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After a year of open source, Second Life looks ahead

By Nathan Willis on March 20, 2008 (8:00:00 PM)

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A year has passed since Linden Lab, maker of the popular 3-D virtual world Second Life, released the source code to its Second Life viewer under the GNU GPL. In that time, a viable community of developers has grown up around the SL code, and the company is pleased enough with the success that it has branched out further into open source and open standards.

The SL viewer code was released on January 8, 2007, and has spawned multiple unofficial offshoots. Most of the unofficial viewers listed at the SL wiki are individually maintained and focus on adding specific features. Some add or enhance existing features such as the particle system, some integrate bug fixes not yet rolled out to the official viewer, and some even roll back changes made in the official viewer.

But according to Linden's Liana Holmberg, building alternate clients is just one facet of SL's open source community. At SCALE last month, she listed three other growth areas from the past year. Open source developers have taken on the task of porting and packaging the official SL viewer for different Linux distributions. They have also contributed heavily to the development of the Windlight add-on, an in-world atmospheric renderer recently integrated into the official viewer. And finally, volunteers have contributed bug reports and patches to the official Linux SL viewer, accelerating its move from alpha to beta status. At the end of 2007, Holmberg says, there were 719 subscribers to the development mailing list, and 64 outsiders had contributed patches.

Holmberg also emphasized that Linden's belief in open source extends beyond the enhancement of its own viewer code. It has invested developer time and upstream contributions in third-party projects such as Mercurial, SDL, OpenAL, and OpenJPEG, and it has released source code to several utilities developed in-house, such as the networking library Eventlet and the Web service framework Mulib.

By the summer of 2007, Linden decided it would recognize outstanding contributions by the open source community with its Linden Lab Innovation Awards. Winners were announced in August, with the winner of top prize Contributor of the Year receiving a MacBook Pro.

In September, Linden's Architecture Working Group held a meeting to map out how to formalize, stabilize, and refine the protocols that run SL -- both on the server-side and between clients and servers.

Linden looks back

We asked Linden's Director of Open Source Development Rob Lanphier for his thoughts on the progress made in 2007. "As individuals, I think all of us here have learned a lot of different things," Lanphier said. "Many of us are new to open development, so a lot of the learning over the past year has been the basics of community engagement and building relationships with outside developers. One really cool thing we confirmed is that open sourcing from a market-leading position is especially effective. Since most corporate open source is instigated as some form of underdog or comeback strategy, most corporate contributors have to bend over backwards to attract a community. Coming from a market-leading position means the community is more inclined to meet you halfway.

"But that leads to another big lesson: there seems to be a big gulf in expectations between corporate open source project leaders and the community attracted to those projects. It takes a lot of give and take on both sides of the equation to build a really robust and functional community. We know we have a lot of work to do to facilitate better collaboration (e.g. live version control, better build tools, better bug processes). As I alluded to, many of our staff are still learning the basics about working in the fishbowl. We've learned that, if nothing else, we can and should get design feedback when possible."

Linden's open source viewer work has helped the company in other areas, Lanphier says. "A great technology choice that our community helped us make was moving to CMake, a cross-platform build tool, which makes it much simpler to maintain makefiles for many different platforms." The developer community found Linden's old configuration system limited and frustrating, and Lanphier credits the persistence of community member Callum Lerwick with leading to the CMake solution.

In addition, Lanphier says that the availability of the SL viewer source code "reduced a lot of friction" in Linden's business dealings. It accelerated the testing and integration of Windlight, which began as a proprietary product. And the accessibility of the code makes it more approachable even to third-party companies who are interested in commercial licensing.

Asked about the development of the SL viewer itself, Lanphier expressed satisfaction. "The personal-bugfix viewers are currently the most popular of the alternative viewers because they're of the most immediate utility. There are more radical experimental viewers like the stereoscopic viewer from University of Michigan or the brain tracking viewer from Tokyo University that are too experimental at this stage for widespread use.

"We think we're in a good place. We know there's a lot more we can do to help make the community and ourselves more productive, and we could have waited until we had a big staff or even all the tools developed and in place before releasing our code. However, because perfection is the enemy of the good, we didn't wait.... In the long term, we're not hoping for a lot of alternate viewers so much as a flexible general-purpose viewer with better capabilities for extensions."

