Yeah yeah, I know that I was supposed to talk about the Teen Grid this week but the teens will still be here next week and I have news! Stuff! Things! to report. Hang on to your hats guys, because the ride down at SL is about to get a little bumpy.
So when last I talked about this whole viewer business, I made note of the fact that people did not take kindly to viewer 2.0 in all of it's dubious glory. So here it is, almost a year after 2.0's release and... you know what? People still don't like it. In fact they don't like it so much that even now, when all new users are led to 2.x by default when they sign up for an account, and it's been over a year since its initial release, that it is estimated that less than a third of all active users are willing to use 2.x.
Note to the Lab, people still don't like this thing.
What people are using these days is a combination of 1.x based viewers, most notably Phoenix, and Linden Lab's own 1.23 viewer, the last one to come out before the jump to 2.0. Seeing as how it's now almost a full year past the point of 2.0's release, one might consider the situation to be a little... embarrassing.
Disabling Search: We'll Make You Use It
See, it does little for the Lab's numbers (or the satisfaction of investors) to see how poorly 2.x has fared over the past year. The initial hype and optimism of "Oh once you get used to it you'll like it" and "don't worry all those pesky residents will come around and see it our way" has been replaced by the silence of "oh crap. We really, deeply screwed this up. Better scramble."
And scramble they have, because the latest news is that in a few months' time, the Lab plans on *disabling search* in 1.x based viewers. All of them, en masse. This will functionally cripple the viewer to the extent that it will become simply unusable for most, and force them to a 2.x based solution. This will not only be true in the Lab's own 1.23 viewer, but in third party viewers as well, including Phoenix.
Part of the issue here is not without legitimate basis. There are new features such as upcoming mesh support which won't be backported into the old official 1.x viewers. A significant amount of time and money has been invested in new features and technology and it makes little sense to release them into the wild if no one is actually going to be able to see them, much less use them. There is no way that the platform can successfully move forward unless the viewer does. The unfortunate thing is though that 2.x is unusable still, for so many people, that you can offer as many features and technological advancements as you want and people still are unwilling to use what they can't get to run with any stability on their systems.
We May Be Stubborn, But It Doesn't Mean We're Wrong
A few months ago, in preparation for what was supposed to be the release of mesh to the grid, I reluctantly made the switch from 1.23 to what was then 2.3 and 2.4. There's lots I can say about 2.x, and very little of it good, though I am a big fan of the favorites bar. However the real issue with 2.x was its overall lack of stability. In my case I can gauge this due to the fact that I am *not* on an underpowered computer. The vast majority of people are using SL with far, far less of a system than I do. Yet despite all this, I could not get 2.x to remain stable without crashing for longer than 20 minutes at a time. Let me tell you, that made DJing a ton of fun. Worse yet, on crashing, there are *no* useful crash dumps to tell the Lab what the actual issue is, and even if you sent one, they're not going to tell *you* what the issue is. Upon the advice of a friend, I switched to Catznip, a 2.x based third party viewer. Though all the design reasons I didn't like 2.x are still there, it was at least mostly stable. I still crash, but it's once a day. Not once every 20 minutes. Further, the crash dumps are actually useful, and I was told by Catznip's creator, Kitty Barnett, that the error I am having (out of memory) is the same thing she's seeing in 75% of *all* crash dumps she's receiving. My guess is it's the same error that caused the Lab's own viewer to crash every 20 minutes. While using 2.x, the viewer would be pulling down 1.3 gigabytes of allocated memory within *the first 30 seconds of starting it*. This? Is a big leak.
Dear Linden Lab: Your Viewer LEAKS MEMORY LIKE A SIEVE. FIX IT.
But I am by no means the only person having this issue. For months and months people have talked about the same problem. They *cannot* get 2.x to run in any kind of stable fashion on their systems, and it's more than a little worrisome that the Lab's overall response to this is not to actually fundamentally change the viewer, but to *critically disable* the one that works more effectively, in order for force people to adopt a 2.x solution for the Lab's overall benefit.
Phoenix To The Rescue
But all is not lost, sports fans. As I said there's a few months before the doomsday bell tolls for beloved 1.x viewers everywhere. Even before this was announced, the team at Phoenix was working on a 2.x based viewer of their own, called Firestorm. The question is how ready will it be in time for when it's truly needed. Yes it will develop and get better over time (one hopes, though LL's 2.x makes me worry) but first impressions are important and the team has every reason to have concerns about how its initial foray into the world of 2.x will be received.
But the viewer is deep into development already (thanks to my dear friend Tonya Souther for permission to snag her screencap) and it's now a race against time to determine whether or not Firestorm will be ready in time to snatch up the people displaced by the shift.
However there is another question- will the Lab still allow third party viewers at ALL, and if not, what gets lost?
For Every Need, Another Viewer
I have long said that there is no magic bullet solution for viewers in a virtual environment as vast as Second Life. I still believe that's true. However, after having been continually shown up in terms of numbers to the point where the Lab is willing to cripple its own product in order to move forward, would it surprise anyone if their next move was to eliminate Third Party Viewer competition entirely?
While many people have expressed concern over this, the loudest single voices seem to be coming from SL's *very* large and active BDSM community. What they're concerned about is the potential disabling of RLV, or Restrained Love Viewer. RLV has been incorporated as a feature in many other viewers as well (but not LL's official viewers), that you can disable or enable as you choose. However, as an explanation, what it does is allow both specially scripted objects or other people to forcibly control the actions and experiences of the RLV user. It can do things like force teleport, prevent incoming/outgoing IMs, disallow removing oneself from restraints, etc.
An entire *industry* has grown up, and quite successfully I might add, around RLV capability. To chuck it would destroy an entire segment of the economy in one fell swoop. But all of this is really about a larger issue- one of the people creating the tools who don't know what the tools are used *for*.
A longstanding complaint and sadly not one without absolute basis in fact is that the people who work at Linden Lab do not in fact have the remotest notion of how to use SL. That their accounts are merely puppets used to test their products and not much else. It has long been argued (and in many cases established) that the people at the home office have *no* idea what people actually DO in Second Life, or how they really use the tools at their disposal. This becomes a problem because what easily can look like "ooh cool new feature" as an abstract concept becomes a nightmare when released onto the grid, and people actually are forced to use it (like the sidebar in viewer 2.x) . Though the new CEO of Linden Lab, Rod Humble seems to (somewhat miraculously) be interested in bucking that trend, it's been clear from the outset that viewer 2.x was plagued by this very problem. In fact, I had a conversation about that *very* thing on Monday.
On Thursday word came down from on high that Esbee Linden, the person in charge of the 2.x project was leaving the Lab. On the threshold of the anniversary of the 2.0 release, with numbers down and a situation so critical that they're going to force people to use the viewer while not addressing critical design issues- timing is everything. The Snowstorm project (which is what 2.0 is being called) has been taken over by Q Linden (which gives it a sort of James Bond appeal, I admit).
But the fact remains that the issue of people building the viewer who don't really use SL or understand it or the residents is a real problem. One that will not be addressed by simply forcing people to adopt a viewer they cannot even reliably keep stable, never mind the fact that it has real UI and design problems.
Ok Phoenix team. You may be our only hope.
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