The Return of the Prodigal
So now we get Philip back as “interim CEO”. One of my first predictions completely failed to materialise: that Philip would introduce LL’s CFO & COO, Bob Komin, better known as BK Linden (now with an avatar picture on the page with his job description!), as the future CEO. Corporate-savvy analysts tell me that the major downsizing had to pass through Bob, so he was part of the process.
Probably Philip (correctly) feared a mass panic if he dropped the news of having selected a new CEO on top of us. It’s well known that Bob, after six months at LL, never created an avatar and never felt the need to do so. He’s rumoured to be ruthless and efficient as CFO & COO — but also completely clueless about Second Life, the virtual world (while he might be a financial wizard about Second Life, the product that Linden Lab sells. Both are usually confused, but they are hardly the same thing). Philip described him with similar words that he used to describe M Linden two years ago — which did not escape our attention. But the most interesting bit was that apparently Bob called Philip back from the freezer and put him in the limelight again; so there is a strategy here, one that probably started to make sense when Philip did his surprising appearance at SL7B. Somehow, the thinking heads at Linden Lab (correctly) assumed that they needed a figurehead to capture some optimism regarding the future of LL, and, after so many people having been kicked out, there was not much of a choice: Philip is, and always was, the resident visionary, and pretty much irreplaceable in that role. He admitted on the Town Hall meeting that “[Linden Lab has] not begun the process of selecting the long term CEO.” So maybe Bob’s not our uncle… I mean, not our CEO.
Here is a summary of the new strategic orientation for Linden Lab:
Fast — Easy — Fun
Well, this replaces the old “Your World, Your Imagination” motto, and is probably a bit more simpler to understand. Philip promises that it will be the goal, short-term and possibly long-term, for Second Life. “Fast” will mean getting rid of lag (more on that later) but also faster development/deployment cycles of bug fixes; “Easy” will probably mean rethinking the user interface on the next iteration of the SL Viewer; “Fun”, well, interpret it as you wish — I might see in this the notion of SL as a residential product with a focus on entertainment (and all forms of content creation are entertainment). But it might just be Philip spreading a meme without clear notion on what he means 🙂
Yay, now we have this lovely meme! What does LL do with it? What are its priorities? Philip explains:
- back to basics
- winning back the lead
- all about growing virtual content economy
This is consistent with his previous blog posts and messages.
“Back to basics” is how Philip describes the technological challenge of drastically reducing crash rates and lag. This is way more complex than it sounds. It’s not merely changing the internal focus from “features” to “bug fixing”, because LL has been doing that since 2006 — also thanks to Philip (and probably against the will of Cory). The two years before M Linden came on board were all focused on stability and performance; we got almost no features during that period, except Windlight, which was not even internally developed, but just a company they bought. We got very lucky that we managed to get flexies and later sculpties at all. During the M Linden days, we started to see new features creeping back again: from working media-on-a-prim to multiple clothing layers, to new alpha textures on skins, all introduced on SL 2.0. Ironically, Philip’s work at LL during that time was to launch Snowglobe as LL’s open source, user-contributed viewer, and to create a mechanism where textures would finally be downloaded with regular HTTP calls instead of streaming them (which burdens the poor sim servers). This has been a long development, which was originally only available for the map textures, and allegedly, this August, with the release of server 1.42, will finally be expanded for all textures. Philip himself says that 60% of their traffic is just texture streaming. If all textures are pushed into Amazon’s cloud (like the map textures), it has to have a huge impact on the overall performance. If Philip also allows the developers to tweak the viewer so that textures retrieved via HTTP get cached better locally (right now, you’re limited to merely 1 GByte of local cache — which is way too little!), this would even be better. In any case, the good news is that textures might also be cached by a local Web proxy server, which should be awesome for university campuses and corporate networks — the more users connect from the same address, the more textures will be cached locally at the proxy server, and the lower the burden on LL’s own grid network — improving performance more and more.
Ironically, all this works today on OpenSim already — using LL’s standard viewers. It’s just LL’s server software that has been delayed (deployment of 1.42 is scheduled for August 18, but Philip mentions “this week”). And that’s probably one of the things that Philip means with the next point: winning back the lead.
Now this again opens up a lot of possibilities. Clearly Philip wants that the future SL 2.X viewer becomes the standard, and not Emerald or any other 1.23 derivative; and I’m also sure that the nifty advanced improvements of OpenSim (like regions of any size; the ability to do on-demand load performance by splitting avatars on a region between several CPUs and keeping all in sync; native megaprim support; pushing the IM/Group Chat outside the sim server; and much more, like the insane amount of caching mechanisms that OpenSim supports these days) have made Philip rethink LL’s priorities. If that’s all true, it means that at least someone at LL is looking beyond their navels, which is a very good thing!