Definitions of the Metaverse – Part 2 (Second Life, Open Simulator, etc.)

Definitions of the metaverse, part 2..

Somewhat continuing where we left off last time, we’re discussing the SL experience and the viewer that people use in-world..

This seems to be an active topic, as Second Life (aka SL) recently set forth a few guidelines regarding the use of third-party viewers (aka TPV) and with some alleged controversy, ended up banning a few popular viewers in the process.

One of the viewers recently banned was Emerald viewer, which apparently about half of the SL community was using to login to the Linden Labs grid, in fact, their development team was known to have (former?) Linden employees as members (paid or volunteer, I’d guess the later by the grass-roots approach of their website, but this is beyond my knowledge)

Half of the users? And SL bans the Emerald Viewer. Well, why?

Hmm, I am sure both Linden Labs, creator and maintainer of Second Life (aka SL) and Modular Systems, creator and maintainer of the Emerald Viewer, have reasons and backstories, and few of us may guess (or perhaps want to).

Valid reasons a viewer could be banned are:

1- it contains malicious code that attacks the grid (e.g., distributed DoS or other network attack, intentionally lag the server or other users, etc.)

2- it contains spyware which sniffs user packets to the design that a users’ security or private information such as their login password or other details are compromised)

3- it has mechanisms to circumvent intellectual property controls* whereby a user may make unauthorized copies of content created by other residents, or assume “super user” ownership of said objects as if they were the original creator/owner, when in fact they were not.

4- it has attacker-friendly anonymity controls which do things such as spoof or re-proxy IP and/or MAC addresses, masks itself by incorrectly reporting build and version information to the connected server (e.g., claims to be the Linden 1.22 build, when actually it is the Cryolife 6.0 build), or other means to make the connected viewer’s presence virtually invisible to others.

5- Other reasons, which you may inspect the TPV policy (a link appears further in the post) and come to your own conclusions.

A short synopsis follows, on concerns over content permissions and ownership within the SL grid..

*In it’s worse form, this can be thought of as outright piracy or copyright/dmca infringement.

However, there are also valid, legit reasons one may wish to export their own or another person’s creations.**

About permissions:
At the creator’s discretion, SL content may be given yes/no values of 3 unix-like permissions: Modify, Copy, and Transfer. An item with full permissions (aka “full perm”) allows anyone to freely modify, copy, or transfer it to another person.

Any item that you have created, or another has granted you with the appropriate permissions, may be exported and saved offline (e.g., backed up on the user’s hard drive, this is done through lower-level XML calls passed between the viewer and server, but I won’t get into that here) — this part of the client/server architecture is often overlooked or deemed unnecessary since the Linden-owned and managed database(s) keep your inventory backed-up (online, in-world) with some degree of reliability.

**A legit reason to “circumvent” (or otherways put on hold) said permissions system would be in the case of content that a resident has created while logged in using an alternate identity (or “Alt”), which they are also the legitimate account holder.

Q: Why would you login using an Alt, just for the purpose of building? If you are busy and don’t want to be disturbed, just go into Busy/AFK mode eh?

A: Often, business owners are instructed by Linden Labs to create things using an Alt account, because due to popularity people may not just leave you alone, so to be in-world and REALLY avoid all communication from people that otherwise know who you are, simply login using an Alt.

So.. someone may create builds with an Alt so that they may do so without interruption, and then, later, you want to transfer said builds to yourself (the OTHER avatar you normally use), and, well, you may not be able to, if you accidentally saved your object with “no-transfer” permissions. (Hey, it happens! To err is human!)

Another legit reason where the permission systems may not apply is, when a resident wishes to transfer their own creations to and from other grids, but may have difficulty doing so with objects they no longer have a full-perm version of, or simply, your user name is different in one grid from another, which brings problems that the export user name doesn’t match the import user name, hence, it can’t be properly exported because the permission system thinks you are attempting to copy someone else’s work — in this case, and in the case of using an Alt, you are the actual creator of the work, even though the login names or grids are different, it is still essentially you under the covers!

Q: How to get around this?

A: Enter a developer tool called a “copy bot” which was created for this type of use on the test servers; So that residents could export their things from the main grid, save them offline, then import them into test areas or to other grids!

The bad news is, however, copybots quickly came into misuse by virtual content thieves, so that pirates could make unsolicited copies of others commercially produced/sold content.

Huh? Explain?!

