” exit. Other than that, performance was easily as smooth at Imprudence 1.3, and a lot better than the likes of Phoenix. As such, it is a welcome addition to the list of Viewers that can access other grids.

In terms of SL, however, I do wonder about the Viewer’s longevity. As I’ve already commented, the reality is that V1-based TPVs for Second Life are likely coming to their End of Days, what with the Search issues, mesh, and so on.

One of the problems facing Rainbow: Mesh as seen in the V2 Mesh Viewer (left) and in Viewer 1 (right) – with thanks to Linden Lab

To be fair to Boy Lane, the Viewer has been released with a clear statement of intent:

“Rainbow does not intend to be a competitor of viewer 2 or any other of the 3rd party viewers around. All of them are based on either V2 or Snowglobe code. Rainbow is based on 1.22, and playing in a league of it’s own. To support legacy hardware, and to support all my friends in Opensims.”

The last part of this statement is a worthy goal in itself – and again, full kudos to Boy for providing OS grid users with a greater choice. However, where Second Life is concerned, and even with a loyal following, given all that is coming down the road in the next few weeks and months, it’s hard to see this latest Rainbow release as having a decent shelf life.

Phoenix gets jiggly

In something of a surprise move, Phoenix have released version 1102 of the Viewer. While an update was anticipated following the Ogg Vorbis Library files issue, the extent of this update took many by surprise, including as it does the Viewer 2 Avatar Physics code.

Yes, bouncing bewbs (and bums and bellies) using the official Linden code within Phoenix.

However, this isn’t a fad release: there have been reports that Viewers not using the LL Avatar Physics code are failing to render avatars that are using the Physics Layer correct (remember, Avatar Physics is a worn layer, like clothing, Alpha and Tattoo layers). So this inclusion of the code is as much about fixing this issue within Phoenix as it is about giving people bouncy bits.

To further encourage people to upgrade to 1102, the Phoenix team are including a set of pre-defined Physics Layers, each created by a different member of the team, which are ready-to-wear for both male and female avatars (yes, men can have wobbly bits as well!). For that want to make their own, there is an easy-to-follow tutorial from Phoenix.

Other fixes with the release include:

  • Removal of old Breast physics code as it is now obsolete and no longer compatible
  • Addition of further user-created WL Presets
  • Set “Let Scripts Control My Play Button” to OFF by default. Prefs> Audio & Video>
  • Fixed local lights issue for Mac users (could only see 2 local lights rather than the default 6)
  • Security fix with OGG Vorbis Library (see above)
  • Addition of Linden chat color options in Prefs>Text Chat>“Color text for linden text chat”
  • Open buttons for logfiles, Chat logs etc on Linux and Mac fixed. Prefs> Network & Folder>
  • Further sculpt fixes
  • TP Failure crash fix
  • Blank media texture crash fix.

Performance on this release (for me) appears somewhat better than 1050, and on a par with 977 Beta (which I had to roll back to following the 1050 release). However, given the Ogg and Avatar Physics “fixes” this is really a necessary upgrade than an optional one.

Phoenix .1050 goes “final”

Phoenix .1050 was issued as a Release Candidate on the 21st April, and slightly surprisingly made the jump to a Final release on the 26th, without requiring any further downloads. The decision to flip the status of the Viewer to Final was bashed on a combination of reduced reported crash rates and generally good user feedback.

The core changes to .1050 comprise:

  • Media filter
  • Bridge prim update (please see the Phoenix READ BLOG on this)
  • HTML link parser updates for local chat
  • Correctly identify server 2008 and 2008 R2, added detection for Windows 8 and Server 2012
  • Windows XP no longer shows as running compatibility mode in help → about
  • Added cookie support for internal web browser
  • Debug setting for making Linden chat blue (PhoenixColorLindensChat and PhoenixLindensChatColor)
  • URLs in picks and profiles are now clickable
  • Links in group charter are clickable
  • Sound fixed in Linux (no more needing to copy files from 373)
  • Sculpt rendering fixes (all those sculpts that didn’t look right should be fixed!)
  • Added more viewer tags
  • Added entries to GPU table to recognize more video cards
  • Messages that fail to send to a group now say what group it failed to send to
  • Ability to not show TP Offers (Prefs > Popups > “Show teleport offer popups”)
  • Added to windows install the ability to have this build used for handling SLURL links from web browsers.

Plus a series of bug fixes and under-the-bonnet interface improvements. From a personal standpoint, the clickable URLs are perhaps the biggest “new feature” in this release. As I run this and other blogs, having the means to direct people to them straight from my Profile without them having to copy/paste is a major boon. The same is very much true for any merchant advertising their goods on the likes of the Second Life Marketplace. If you plan to include URLs in your Profile, remember that they’ll only be active for others viewing your Profile – links will not work in your own view of your Profile.

There are still issues with 1050; many people are reporting reduced frame rates, while the amount of memory the Viewer uses appears far larger than either the last “Full” release (908) or the last Beta (977). Some have reported issues with rezzing and sculpties taking longer than expected to load as well. These last two points may be attributable to the fact that HTTP Get texture loading is now OFF by default. To turn the faster HTTP texture loading back on:

  • Preferences -> Phoenix -> Page 2 -> Advanced Graphics and check  HTTP Get Textures and then APPLY.

You’ll be prompted that you’ll have to restart Phoenix for the change to take effect. This is because your existing texture cache must be cleared. On initial re-logging, allow time for your inventory to full reload.

Another potential performance gain would be to re-enable OpenGL Vertex Buffer Objects, which are turned off by default with this release:

  • Preferences -> Graphics -> click on the HARDWARE OPTIONS button
  • Check the option to Enable VBO and optionally enable Streamed VBOs.

In order to ensure these options are benefiting you, it is best to carry them out one at a time and monitor what happens – so enable HTTP Get and see if there is any significant improvements as you use SL before you try enabling VBOs.

The Phoenix release notes suggest that, as a last resort, you perform a completely “clean” install of the Viewer. However, before you do so, I would recommend you read Nalates Urriah’s excellent blog entry Second Life Clean install – it could save you a lot of time and frustration.

From a personal standpoint, I find 1050 a mixed bag; as stated, I like the click-enabled URLs when viewing other people’s Profiles, but at the same time, 1050 doesn’t get along well with my GeForce 9800-series graphic card as well as 977 or 908, and I’m still finding myself flipping between it and 977 at times.