As I wrote yesterday, Latif Khalifa reported on the SL Universe forums that Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg confirmed in an “oh, by the way” manner during the TPV developer meeting of Friday 20th that the Lab is working on a new, next-generation virtual world. The story was reported by Ciaran Laval, and Inara Pey blogged on it in far greater detail (complete with an excerpt of her audio recording of the meeting) – and I hope her reports might help (to whatever extent) do away with the FUD that started circulating shortly after Latif made his post on the SLU forums. In the meantime, the story was picked up by various blogs and commentary platforms of varying reliability and credibility.
What will follow will be the details I gathered from the initial posts, from Inara’s post, and from Ebbe Altberg’s replies on the forum and on Twitter, and also I’m going to give my own thoughts on the matter.
Let me reiterate what Latif posted in his original post in the forums:
- Linden Lab is working on a next generation virtual world;
- Most of Lab’s development resources are already working on it;
- A smaller dev team headed by Oz Linden remains working on SL;
- The new worlds will be closed sourced, and not backward compatible with content from SL.
As Inara pointed out in her own initial coverage of the announcement, that the Lab is working on new virtual world platforms is not news. In her October 2012 review of an interview that VentureBeat’s GamesBeat had with LL’s then-CEO Rod Humble, she picked up on a statement he made that the Lab “is still investing in 3D virtual worlds.” Mr. Humble commented on her blog and had this to say:
Hey thanks for the write up. For sure our commitment to Second Life remains key and central to our company. When I talk about shared creative spaces I put virtual worlds right in that.
My comment about also investing in virtual worlds is correct. As you know I dont like to detail things until we are close to something actionable, but we absolutely are investing in the large virtual world space which I think will make Second Life users, business owners and developers very happy…. but its a ways off 🙂
He also confirmed that the plural (“virtual worlds” instead of “virtual world”) was deliberate. So, I don’t think we should be surprised or shocked by the news that LL is looking at making a new and hopefully better virtual world.
Remember, despite the fact that we can do some pretty amazing things in SL and its OpenSim clones, it is 11 years old, its roots come from the late ’90s, LSL is hardly the best scripting language you can find, many of the principles it’s built upon are now obsolete (such as the default avatar base), it’s monolithic, and is therefore very hard to improve and maintain – this is why adding new capabilities, fixing bugs, and closing security vulnerabilities often leads to extremely painstaking and long-winded projects.
If I’m completely honest, I do agree with the idea that the best way for Linden Lab to provide a better virtual world is to start over from scratch, building on what they’ve learned from all those years of developing Second Life, avoiding the technical mistakes that were made, and drawing from the latest technological advances and changes in people’s usage model of virtual worlds. It’s a better way to go, rather than be shackled by the need for compatibility with obsolete technologies, content and codebase. After all, this is not unheard of in other IT business fields; OpenERP did the same a few years ago.
What will this all mean for Second Life users?
I. Will Second Life be killed off?
First of all, it’s too early to tell when this new virtual world will open its doors to the public. What is certain is that, at least initially, Second Life and the new virtual world will be both available. So, it’s not like SL will suddenly go the way of the dodo. Development on SL is ongoing (although most of the Lab’s staff is working on the new virtual world), and new capabilities are being added in order to make it more immersive (such as for in-world games).
II. But it won’t be backwards compatible with SL content!
Yes, I don’t expect sculpties, prim-based builds and LSL scripts to be compatible with the new virtual world. Mesh, on the other hand, is a different ball game. I believe what LL was taught about mesh, rigged mesh and even fitted mesh the hard way over the years will be applied and mesh content will be compatible with the new world, within limitations. For instance, if the new virtual world uses a different, improved avatar base that is incompatible with SL’s current avatar base, it goes without saying that any existing rigged mesh content will need to be reworked before it’s ported there.
III. Why is it going to be closed source? What consequences will this have?
SL itself is not open source. The server-side code is not open source. What is open source at the moment is the viewer only – and let me remind you that, in the early days, even the viewer was not open source either. Now, while it has been theorised in the discussions that a fully proprietary (closed source) virtual world/viewer combination would be somehow immune to copybotters, this is not the case. Not by a long shot. Of course, I fully understand why LL would prefer to keep their server-side code proprietary, as they have done so far. But an open source viewer would allow for customised, optimised third-party viewers as is now the case in Second Life and OpenSim.
IV. Is it Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity, in which LL is an investor?
No. LL and High Fidelity are separate entities. This doesn’t mean that some of what High Fidelity is doing won’t be incorporated in LL’s next-gen virtual world (or vice versa), but we’re talking about two entirely different and separate platforms, developed by two entirely different and separate companies.
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