On an open (i.e., free) system, where everyone shares their creations with each other, this isn’t much of a concern, however, where a monetary system exists, and individuals or companies choose to copyright, license, and/or sell their virtual creations for a profit, then content theft suddenly becomes an issue.

Although people should be entrusted to not steal other peoples’ stuff, not everyone can be trusted to behave, and believe it or not, all content creators don’t care to share their creations freely with others, in fact, some of them like to make money from their creations, so they sell the stuff instead of giving all their hard work away in the spirit of sharing and cooperative development yadda yadda.. There are some programmers, musicians, and film-makers that distribute their stuff freely, and others do not. That fact of the real world also exists in Second Life, so get over it 😉

Q: What, you mean there are some grids that DON’T charge you $10 Linden to upload a file?

A: Some grids, for example OSgrid, don’t charge people to upload their content to the servers!

Q: Well, why not? Why would a grid not charge people for uploading stuff into their servers? Who is going to maintain that? Etc?

A: Some grids just don’t have any desire to focus on advocating a commerce system; Their main objective as an Open Source project is to also have the grid itself operate in a more GPL, BSD, and Creative Commons based way.

That is, there exists open systems to share (and share-alike, adapt and build upon one another’s content) freely, more so than to establish currency or barter to buy and sell things from one another. Money is not the driving force, in fact, some grids despise the idea of establishing a universal currency system, believing that doing so is anti-social, destructive and separatist behavior which has no place in the metaverse, indeed, they shun SL for being so apparently focused toward its commerce driven atmosphere (well, Linden Labs has some expensive rents to pay and servers to keep running in San Francisco, eh?)

On the other hand, since everyone on OpenSim donates their servers and creativity to the various grids, they stand a bit decentralized, and so if user A decides to shut down their sim with 20 people on it, down it goes. Bad news if you had objects on that sim that weren’t saved, well, they poof. Nobody is paying them to maintain it, so, it’s a bit of a non-liability in that sense. In the SL grid (and some other grids) you have the feeling of more overall accountability and can usually be assured that when you get a spot of land and build something on it, it will stay there unless the person decides they can’t afford the rent anymore, or flattens it and dumps everyone’s objects, so down it goes! Bad news again! LOL!

Ok, maybe Open Simulator grids aren’t so different from SL in that respect.. I had a argument in favor of SL brewing there, but it just fell out from under me xD

Q: What’s Open Simulator? You keep mentioning it as if it was the same as SecondLife, is it?

A: Yes and no. The OpenSim Main Page describes the project thus:

OpenSimulator is an open source multi-platform, multi-user 3D application server. It can be used to create a virtual environment (or world) which can be accessed through a variety of clients…The source code is released under a BSD License…Out of the box, OpenSimulator can be used to simulate virtual environments similar to Second Life(tm), given that it supports the core of SL’s messaging protocol. As such, these virtual worlds can be accessed with the regular SL viewers. However, OpenSimulator is neither a clone of Second Life’s server nor does it aim at becoming such a clone…

So, it looks and feels like SL, but it isn’t SL. If you looked through my flickr snapshots, you would see I visited several grids, and visually they are indistinguishable. I take objects from SL and build them in OpenSim. The textures, scripts, animations, sounds, and objects are for the most part the same.

However, I can only take most of the objects I’ve built in OpenSim and import them into SL. Due to SL’s build limits on prim size, coalesced and linked objects, most of my bigger builds (which use megaprims or very large linked groups) just can’t be imported into Second Life. Sad but true, SL’s custom engine wasn’t designed to deal with the same level of complexity that OpenSim allows you to work with. There are some valid concepts/scenerios for the limitation and workarounds to this, but that’s another topic 😉

Back on the subject of copybots and viewers, I mentioned this because certain viewers, either intentionally or accidentaly, have (or were known in the past to have) copybot (or copybot-like) features enabled, and/or try and make SL do things beyond what it was designed to safely do. Thus, Linden Labs recently chose create and enforce a Third Party Viewer (aka TPV) policy within SL.

[[ thus ends my commentary on content permissions ]]

Q: Ok, so Emerald and some viewers can’t be used within SL, (Second) Life goes on eh?

A: Yes, SL is the server, remember, not the client. SL doesn’t depend on any specific client for it to continue, even if half of the population was using Emerald, they can bet that it is fairly easy for people to switch back to the official viewer, or one of the other 13 approved TPVs (some are actually based on or developed by the now former Emerald team, for example Phoenix is an outright Emerald clone).

It all sounds a bit silly to me, and because I am curious, I wondered what led Linden Labs to ban this seemingly harmless 3rd party software, and why would anyone care?