Looking toward year two

Linden plans to repeat its Linden Lab Innovation Awards in 2008, making the recognition an annual affair, and the Linux SL viewer is expected to graduate from alpha to beta status "very, very soon," according to Lanphier.

But client-side development will not be the big story in 2008. Holmberg and Lanphier both say that developing open protocols is the most important facet of growing 3-D virtual worlds.

The 3-D Web, as Holmberg puts it, has to be as open as the existing Web in order to be useful. SL is one virtual world, she says, but as others appear -- such as internal corporate spaces used for product development -- moving from one world to another raises the same sorts of identity, security, and synchronization problems faced on today's Web. Developing SL's protocols in the open will help ensure interoperability and sustained growth.

It is to that end, Lanphier says, that Linden formed the Architecture Working Group. "We have a strong interest in opening large portions of our server infrastructure, because providing our insight into our existing implementation will help guide the creation of the most accurate and complete documentation."

But don't expect to see the SL Grid server source code released any time soon. "There are a number of things about the architecture of our current server infrastructure that inhibit a source code release. There are a lot of cases of monolithic design and improper trust relationships between components that would need to be addressed."

"We've been putting a lot of effort into re-engineering the back end systems and the way in which they expose formal APIs," Lanphier says. "This is largely based upon using Mulib and Eventlet to turn our internal and external APIs into highly modular and secure Web services. We've designed a security model based on granting capabilities to use particular APIs, and we're separating out the management of 'agents' (resident information such as appearance and inventory) from the management of 'regions.' This breakup will allow residents to log in once and move between regions operated by different hosting providers, and the use of fine-grained capabilities will allow for servers in our agent domain to grant different levels of information access/manipulation to region simulators depending on which region provider the agent is visiting."

The Architecture Working Group plans to eventually hold quarterly meetings, but at this time has not scheduled its next event.

Second Life wants you

Holmberg and Lanphier both recommend visiting Second Life before getting involved in the open source community that surrounds it. Gaining familiarity with the project is important, Lanphier says, but the in-world environment offers a community of its own. "Second Life is a platform for expression, and a big part of that is scripting in-world objects. We have a fantastic in-world open source community using just that. Our scripting community is far larger than the open source community around our infrastructure."

Holmberg encourages open source developers interested in getting their feet wet with SL development to visit The usual entry points of bug reporting and triage are valid for Second Life, she says, but suggested particular projects as well, such joining the porting effort to bring the SL viewer to your favorite distro, or finding a proprietary component in the viewer code and replacing it with an open source equivalent.

Lanphier emphasizes that SL is still very new, and as such stands to benefit from the active involvement of open source developers.

"Right now, virtual worlds look a lot like the Web in 1994. People often have a difficult time imagining what this will be like in five to 10 years when a lot of our current problems are distant memories. The technology will improve and new business models and enterprises will drive investment in this area. As that happens, virtual worlds will encroach on more and more of a person's online experience and will affect and interact with all kinds of industries, activities, and occupations.

"If you are a software developer, you have a vested interest in making sure that we get this right. If you're really passionate about ensuring software freedom, you'll want to make sure that virtual world technology remains rooted in a foundation of open standards and open source. It's an incredibly exciting time, where each one of us has the opportunity to shape what the future of being online will look like."

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on After a year of open source, Second Life looks ahead

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The Crushing Truth: Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on March 20, 2008 09:31 PM

Althouth I really like Linux and the free software, I think that we all have to accept the crushing truth.

In these times it really doesn't matter if is launched KDE 35.0 or Gnome Vista, because while both environments (and others with less weight as IceWM) were worrying in confusing the user with a completely different aspect, Microsoft was consolidating his position as leader in the field of the operating systems of office, first with the operating system Windows XP (that have approximately 90% of the client operating system market) and with its advanced successor, the recently Windows Vista, that offers a new form to interact with its PC. Is faster, friendlier, and more secure.

