Plugging the Analogue Hole

Recently my company has been researching OpenSim as a very cheap way to use plenty of temporary sandboxes for some special projects, for which the cost of leasing private islands from Linden Lab are staggering. The typical example, for instance, is to do a large-scale machinima with a scenario that will never be visited by anyone, and that requires to be built for several months, then allow teams of actors and machinima directors to come in and make the movie, and finally shut all sims down again. If you wish to do that on LL’s grid, it means a huge cost in buying lots of sims, paying tier for them, all that for just making a movie and demolish the content. OpenSim is far more cost-effective that way.

OpenSim is not a panacea that will magically give people cheap land, although people still look at it that way. OpenSim works, yes, but to make it work well, it requires expensive hardware (the kind LL uses), a lot of bandwidth (the amount that LL uses), and a staff of system administrators to maintain it properly (the kind that LL employs). What this means is that if you wish to get the same level of quality that LL provides on their grid, you’ll have the same costs. To be truthful to LL, it actually means more costs, since LL can leverage up those costs by distributing them (specially labour costs) over a far wider number of servers.

OpenSim is still interesting because there is a market for low-quality services. LL knows this or they wouldn’t be selling openspace (formerly known as “void”) sims. Alas, those have way too many restrictions, namely, in prims — OpenSim’s prim limit is not fixed, you set each sim with as many prims you wish (default is 45,000, but that’s just a number really — you can set it to a million if it pleases you 🙂 ). Granted, more prims also mean more CPU, more RAM, and more bandwidth (more textures to load!), so there is a limit to what you can reasonably place on an old Pentium IV with 512 MB of RAM and a cheap 10 Mbps connection. The point here is that OpenSim gives you choices that LL doesn’t — not that it is cheaper.

In any case, the first and foremost issue about using OpenSim side-by-side with SL’s own grid is naturally: how do we get content from one grid to another? And while studying the available tools that allow this content transfer to work flawlessly (albeit with a lot of manual typing of commands, on old-style VT100 consoles), I suddenly stumbled upon a possible technical solution to prevent illegitimate copies of content. Put into other words, a rather simple and ingenious way to deal with the dreadful content pirates.

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