Disclaimer: I am a senior engineer working on multiple products - including various OpenSim technologies and most recently 3Di OpenViewer - at Japan-based 3Di Inc. This is a personal blog, and my opinion does not necessarily always represent that of my employer.
3Di has released (Japanese) its virtual world viewer last week. It is an embedded viewer, that works directly in a web browser; it connects to the virtual world server solution also provided by 3Di, called 3Di OpenSim Enterprise 1.0 (Japanese) that has quite a few addition on top of the community version, utilizes much more than just SL prims to create a nice looking environment even within the limitations of the web-browser.
Let’s get the biggest question out of the way first: the virtual ink on the press release hasn’t even dried, but I was already asked where one could download the source code. After all, it is called _Open_Viewer isn’t it.
The short answer is: it will be released as open source at a later - not too distant - stage. Personally I think that opening up the viewer will be crucial for two simple reasons: first, the future of OpenSim depends on a viewer that opensim developers can look at without running the risk of getting burned by the license - and serious innovation requires some degree of control (I met with “we can’t do that without changing the viewer” so many times). Second, tying back to the first reason, personally I think we are in a kind of a deadlock with the SL protocol. It was never designed for the sort of things the opensim community dreams about: rather, it is a very centralized, “the region server does everything” sort of protocol, that needs a fertile testing ground in the shape of a viewer that you can bend to your own will.
When exactly can you get the source code? I don’t really have the answer to this question, as it is not nearly my decision. For now, just keep an eye on this viewer because we are going to deliver some features that I hope will show everyone that by changing the viewer, you can accomplish extraordinary things.
The main distinction is of course that this viewer runs directly inside the browser. Now, does that mean, that it is forever constrained within the limits of a solitary HTML page? Not really.Internally we sometimes use a standalone version for testing, so technically there is nothing stopping someone to “liberate” (as I’m sure many would call it so:) ) the viewer from the evil browser. Our first target was IE only (boohoo, yes) and at the very least people can start using it they way they are already used to after years of experience with ye’ olde series of tubes and, equally importantly, provide us with feedback on the important questions (no, not about our plugin system or our 3D engine). And the next stop is Firefox and Safari support.
The viewer itself is operated with the mouse only. This makes it simple and straightforward; on the other hand, there are not so many actions to do: you can walk around, run about, sit down to objects or touch objects. More complicated actions like chat or teleporting are of course in a simplified menu system. Our first priority is to make OpenSim - and virtual worlds in general - accessible to a wide audience. This will hopefully help the community indirectly as well as more and more people get used to using virtual worlds, more businesses will join the ride. Of course we could have gone to the other extreme and create a highly customizable meta-GUI system, but for the uninitiated first-time virtual world user, that wouldn’t really help.
The SL Viewer supports prims, which is a great thing if you have a limited bandwidth. Or if you push every single bit through your region server. But realistically, getting professional content into SecondLife can pose a challenge because of this. As realXtend has also realized this before, 3Di OpenViewer also enables content providers to use their usual 3D content created with most major 3D modelling software like 3DS Max or Maya with little or no change. This should further lower the entry barrier to many CPs that don’t really have the time and resources to invest in creating prims for all of their popular contents. If they can import their content as-is, the cost goes down and at the same time customer satisfaction goes up. In turn, there is an increase in virtual world penetration, that is good for 3Di as well as the community. (Hopefully the trend to make virtual worlds popular and more accessible can be seen here)
There might be two things apparent from this post: first, I tried to convey why I think a new viewer, and specifically an in-browser viewer is good for the community. Second, I never talked about technical details. This latter, I am planning to ammend in a later post, but first I just wanted to make it clear that 3Di OpenViewer is not a product in isolation, and although it is only a first step towards a bright future for OpenSim and virtual worlds in general, I believe that it will be a significant one. So please keep an eye on the product, and do post any feedback you might have in the comments.