Q: Do people think this whole TPV thing is some important event in history? What about all the other viewers? What’s Linden’s opinion of them?

A: Well, you can ask them yourself, they have websites for that, namely the Third Party Viewer Directory and the Policy on Third-Party Viewers. Seems fairly innocuous to me 😉

Neato, so skimming over that document, I see that we can use the old Linden 1.23 viewer, the new 2.0 viewer, the “beta” Project viewer, the OpenSource development Snowglobe viewer, any number of TPV approved clients, or even make our own.

So what’s the big deal then?

To further answer these questions, we have to look at what sort of 3rd party viewers are out there for SL, what sort of policies or issues surround their use, and also, historically, (other than the things I’ve mentioned) why would this matter to Linden Labs?

Yes, there are other viewers, there are other grids besides SL that use the same nuts and bolts per se, do they feel the same about Emerald? Does Emerald have a presence on other grids as well? How about other viewers, any problems there?

Well First, let’s retrace our steps a bit, and take another look at what the standard SL viewer is ..

To use analogy, we have a standard client/server architecture. When you visit a website, you have the web SERVER, for example, a place connected to the Internet where computer(s) are running the website content itself, say this is where lives– and also you have the CLIENT, let’s say your computer is connected to the Internet, running a web browser (like Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc., they are all browsers), thus you may view the website with your chosen CPU, OS and browser, and this interaction is called a client/server relationship.

Just like other grids using similar simulator SERVER software, SL runs its own custom version of a Open Simulator kind of server, with its own additions, limitations, or other custom tweaks (for example, SL uses a version of the Havok physics engine, while other grids may use a different physics engine).

The basic official Second Life viewer (again, a build produced by Linden Labs geared specific towards connecting to the SL grid) is their CLIENT software.

For the sake of interoperability, let’s arrive at a horrible generalization and say all grids (servers) and viewers (clients) have the same basic underlying code, and work about the same everywhere.

Now let’s peek under the hood a bit and see how it works.

The client/server apps talk to each other, and much of this back and forth appears to be HTML and XML based, though, you can’t merely login to SL using a simple web browser, at least, not at the time of this writing. Certain functions and scripts exist on both server and client side, and for reasons of speed, security, etc., we rely on stand-alone programs to accomplish these tasks.

Granted the bits of viewer AND server code are freely distributed, open source, open architecture, somewhat standards based programs. You can freely take either part of it and compile your own server and viewer builds, host your own sims/grid and viewer(s) with or without custom modifications, if you so desire.

Variety and innovation are the spice of virtual life! On the server side, we have around 20 or 30 different “grids” using variants of the Open Simulator server as a code base. Likewise, on the client side, we have around 20 or 30 viewers you can pick from!

Having tried a few of each of these myself, I can confirm some are visually/asthetically different, many have added or removed their own features, yeah the graphics look better in some than others, some seem to draw faster, some are slower, some are just available on a single platform (e.g., iPhone, Windows, UNIX/Linux) but, again, for the casual user, most look and operate essentially the same way, since they are based on the same version 1.23 code or Snowglobe or whatever Linden Labs used.

Well, gosh, after reading that, knowing so many grids and viewers are out there, one may also question:

Why would one metaverse/virtual world be more appealing than another? If they are essentially the same, why use brand X’s viewer over brand Y’s?

Well, just like brands of personal computers or smart phones and the operating systems that run them, certain builds of software will stand out from the rest. Or in the case of rabid fans of Microsoft or Apple, they have an established community or share similar interests or what not that bind them together.

As you may realize (and I am truly not biased when I say this) one of the most prolific grids is indeed Linden Labs’ Second Life!

A few possible reasons for SL’s success are:

1) SL has a monetary system that ties its virtual world goods and services to real-world currency.

This attracts consumers who like to spend their real money to buy intangible virtual things, and capitalist companies who wish to turn a profit by making things to buy.

Related perhaps, as well real-world artists and entertainers who may use the metaverse as an avenue to promote and sell their services, art, music (either live performances or pre-recorded), photos, etc.

At a rate of around 260 virtual world Linden dollars equal to 1 real world USA dollar, one may presume to generate some income by marketing themselves and selling stuff in the virtual marketplace. When I ran a blues club in SL, live performers routinely got $5000 linden or about $20 real-world US dollars per one hour of show time.

