Aug 16, 2010

Better Living Through Viewer 2


We're going to start this post out by saying that most people who read the title immediately called their friends and told them to gather the torches and pitchforks. However, I'd like for you to suspend your disbelief (and possibly get off my lawn) long enough for me to tell you that this isn't an article that will entirely be praising the merits of Viewer 2.

If you aren't already aware, I'm a Viewer 2 user and probably one of ten people in SecondLife who actually like it. You're probably asking, "Aeonix... have you gone insane?" , and I completely understand where you are coming from. Rest assured I am not wearing Rosedale colored glasses, or drinking the Linden Lab Kool-Aide. I am, however, looking at Viewer 2 completely from an objective viewpoint which I find it hard to believe that most users of Emerald or other TPVs are able to do.

This doesn't mean that I am gung-ho about Viewer 2, because let's face it; there is quite a lot that needs to be fixed before it is the choice of a new generation (did I just use an old Pepsi slogan? uggh). Anyway, for what it is, Viewer 2.0 is not as horribly bad as people make it out to be. What we really have here is a situation where people are comparing Apples and Decepticons, in that many people who criticize Viewer 2 are people who are already biased from being die hard users of Emerald. As such, it's incredibly hard to remain non-biased when checking out the latest Viewer 2 from Linden Lab.

So let's take an objective look at Viewer 2, and along the way I'm going to make some suggestions on how to improve the Viewer 2 experience in order that we can find a middle ground for more experienced users.

To begin, I'm going to say right now that Viewer 2 isn't entirely up to par but by no means should we be advocating throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Let's focus a bit on what needs to be corrected:

That @#$%! Sidebar

Some like it, some absolutely loathe it with a passion usually reserved for lesser demons of hell. It's a simple solution: Allow the sidebar to detach as a separate window, and switch from docked to button on the bottom. I'm not saying to get rid of the sidebar, but an option to have it only as a button on the bottom would be nice.

I'm also not saying the sort of button where you click it and a little tooltip with more buttons pops up either, because that's just stupid (TPVs you know who you are). What I'm saying is as a button on the bottom, the sidebar is no longer docked to the side of the screen and upon clicking the button it simply opens a window with the tabs on it.

In Preferences, the user should have the choice as to which they prefer - button or docked.

Advanced Layout

In the great battle between which is better - Emerald or Viewer 2, (before you say anything just hear me out), many people have neglected the obvious. Viewer 2 is not the NASA console you've become used to with 1.23 and Emerald style viewers (especially Emerald). For the advanced user, Emerald is absolutely wonderful since it allows you to tweak to your hearts content. You open the Preferences and there are so many tabs it makes the mind boggle. However, if you hand Emerald to a first time user who has never used SecondLife, that amount of complexity will likely overwhelm them.

This is where Viewer 2 comes in. The point of Viewer 2 was to address aesthetics as well as first time user experience by making the interface more comfortable for people who are accustomed to a web browser. This layout is surely going to rub advanced users the wrong way (as I have seen from the mountains of feedback people leave concerning Viewer 2), but it's all misguided anger.

So let's look at a middle ground that makes sense.

When you activate the Advanced Menu (CTRL ALT D) you should be presented with a dialog asking if you would like to use the Advanced Layout for the viewer. Obviously if you are activating the Advanced menu, and even the Developer menu, you are knowledgeable enough to be using something like 1.23 or Emerald layout and functionality. Therefore it would make sense that activating the Advanced menu would give you the option to switch the UI to 1.23 or Emerald style (with an easy way to switch it back to standard Viewer 2 layout).

In terms of Viewer 2, the Advanced Layout would automatically take the sidebar off the side and make it a button on the bottom, the address bar at the top would be hidden, and most viewer UI items and layout would revert to 1.23 style which is very minimalistic.

Orientation Island Sucks

The Welcome Islands which were essentially tossed and the Orientation Island are both failures. I know this, you know this, and it's fairly common knowledge in SecondLife. What needs to happen is to build into the viewer an actual interactive tutorial. This tutorial doesn't require an entire island to be devoted to it, because moving, jumping, flying, wearing items, customizing your avatar, none of those things requires an island to teach somebody to do. If Video Professor can send me a DVD teaching me how to use a plethora of software and they don't need a fancy virtual environment to get the point across effectively, then SecondLife shouldn't have a problem.

New users should be greeted with this built-in tutorial mode, using the entire viewer as the teaching canvas. A little checkbox on the first tutorial splash should indicate "Show Tutorial On Login" to give users a chance to disable the tutorial mode on future login. In order to activate the tutorial again (should you wish) it should be a checkbox in Me -> Preferences -> General.

Teens on Main Grid

This has been a topic of recent debate since the announcement recently from Linden Lab. Yes, the Teen Grid will be shutting down, and/or merged with the main grid (depending on how you look at it). What this means is a flood of teenagers will be coming into the main grid, and the first reaction I've heard concerning this has been:

"The main Grid is no place for children or teenagers! What about all of the pedophiles and sex junkies in SecondLife?!"

If you let your children and teenagers on the Internet in the first place, chances are you aren't nearly as up in arms with that as you are with Teenagers coming to SecondLife. I find this amusing at best, considering the issue with Teenagers coming to the main grid isn't that there is quite a lot of seedy content and activities in the main grid, but that there is a lack of adequate age verification and enforcement of ratings. The issue isn't that teenagers shouldn't be on the main grid, it's simply that the main grid needs to make the age verification and ratings more robust in order to adequately handle them.

