I do really have a lot to talk about — the past two weeks in Second Life® have brought so much change that I’ve simply been unable to write anything much about it 🙂 … and, well, unfortunately my colleagues and clients hate when I blog instead of a) sleeping; b) doing some work for them, so I’ve tried to refrain myself from writing much…
But at least I have to share with you something. Great changes are ahead for the SL client (and hopefully for the simulator software too). We’re not going to see much yet about those, because 2009 is still a “stability” year for Linden Lab, which means that most of their teams are focusing on making everything more stable.
2010, however, will be a year for dramatic changes.
And how dramatic? Well… I’ve been given a sneak preview and been heavilly NDA’d not to talk about it. Breathtaking simply doesn’t describe it properly. But I can safely say that you can forget about all and any competition until late 2011. They will have zero chance of catching up. In fact, if I were drowning in venture capital as all those SL-wannabees seem to be, I’d drop all development, start downloading the latest SL client from the open source repositories, and don’t waste investors’ funding into a stupid new product that nobody will use after 2 or 3 years. I’d put all that money to beat SL with… SL itself (and yes, that would mean developing a “competing product” using the code base from the SL client, and, of course, OpenSim).
Programming geeks, however, are so keen in reinventing the wheel — instead of polishing it and making better products out of existing wheels — that they’re just missing the point, and wasting time and money. For the next two years, nothing will ever come close to SL.
In the mean time, while the Big Announcements are pending — and will remain secret for a long, long time — a few changes are already announced. If you haven’t tested it yet, try the new branch of the SL client (on that page, look at the bottom right corner). Codenamed Snowglobe, it has a completely different development approach than LL’s “stable” version: it’s an open source-driven effort (even though most of the developers are still LL’s), it’s experimental, it releases code all the time, it includes all the latest patches popular with other viewers, and it also includes very experimental code that is left out of the “stable” branch. It’s pretty much at the same speed of development as in 2003-2005, with an added advantage: there are lots of non-LL developers on it too.
This first development cycle is mostly focusing on Philip Linden’s own developments. He has been playing with the map, and offloading the map textures to Amazon’s cloud computing-based storage. This means that textures, in the future, will not be downloaded only from LL’s servers (or co-location facilities) in California, Texas, and wherever the new grid will pop up, but from around the world, from the Amazon server cluster nearest to you 🙂 At this stage only map textures are being downloaded, but many report a huge difference.
A nice side-effect of this approach is that textures will (in the very near future — all textures, not only map tiles) be downloaded using HTTP, that is, the standard Web protocol. What this means for offices or campuses (or even homes where several SL residents share the connection!) is that they can put one standard HTTP proxy in front of their connection, and cache all the textures in it — and forget about texture lag. If you can afford an old computer to act as your proxy server, using, say, a cheap Linux + Squid solution at home with a spare PC , and have a large enough disk, the cool thing about it is that you might be able to cache a huge amount of textures locally. Not only will that save you a lot in download traffic, but, of course, once one texture is downloaded, it will be available for all computers in your home/office/campus. That will make a huge difference!
But that’s not all. Another huge leap ahead is the introduction of dynamic shadows in SL. Oh yes, I know this is not “news”, since it has been showed off quite a long time ago on the Release Candidates. It’s now part of SL 1.23, but cunningly hidden away, because, really, it just works on high-end cards. To activate them, you should follow these instructions (many thanks to Jenny Thielt who provided me with a nice notecard!):
- Make sure you have a DirectX 10 compatible card (eg. nVidia 8 series or newer)
- Make sure Atmospheric Shaders is on
- Open the Advanced menu (if you don’t have it yet, press Ctrl+Alt+D)
- Go to Debug Settings…
- Type renderuseFBO
- Change value to TRUE
- Type renderdeferred
- Change value to TRUE
- Welcome to the world of dynamic shadows.
To disable dynamic shadows, all you need to do is to change the renderdeferred value back to FALSE (you can also change the renderuseFBO value to FALSE too, if you want).
Pretty neat… if you have a top-of-the-line graphics card. What if you don’t?