This will deserve a much larger article than I have time to write now, but — it’s true. The long-awaited, long-expected, long-postponed Open Source version of Second Life is now out — and probably with way more than we thought.
It is not only the protocol. It’s not only “a” version of the client for us to use. No, it’s the full source code. Just take a look here:
Why release it now? Well, we know they have been developing the code in order to safely distribute it for over a year and a half. But I believe there is another “grand marketing” reason behind it as well, beyond what is said at the Beyond the Inevitable by Phoenix Linden at the Official Linden Lab blog. Many think that this year of 2007 might be the “bust or bloom” year for Second Life and the concept of a Metaverse that might slowly co-exist with the Web 2.0, to full “absorb” it in a decade or not. There are probably new players in the market, lurking at the corners. OpenCroquet leads the way for the “tinkerers”, since it’s a fully open-sourced, academic-sponsored platform. And Linden Lab has to play its cards well.
It’s true that we have “MMORPG development platforms” like Multiverse, allowing people to even develop their own clients from scratch under a simple licensing agreement — and there are more. But none have 2.4 million registered accounts. None have over a million US$ of daily transactions. None have dozens and dozens of companies establishing their virtual presences there, in a unified virtual world (they create “their own virtual worlds” instead — separated, disconnected).
The message now for the competitors is that Linden Lab has raised the bar. Now it won’t suffice to get millions of users to “catch up” with Linden Lab and establish an economy from scratch. It won’t suffice to have cooler graphics. No, now the competition will have to release the source code, the communication protocol, and replicate the developer community in order to survive. And this to potential competitors which don’t even exist — yet.
It was very, very clever. Also, of course, the nice side-effect is that Linden Lab will now be able to say: “friendly residents, if you want to help us to fix bugs once and for all, download the source code. Show us how good you are”. As always with open source software, at the end of the day, we all win.
I will be closely following the small group of independent developers who are keen in creating more features, since Linden Lab is focusing on bugs and grid stability. I expect that innovation will now come from outside Linden Lab mostly — and stability and fixing errors (the “boring work”) from Linden Lab’s own team. But — it’s almost certain that Linden Lab, at the very least, might have doubled their development workforce in one day. It’s early to say what impact that will have; we all know, however, how LL has been having serious troubles in recruiting new developers for their team. Now they will have them — working for free.
It appears that 2007 will be far more interesting than I could have imagined or predicted — I was expecting the open source client much more later, after the misleading recent comments by Cory and Philip (“open source yes, no timeline yet, it will be in 2007”). This will give the open source developer community a whole year to do some serious tinkering with the code. For the “bust or bloom” year of 2007, the timing couldn’t have been better.
Thanks for this (delayed) Christmas present, Linden Lab 🙂 And a Happy New Year for the whole Open Source community. A very, very happy one indeed!
[UPDATE] The libsecondlife documentation project (documenting the communications protocol for Second Life) now has its own Linden-sponsored Wiki!
[UPDATE] Some more thoughts on this same subject at the SLOG. Yes, I think I can plug myself 🙂