Breath-taking improvements and how to implement them

Linden Lab, since at least mid-2005, has been caught into a tough dilemma. Second Life is a notoriously hard to configure piece of software — too demanding from the computer it runs on, and almost always requiring detailed configuration and fine-tuning of your own computer to be able to enjoy it properly.

When I tell people that it’s unusual for me to crash more than once per month (logging in every day for an average of 4 or more hours), many are very surprised. My computer is old, almost 4 years now, and uses a graphics card that Linden Lab supports only partially (apparently, the original firmware for the ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 does not support some features properly, and LL prefers not to allow to enable them). Still, I have a rather solid application — Second Life is as stable for me as, say, Firefox 2.0.X (which also crashes once per month or so).

But if one reads the Official Linden Lab blog, the horror stories abound. What makes my poor old computer so “special” then? It is slow. Just to open my Mail application, I have often to wait a whole minute. I have not much disk space left, in spite of being continuously deleting old folders (Mail consumes almost all my disk space). The motherboard once melted down due to overheating — caused by running Second Life so often 🙂 It’s definitely not a “top-of-the-line” model, neither a particularly rough model. Like many of the recent-generation Macs (at least the ones built after 2000), it uses medium-to-low quality components. And while Windows users have all sorts of maintenance tools, Mac users, by default, don’t get any, since it is “assumed” that an Unix-based machine doesn’t “require” maintenance at all (which is not exactly true, but it’s a good selling point).

So why do people crash so often? Why do they report so many problems? It’s very hard to say. In many cases, however, the answer is simple: people don’t have the required knowledge to properly tweak and maintain their own computers. It is an art which is only available to a few. How many know which Windows services they should safely shut down to improve performance, or go into RegEdit to change some settings? How many Mac users know what a “sysctl” call is and how it can dramatically improve bandwidth usage? It’s a very, very tiny minority — most people assume that applications and the operating system auto-configure themselves for the “best” performance.

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