The reality is that Linux has little to offer the inexperienced user. The same novice that is seen disconcerted by the impossibility to do a simple one copy-paste between QT and GTK applications. Go out and ask to the people how they install a program that does NOT have packages for its distribucción (because each one has its own packege system, completely incompatible with the others and that requires the use of complicated commands). Still the packages of the same format as RPM, they cannot be installed equally in Mandriva or Suse.

Then what we suggest to this user (that is just beginning in the Unix Word) is that he need to download the source code, go to the console, decompress it and compile it. How many they managed to do this? One of each a million, I have to say. We persist in THAT is the normal thing. ..nothing more further from the reality.

Explain him why in his Ubuntu, Kubuntu or Fedora cannot see many web pages: he must download the Flash and the Java plugin, in order then to install them with complicated commands. Also make him know that he won't be able to listen its MP3, WMA and WMV files. Tell to the flaming buyer of a new AMD64 how he can play flash games.A shit.

And the gamers? Obviously they'll return to windows, because even God can't use the hardware acceleration of the most modern graphics cards (besides, the drivers don't come in the distributions. ..becuase of the fucking freedom) and that games...just a few ones. By each Linux videogame we have 500 that run on Windows. And the few ones that run on Linux...Oh! Surprise!...Just Windows binaries on the CD, and you have to download the Linux version from a website. Finally the user return to the best option, the OS most used on home (all we know what OS is).

The proof of the free software failure is seen also in the professional world, either in areas like electronic design (doesn't exist anything similar to Protel), architecture (the standard CAD -all we know wich one-only works on Windows), web design (something similar to Dreamweaver? Don't mention something like NVU, that not only is full of bugs, but also just have the 5% of the Dreamweaver features. Neither Bluefish, Quanta or one would face a complex project with such a primitive tools). DTP? Scribus is a good try (very immature) but Quark or InDesign are far batter. Flash content creation (A standard, and a flash player installed in the 99% of PCs)? It cannot be done on Linux.

In the software development industry there's not a single decent RAD tool. Gambas seems to promise but for now is shit, Eclipse is a RAM eater (thanks Java) that only can be used with 2GB RAM, Kylix promised give the potential of Delphi to Linux, but it was discontinued because the developers hate to pay for licenses and they prefer to use a primitive tool, like KDevelop. And now that we talk about Borland tools, is not rare that programming gurus like Ian Marteens abandoned Delphi and C++ Builder and now prefer the most powerful system for software development: Microsoft Visual Studio.NET.

A computer game developer would never develop free (as in free spech) games, because they have to eat and there's not a business model compatible with free software. The Linux users don't want free (as in free spech) games, they just want commercial quality without pay a single buck.

Administritive management? In Linux? There's not software in this area. The businessman wants to have something standard, something friendly, something mature. He doesn't want to be fighting with a console, compiling sources for in the end (if he finally get it compile) obtain a half-finished application.

If Linux is free (in both senses)...Why the high computers-makers don't preinstall it (just a 1% make that)? Or at least dual-boot? Others, in other hand, opt for FreeDOS.

The PC Battle is loss...because it never exist. Linux with it's chaotic development (instead of boost existing applications or create new ones to supply the lacks, we have thousand clones of each one but without finish or that directly just make us laugh) just has dug it's own tomb. The user don't want a degree in Computer Science: He wants to insert the Game CD, make a few clicks and have all installed and running. He doesn't want headaches. He wants visit XXX sites and watch the video correctly. He wants to install his webcam without recompiling the kernel.

Keep defending the console. Keep defending LaTeX as if it was something that a secretary or a lawyer have to use with the same simplicity of Microsoft Office. Keep defending Vi as the best tool for software developmnet a web site design.Keep believing that new users need to get close to Debian or Gentoo, taking days to configure a USB modem. Keep insulting distributions like Ubuntu or SuSE because are trying to be friendly. Keep just like this and in the end there will be just three frikis using Linux, while the rest of the world will be using what is already mature and functional: Windows.

And You? Where do you want to go today?

Thanks for you attention.