Of course, if you're thinking that teenagers aren't already on the main grid, think again. There is a high likelihood that it was teenagers who figured out how to spoof the age verification to begin with, and you've been dealing with teenagers a lot longer than you may realize. The only thing that closing the Teen Grid and moving them over to the main grid is doing, is to openly say there are teenagers on the main grid, but that doesn't change the fact that they were probably already here to begin with.

Let's worry less about the teen grid, and more about getting the ratings and age verification in order.

Updating In The Background

I already covered this in the last post (Asynchronous Updating) and even used a quote from my book chapter on the subject. The funny thing is, I wrote that chapter in 2009 (and it's heading to the publisher as of yesterday). The point of the chapter was to predict the future of virtual environments and e-commerce, outlining the things people need to be aware of going forward in order to succeed. One of those observations was implementation of asynchronous updating in the background, passively, in order to outline the effects of accelerating returns in information technology.

Why is this important? Well, I wrote that solution before it was announced at SLCC by Phil Rosedale, and while the blog entry was written the day before the SLCC announcement, one could argue that Linden Lab had been planning Background Updating before that, to which I nonchalantly point to the quote from my chapter written in 2009. I actually had written it in early 2009 while outlining what sorts of things businesses and users should expect to see from virtual environments in the future, and I had based those trending forecasts on current paradigms in progress.

I'm elated to see that Linden Lab is actually following that trend, however it worries me that the people at the helm of the ship figured it out over a year after I figured it out.

Oh, Magic JIRA of the Lamp!

The official JIRA ( is your forum to post bugs, issues, and glitches. It's also the place to post suggestions for improving or adding new features. The main problem I see with the JIRA is that it runs entirely on popularity (and the whims of Linden Lab). Where else can you report that you are missing your offline contacts list in Viewer 2 and have the bug untouched since April 2010? (

I'm all for Agile Development tactics, but it actually helps to prioritize and quickly solve those issues if you are working on one and two week release cycles. Having bugs sitting in the JIRA for months on end really shows how little things are prioritized at Linden Lab. Of course it doesn't help that Linden Lab also laid off a large part of their team, either (including the talented Qarl Linden).

I'm a bit baffled about Qarl Linden being laid off, to be honest. Just out of curiosity, what qualifies the corporate cheerleader (Torley) to be more valuable to Linden Lab than Qarl Linden? Don't get me wrong, I think Torley is absolutely awesome and I'm in no way bashing him. But when it comes down to Torely or Qarl, how exactly was that decision made to lay off Qarl?

Who knows... maybe Torley works for watermelons and Qarl actually wanted a paycheck.

This brings me to the final point:

Linden Lab Needs to Stop Being Irrational

It's no secret that Phil Rosedale (Phil Linden) isn't actually making any changes to the roadmap that was enacted by M Linden. At this point in time, it's safe to say that the only reason Phil Linden is back as Interim CEO (notice how I put the Interim on that?) is because the company needed to settle the community by putting in their visionary at the helm again.

It's sort of like a room full of children raising hell and tearing the place up when the babysitter is there, but immediately falling into line the moment the parents show up. In this case, M was the babysitter, you are the children raising hell, and Phil is the parent coming home to make sure the kids stay in line.

Just because the parents are home, doesn't mean they are going to change what they are doing at the office. Which is to say, exactly what we were seeing with M Linden (Mark Kingdon). Mark is a business guy, so he knows what needs to be done to make things better at Linden Lab, however he doesn't know too much about the social structures and nuances of the virtual world, nor does he know that often times real world logic clashes with virtual world logic and outcomes.

In this aspect, we can say that Phil is telling us all the same thing that M was telling us, except that since it's coming from Phil, we all have our Rosedale Colored Glasses on and are willing to listen (mostly).

There is plenty more things that can be improved upon for Viewer 2, however there are a few things that Emerald and TPVs need to improve on as well. We cannot just heap all the blame on Viewer 2 without a critical eye on TPVs like Emerald.

What can be improved with Emerald

Of all the things chosen for Emerald to be worked on, it seems Dynamic Lighting and Shadows was the big thing. However nice it is to have a half working beta feature that only works correctly on very high end hardware and a specific subset of nVidia graphics cards, I think the Emerald team has their priorities a bit mismatched.

There are a handful of game changer additions to SecondLife in the Viewer 2 series that Emerald should be concentrating on implementing.

Shared Media

Alpha Layer/Transparent Layers (Skins, Tattoos, etc)

I believe the latter is being worked on in the beta, though I think Shared Media should be the first thing they should be concentrating on going forward since it is the biggest game changer in the virtual environment. The faster Emerald implements Shared Media, the faster the virtual world gets on the same page and moves forward.

Shared Media is going to play an integral part of the evolution of the grid and how designers and developers in SecondLife evolve their creations. Of course there is also Mesh Importing as well, but let's focus on what is important right now -

As far as I'm concerned, as long as Emerald does not have Shared Media, it is just as useless to me as Viewer 2 is to existing Emerald users. Plain and simple.

Without shared media, I see Emerald as a viewer that is just as crippled as Emerald users think Viewer 2 is. And quite honestly, I refuse to lose that large amount of potential and functionality just to join the masses over in the Emerald City.


There is plenty of issues with Viewer 2 that can be corrected, and I see there could be plenty of things to fix or make better with Emerald. So let's make this an interactive blog entry:

What sorts of things would you like most to be fixed about Viewer 2? Leave your answers in comments here, and link to the corresponding JIRA entry if you have one. I'm interested in seeing what the reader priorities are versus the JIRA priorities. If you are simply reading this, then by all means go ahead and vote on the issues posted here by our readers. Let's get the ball rolling to a better SecondLife!


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