As well as buying things “in world”, users of the Second Life grid may purchase things for their in-world avatar’s usage via an extensive “shopping cart” website historically called the OnRez/XstreetSL marketplace (soon to be just the SL Marketplace, since both of the earlier sites are history now)

Logging into SL is free, but there are basically two types of account holders on the SL grid: your “basic” access users, who login to the SL grid for free, and don’t pay Linden Labs a thing (though they may buy and sell things in-world using Linden dollars) and there are “premium” access users, who pay a monthly or yearly subscription fee to Linden Research, which of course helps Linden Labs pay to maintain the service, as well gets the user perks such as an allowance of land (512 square meters for each account), a Linden-designed “home” in-world, and a weekly stipend of Linden dollars deposited into their account, which the user may spend on whatever they want, save it, or give it away.

2) SL has a large community of active players who advocate the use of SL over other grids, as well hosts several in-world MMORPG (well, sort of..) games and promotes SL business who cater to various genres or subcultures of players such as tiny, cyber, steampunk, goth, vampire, furries, Gor, bdsm, and the like.

Of course, a good percentage of these users have no idea other grids exist, and far be it from SL to promote competing grids that may steal from their user base and affect their cashflow or bottom line! Yes, other grids have themed areas too, some better than SL, some seriously lacking any cohesion at all.

3) SL has a decent group/forum community features built into their grid, search functions, classifieds, the shopping/marketplace (which free items may also be obtained from those who take the time to create and maintain a selection of them), and other customizations not found in other grids (I don’t know what these are exactly, however, SL touts such features exist so I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they do!)

Hmm, now where was I .. oh yes, about Emerald’s presence on other grids, well, their blog URL and most of their stuff all points to SL or talks about SL, so that must be their primary user base. I think other people may have used them on other grids, but, certainly other viewers like Imprudence, Hippo, etc., seem more universally accepted or trusted may be the word I am looking for 😉

After doing some research, as I understand, it seems SL claims “foul!” to the Emerald team for having one of its members attack the SL grid, and Emerald comes back and says “well, we fired that guy.. can we still play?”

Yet, it seems this was just another nail in the coffin for Emerald, whose unfortunate disposition was that many griefers favored the use of Emerald just as developers did, yikes, and several claims are all over the net about Emerald viewers or Emerald users doing naughty things to its users privacy or what not, so the mighty Lindens (even if one of them was working with modular systems developers) … just finally said “no more” in spite of some very nice features found in the Emerald viewer (like bouncing boobies, more realistic breast buoyancy, just what your SL always needed!) .. uh, I am sure there are other features, like skinable interface, a built-in AO system, built-in radar system, additional object attachment support, a better shading engine, and some built-in tools to help builders, and other stuff I can’t quite grasp..

And so, Emerald ranted and carried on about how unfair this was, and subsequently moved all their stuff to the Utherverse grid known as “VWW” — something which is like SL, but isn’t really SL at all, in fact I’m not sure what engine it uses or if they allow people to build in world, since it’s only for Windows users and I happen to be on a Mac.)

Well, this kind of tells you what Emerald thinks of the whole Mac and *nix crowd, maybe they will develop this VWW thing for the rest of us. But without saying it right out, they seem to have no interest in continuing the Emerald viewer for non-SL grids using Open Simulator. They, for all intents and purposes, canned the project.

Of course, it happened before and perhaps to the same vein, some members of the Emerald team simply formed a new project and call it Phoenix. Even SL seems to approve of the Phoenix viewer, though for me the new viewer was quite unstable and was doing things on odd ports I didn’t recognize or understand..

But that’s neither here nor there.. maybe my server just decided to act up at the same time I was running Phoenix? I don’t know, really, but am open to comments and suggestions where to go next. I did give Emerald a nice try, but it seemed to have some issues with OSgrid and my stand-alone grid, which reinforces the idea that it was exclusively designed for SecondLife. <shrug> It seems all the drama surrounding this event may just be hype for the Emerald team to promote the birth of their new Phoenix viewer, and maybe the Lindens had an unintended hand to in promoting it, though likely not, I really don’t know and won’t waste much more breath on the topic 😉

For me personally, all I simply need is a viewer that will work just as well in SL as it does in the other grids, and play well with my Mac. Additional features are nice, and welcomed!

Well I’ve gone over some of the basics of SecondLife, the clients and servers, and touched a bit on Open Simulator. In the next part of this discussion I will delve more into 3rd party viewers and other virtual worlds in the metaverse which may or may not at all be related to what I’ve discussed thus far.

My apologies in advance for doing some ranting along the way 🙂

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