Re: The Crushing Truth: Linux - I know, I know, don't feed the troll...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on March 20, 2008 10:55 PM
Thanks for your opinions, never mind how completely irrelevant they are to this article. Despite the overpowering logic of your arguments (!), they will not convince me to go back to Microsoft. Feel free to remain on Windows - I (and many others, I suspect) could care less *what* OS you choose to use, and am, strangely enough, quite satisfied if another Windows troll stays out of the Linux pool and throw rocks from the glass house of Microsoft.

To the readers - Apologies for feeding the troll - today I am weak, and could not resist. Maybe I just wanted to be first...


Re: The Crushing Truth: Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on March 20, 2008 11:03 PM
To the commenter above,

You are wrong. You are completely wrong. Are you a Microsoft employee or someone similar? Trying to defend an operating system with lackluster features and clinging to a bloated, proprietary, badly-designed system.

Linux is not completely terminal based. Open-source fuels many countries such as Germany, the Philipines, Brazil, Cuba, and many others. Linux is used in the movie design industry (CinePaint in Harry Potter and etc.) and very important to embedded systems, 3d software (a la blender and k3d), management, servers, and many other places.

LInux has advanced features such as 3d desktops that make even Leapord and Vista pale in comparison. The unrivaled stability, speed, and customizability makes it ideal for industry and home users alike. There are many ongoing projects to make the desktop even more usable.

Where on Windows I had to spend hours and days looking for drivers, on Linux I plug in a joystick, keyboard, optical mouse, camera, or similar device and am immediately using it.

Windows is neither mature nor functional. The constant crashing, lack of any sense of customizability (msstyles? please!) and non-sensical interface is rather uninviting. I have been using Linux for years. I have had problems but none as severe as Windows.

Windows is a bug. Windows is a virus. Windows sucks. Linux is usable. I use the terminal when I want something done because it is faster and easier. Most f the time there is a graphical tool anyway.

I use package repositories. I don't need to spend hours googling for a product and illegaly downloading things through torrents. I don't even want to click buttons to have something installed. I just want it installed.

LaTex is not an Office Suite. Neo Office, Open Office, KOffice, and GNOME Office are all office suites.

Microsoft Cisual Studio .NET is a ripoff. It is vendor-locked, without useful features, and bug-ridden. Eclipse does not take 2 GB. I run it on a 6 yr old computer with 256 MB of RAM and a 777 Mhz pocessor. KDevelop is one of the most advanced and most mature IDE that ever existed. It seems you have never used Linux in your life.

I almost never need to compile things. Someone has compiled it already. If you can''t figure out how to compile, there are things called READMEs that tell you exactly what to do.

I have never problems copying and pasting between GTK and QT and never have.

Flash is easy to install. A little bar appears at the top. You click it and click accept. It installs. No hassle. Then reload page and you have flash. Java is just a simple package install away.

Linux has much to give to the inexperienced user. My friend helped get Linux installed in a nursing home. We came back weeks later, they had installed it on tons of computers and the users were very pleased and had no trouble what so ever. They were browsing the web, playing games, watching movies, checking emails, blogging, editing pictures, writing documents (memoirs, wills, books, wills, etc.), creating slideshows, and just generally having fun. Now if a 75 yr old guy in a nursing home can learn linux, why can't you? Some of them were even messing around in the terminal and trying to learn to program!

It took me 10 minutes to install Linux Mint. I just point-and-clicked and did what the installer told me. I am immediately at a full-featured 3d Desktop with tons of software at my fingertips. I have all my media codecs and i have had no problems what so ever. I can run every single game I own (even the many obscure ones) through Wine or Cedega with little or no configuration. I can play my PS2, PS1, Nintendo DS, SNES, NES, and Gameboy (Color and Advanced) games all through easy to install emulators.

I suggest you learn to use Linux before you act like an asshole and flame-bash Linux. Get your n00bish self off you seat, stop jacking off to gay porn, stop trying madly to delete viruses and praying your firewall works, and learn to use it. Learn.

BTW, Gentoo was a cinch to install. They have an online manual. I just do EXACTLY what they say and it's there. Debian is even easier. I just say yes a a few times and it is installed. Ubuntu and it's spinoffs are even easier with point and click dialogs.

Sorry for the ad hominem attacks. They were neccesary.


