New SL Client – Feel the Pain

There’s a cold wind blowing in the virtual world of Second Life, and it’s sending a chill down many a back of educators.

The new client is out and it has incorporated the Windlight engine. Now everyone is forced to have pretty atmospheric effects in their SL client. It cannot be disabled, only tuned down with a single performance slider (gone are all the settings of the old graphics tab). This is causing huge problems, especially for educators who don’t always have the latest and greatest computers in their labs. With the current budget crisis in California (home of Linden Lab), the situation is even bleaker, as the current downturn in housing is sending our budgets into a tailspin with no end in sight for several years.

With the announcement of the open source client last year I expected a flood of new clients to hit the net. There was the possibility of a phone client, a middle of the road client that is more compatible with school level computers, and other clients that could have streamlined user interfaces to ease the learning curve (and possibly increase resident retention). It did not take a futurist or rocket scientist to imagine a client tailored to the new user with only navigation and communication options, and more advanced clients with a focus on estate management, construction or others. The sad news is that outside of the OnRez commercial client, not much has happened with the open source client. Where’s the web client? Yeah I know, it’s on a thumb drive in the glove box of that flying car locked away in a vault somewhere.

Well, The Nicholaz Edition of the SL browser has been a favorite of many over the past year. This was the client that many a Mac user installed when they were having problems about six months back with the memory leak. This was a project that sought to iron out all the bugs and memory leaks and provide a solid experience with Second Life. Today when I posted a message to the Listserv, I was asking if anyone had any suggestions for the hardware challenged schools in response to this new hardware heavy client upgrade. The first response was to switch to the Nicholaz Edition.

I immediately jumped to his blog and was greeted with a depressing resignation of his effort in light of shifting attitudes at Linden Lab. Here’s the link to the full blog post:

The Moment of Truth

I read through it twice just to digest the news, and to get my mind around the loss of steam in this promising project. I guess it should come as no surprise that he gave up this project after a lack of response from both the open source community and Linden Lab. Here are a few telling quotes from his post (and please go read the full post):

“Today, after I heard through the blog comments here that 1.19.1 went gold, I wanted to give that a shot, but seeing that there isn’t any up to date source and hearing that a couple of people had trouble getting it to run out of the box, was the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. I just one time too often stumbled over LL™’s inability to support their open source in the most basic way.”

And even more disappointing are the comments on code improvements and Linden’s acceptance of these from the community:

“The realization took me some time, but eventually it did dawn even on the optimist which I am, that it was not going to happen. Not through the Linden™s themselves, and certainly not through contributions from the coding community, because the Linden™s were increasingly ignoring the contributions.

There was a time when code submissions were readily accepted, then they were more and more cherry picked and these days, as far as I can tell, they are ignored at large, even if they are addressing the most basic and obvious problems like crashes (and I am not at all speaking of GUI changes).”

And in commenting on the stability of Second Life:

“In technical terms, with the current state of the 2nd world, like daily outages on the server, new leaks in the viewer, other problems, it would be like starting all over and probably even worse because now the binary crash reporter is removed from the viewer (this was the tool which I used to locate 90% of the crashes I found).”

And the final blow to this project:

“At the moment I simply don’t have the time, but to be true to myself and you, probably even if I had, I’d be no longer willing to put up with Bull***™ anymore.”

And again, read the full blog post for the full story on the death of the Nicholaz Edition SL client.

This is such a sad development. The one person who had made a name for himself, and was out improving on the “official client” has thrown in the towel. The comments made about Linden Lab and open source are disappointing to say the least. At a time when Linden Lab should be trying to expand the user (resident) base, they keep increasing the price of admission. Check out the various forums and many people suddenly were greeted with incompatible video card messages with the new client (especially with laptops).

If placing the client in open source, and then letting it rot is any indication of the support from Linden Lab, is there any hope for an open source server? Things are starting to get a little sideways in San Francisco. Having the entire grid down the better part of the weekend caused a lot of stress, especially for those that had planned events running. We will be hearing about this new client for weeks to come, and how many people are having problems with it.

If you want to listen to the “official” podcast with the Windlight team, here’s a link from the Second Life site. The blog entry associated with this interview is here. It definitely gives you an inside look at what drove the development of this new client. Throughout this podcast they state that the older video cards are seeing the biggest improvement in frame rates (hmmm), something we are not seeing with our computers at our district. There’s a quote in there about older cards and how they had to draw the line with support for some of the older cards. And at the end of the podcast they comment on how the client crashes far too much, and that they must get that fixed (odd that stability was not addressed before pretty sunsets and shiny water).

And since I am writing about the Second Life client, when will there be a network friendly client?!?!? Anyone listening on this one? I made strong suggestions on getting this worked out at the Second Life Views 4 that I attended last March (yes, over one year ago). I would think that this would be high on the list of changes, especially now that they are pushing into the corporate space with IBM. Right now the only way to describe the Second Life client is to call it “network hostile”. Far too many schools have developed ‘kludgy’ methods for keeping their clients updated in a locked down network environment.

I am hopeful that I will get out to our labs tomorrow to fully assess the situation with this new browser update. I am not encouraged with the early emails I am getting from the labs about the frame rate being a “slide show” experience. It remains to be seen if this will be a new dawn for educators, or the beginning of the sunset for Second Life in their environments. It will be interesting to see if the priorities change once a new CEO is located, and they try to warm up to businesses and corporate networks.

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5 responses to “New SL Client – Feel the Pain

  1. Pingback: New SL Client – Feel the Pain

  2. Pingback: News » Blog Archive » New SL Client – Feel the Pain

  3. I won’t even comment on the “stability” of SL or LL’s odd communication style with the SL community – lately I’m running out of words to describe how I feel about that, and I think you did a great job in your post.

    Just one little tip: you wrote at the beginning that WindLight can only be “tuned down with a single performance slider (gone are all the settings of the old graphics tab).” – actually, if you tick the Custom box next to the performance slider, you will be able to tweak all of the old graphics settings like draw distance, particle count and detail settings. I think that’s about the only change I like lately – we now have all the graphics settings in one tab instead of 3. One little joy among so many other problems!

  4. I have always been critical of the massive flocking to SL in the education field. Sure, it is a totally awesome virtual environment that allows you to do so much. But it is heavy on resources, resources most schools hold in very short supply. It is also, as you mention, not network friendly. If this marks the beginning of a mass exodus away from SL as an education platform imagine all the investment that would be lost. In a way it would be better to do it now than later. There are plenty other options out there. The problem is compatibility. Edusim, Croquet, and AWEDU are all virtual environments that are designed with education in mind. They also can be run on smaller systems. However, I don’t think we have seen the virtual world client yet that will bring us into the next evolution of the internet. What would be preferable would be a format that is online and cross-platform. Perhaps something that could be accessed with a flash-based client, something low impact but customizable. We need to be able to browse the virtual world the way we browse the world wide web. The two need be seen as seemless and interconnected.

    Right now the closest thing to this is Active World’s Facebook client. However, this client is not designed for education.

    I truly enjoy SL but the constant upgrades and grid downtime is too much. We don’t need a virtual world client that will force us to upgrade hardware over time. We need a client that will upgrade while still supporting older versions.

  5. Pingback: Isolation and 10 year-olds? « PacificRim Exchange

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