Yesterday, Stefan wrote down his thoughts on Linden Lab’s troubles. I loved that post, he’s right on. Let me add to that by stating the importance of the work that many of the laid off Lindens did, and the role of OpenSimulator from here on, at the technological level and beyond.
Things are moving into 3D, including the Web. I’ve been very excited with everything that is going on with WebGL. Sure, WebGL is still not good enough to render very rich scenes like those we find in highly immersive games, especially when the scenes aren’t optimized, such as the case with user-generated 3D content. But I have very little doubt that the needed optimizations will happen, and that soon we will have immersion on the web browser. It’s already happening. People want it, Google wants, it will happen.
So, let’s fast forward to the time when the Web browser can render rich 3D scenes, which, at the rate that the Google people and the Unity3D people are going at it, it probably is only a couple of years away.
Technically, the client-side is not the whole story. In order to develop highly immersive real-time environments with that kind of viewer, we still need a server side that can serve those 3D scenes in real-time to several clients. HTTP alone won’t do, it’s too slow. All MMOs use some sort of UDP-based protocol for the rapid state change notifications. HTML5’s Web sockets are there precisely for that reason.
Bottom-line: the server-side must serve more than HTTP.
All these proprietary servers, however, are a bottleneck for the massification of 3D content on the Web. Just like for the Web itself, we need open source 3D scene servers. At the very least, we need open, standard protocols, so that people can focus on developing content without having to reinvent the network connectors, and the servers, from scratch all the time. (But with open standards come open implementations, so the result is the same: we need open source servers). Yes, we need an Apache for RT 3D scenes. Hmm, where did I hear that before…?
OpenSimulator, of course. When WebGL is good enough to render those rich 3D scenes, OpenSimulator will be there to serve those scenes in real-time to multiple clients. For free. This is the real importance of OpenSim, its main contribution. Another, secondary, contribution is all the research work that we have been doing in secure, portable identity with the Hypergrid. This is something that doesn’t exist on the Web, but it can be ported back. I’m not entirely sure the 2D Web needs it, but I’m pretty sure a web of virtual worlds needs it. Not all 3D environments will want to be connected in a web of peer servers; but many will.
In all of this, we must thank Linden Lab, especially Cory Ondrejka and Marc Lentczner, for making their protocol public; that made OpenSim legally possible. All other game companies are protective of their protocols, to the point that they go after anyone who tries to reverse-engineer them. That was not the case with Linden Lab, and we must thank them for that. They allowed us to focus on the server side. The fact that the client was available independently, for free, was no small thing either: it made the effort appealing to lots of people who got instant gratification of a Linden-like world on their own computers. More people means more eyes, more energy. MW and Lbsa were right on from the very beginning!
Going forward, the main challenge for OpenSim is to step back from the monstrosity of LLUDP and LLCAPs, which were designed for one very particular kind of environment, and figure out the minimum set of messaging that’s necessary to serve 3D scenes in RT to multiple clients. Minimum is good. The good thing about OpenSim is that the client protocols are plugin modules; OpenSim is not tied to any one particular client, not even LL (in theory; the reality of the code is a bit different… that’s why I say that stepping back from the LL protocol will be a challenge for OpenSim).
I feel like we’re parting ways with a long-time, dysfunctional, companion who decided to make a left turn, and I’m looking forward to what’s coming!