Re: The Crushing Truth: Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on March 22, 2008 05:10 PM
Wow..... How in secure is MS, If they have to hire some one to spam Linux forums?!
I am MCP, MCSE and switching to Linux right now.

P.S. MCP stands for Microsoft Certified Professional and MCSE - Microsoft Certified System Engineer!


The Crushing Truth: Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on March 20, 2008 11:02 PM
Wow.. That has got to be the longest troll I have ever seen.


Re: The Crushing Truth: Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on March 21, 2008 12:25 PM
I was thinking exactly the same thing.


Re: The Crushing Truth: Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on March 22, 2008 08:33 AM
I've seen this exact same post about 5 times today. It seems they are just pasting this response to various linux sites - even!


After a year of open source, Second Life looks ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on March 21, 2008 01:15 AM
Um, that's a monster of a statement in that article that was virtually passed over. The guy is basically saying they aren't going to ever open source the server code now, apparently, or at least not anytime soon. That's very different from the hints they were giving last year that they would open source the server.

This basically means Second Life has no long term future, just like ActiveWorlds. I have now completely dropped it from any of my projects. There are completely open source alternatives like Croquet and Project Darkstar.


Re: After a year of open source, Second Life looks ahead

Posted by: Nathan Willis on March 21, 2008 02:49 PM
You should quote the statement that you're alluding to if you want to dissect it and discuss what it means. And is it that Linden isn't going to (a) 'ever,' (b) 'now,' or (c) 'anytime soon' open source to the servers? Those are three very different accusations.

[Modified by: Nathan Willis on March 24, 2008 11:40 AM]


Re(1): After a year of open source, Second Life looks ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on March 28, 2008 08:34 PM
But don't expect to see the SL Grid server source code released any time soon. "There are a number of things about the architecture of our current server infrastructure that inhibit a source code release. There are a lot of cases of monolithic design and improper trust relationships between components that would need to be addressed."

It looks like they either (a) have legal reasons not to open that code, (b) are insecure about how poorly coded the servers are, or (c) all of the above. Probably c.


Re(2): After a year of open source, Second Life looks ahead

Posted by: Nathan Willis on March 28, 2008 10:17 PM
So what's the problem? They'll open whatever portion of it they can as they can prepare it.



After a year of open source, Second Life looks ahead

Posted by: Dax Solomon Umaming on March 22, 2008 04:36 PM
"And You? Where do you want to go today?"

Me? I'm already there... and having the time of my life! How about you? Where have you been lately?

"...Neither Bluefish, Quanta or one would face a complex project with such a primitive tools)."
Dreamweaver? I have to agree that it makes easy projects easier.. but moderate to hard projects impossible. I'm sticking with Quanta.. KDevelop == primitive? Come on!

It's pretty obvious that you haven't tried Linux. And just because you've read a few articles and complaints off a forum doesn't make you an expert. You don't know s**t!

Back to the topic:
SL isn't really the best out there, but it's enough to get me hooked on it (having spent more than 80 hours). And going Open Source is really the best move they've made. I've seen a couple of improvements, and I'm sure more will come. Getting the community involved empowers them/us to do more. It gives the community a sense of responsibility which in turn makes them proud to be part of it.

More power to Linden Lab and Second Life!


After a year of open source, Second Life looks ahead

Posted by: kmajian on March 27, 2008 06:14 AM
Good, very good, i like that.


After a year of open source, Second Life looks ahead

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on April 01, 2008 11:48 AM
It's funny to see how these Linux advocates are obsessed by Microsoft. I did an analysis of Slashdot the other day and found out that the single most recurring subject is... Microsoft!

Is closed software setting the standard that open software tries the achieve but never really attains? That might explain why the hobbyists are so obsessed by the professionals!


Re: After a year of open source, Second Life looks ahead

Posted by: Joe Barr on April 01, 2008 01:29 PM
Wow, not only is MS getting lamer and lamer over the years as it spirals downward in a heap of embarrassment over Vista and its inability to produce a working operating system, but its trolls have lost whatever edge they might have once held as well. I give it a 2.1 out of 10.
[Modified by: Joe Barr on April 01, 2008 06:29 AM]


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