Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dipping a Toe into the OpenSim Waters

Second Life is the Big Kid On The Block when it comes to virtual worlds.  More regions, more content, more users, more functionality, an economy...but it's not the only game in town, as I pointed out in an earlier post some months back.

A number of people I respect have actually left SL and "emigrated" to one or another of the OpenSim based grids.  The last time I tried another grid was a very brief look around InWorldz a couple years ago, so I decided that maybe it was time for another look.  I had run across a post on OpenSim grid statistics in Tateru Nino's great blog, Dwell On It -- Tateru reported that the largest of these was OSGrid, with over 6,000 regions.  So I decided to take a look at it.

OSGrid is a strange sort of animal to a visitor from Second Life.  Its organization is...well, almost nonexistent, compared to SL.  They do have a website (which loads a heck of a lot faster than LL's!).  It's easy to find the to join, a set of forums, a Wiki with information, a Map, basic statistics on how many people are members, or on line.  The Downloads page has just two items, really:  a copy of the OpenSim simulator software, customized for OSGrid use, and their recommended viewer (Imprudence). 

The simulator software was what I was really interested in.

Second Life, or any virtual world based on it, consists of two major pieces of software:  The viewer, which you run on your computer, and the simulator, or server software.  This latter piece is what creates the region(s) your avatar exists in, handles your inventory, and provides the means to communicate with others.  One can think, somewhat inaccurately, of the viewer software being associated with your avatar, and the server software as being associated with the virtual world itself.

The OpenSim software was developed beginning in 2007,  following LL's release of the client (the viewer) software as Open Source code*.  Since then, lots of independent developers have worked on OpenSim to (it is to be hoped) improve it.

Anyway, with OpenSim on your computer, you can create your own private island, right on your desktop.  No need to pay tier to LL, or worry about friends or groups interrupting you while you're creating marvels.  Very inexpensive, very private...but lonely.  No one else can join you in your private paradise.  Unless...

Unless you connect it to a grid.  This is where OSGrid comes in.  You can link your region, hosted on your own computer, to the larger OSGrid.  For free, yet!  (If you want more stability and better performance out of your region(s), you can also sign up with any of several hosting companies to put your region on their servers, with better uptime and faster internet connections.  This does cost money, but at least you are paying the hosting company directly, not a middleman like LL).

But, even hosted on your home PC, your OSGrid region can be visited by anyone signed up to the OSgrid.

This is not a project for the PC illiterate.  I'm getting some help from the Resident Geek ("Honey?  Can you come here a minute?  I can't figure this out...")  Just getting the OpenSim software properly downloaded and installed called for a deal of research and troubleshooting.  For example, who would have thought that you can't put the OpenSim files in the C:\Programs(x86) directory, where every other 32 bit application I own resides?  But it won't work if you do.  It needs its own directory.

When you DO get it working, it runs in a DOS window.  You know, those old fashioned windows with a black background and white text?  A LOT of text.  When you start the program, hundreds of lines of obscure computerese go scrolling up the screen.  Then it starts asking you some questions, like your avatar name, and the name you want to give your region.

The program is pre-configured to run in "grid" mode and connect to the OSGrid.  I wasn't ready for that yet; I want to try it in "stand alone" mode first.  So that is where I stopped for the evening.  And that is where I'll stop this post too -- but I'll let you know about further adventures as they happen.

*Edited in response to Dahlia's comment below


  1. re: "The OpenSim software package is a spinoff of the Second Life server software, which was published as open source code a few years ago." - this is not the case. LL has never published their server software. They have published their viewer software and continue to do so. OpenSimulator is not derived from any LL code; it is written from scratch in the C# language.

  2. I stand corrected. I was under the impression that the server software had been, briefly, open sourced. But further research showed that you are right. The OpenSim server software was developed following the open source release of the CLIENT (viewer) software.

  3. Linda --

    A follow-up to Dahlia's correction -- the OpenSim server code is independent of the release of the client software.

    The OpenSim server code was an outgrowth of LibOpenMetaverse, a project which eavesdropped on the communications between the client and the server.

    So even if the client had never been open sourced, we'd still have the same OpenSim we have today -- which can be accessed with the standard SL viewers, as well as with the TPVs.

    In fact, until recently, no developers who worked on the client were allowed to also work on the server, because of incompatible software licenses.

    A lot of folks think that SL inadvertently helped created OpenSim by releasing the client code -- in fact, this is not true. OpenSim was built from scratch and while it may look very similar from the viewer, it is actually very different from SL behind the scenes and the way in which it is architected.

    -- Maria

  4. muahahaha, welcome to the other side! and don't forget that even for hardcore SLers, there's possible benefit to running on your local machine - you can create content and upload textures at no cost and then import your work into SL =)

  5. ah well since no one else has mentioned it - don't forget "Hypergrid". If you set up your region as a hypergridded region you can jump back and forth to any other hypergridded region. The regions do not have to be part of a grid. So you can do it from that once lonely region you have running on the computer in your home. (call Honey to help open up the correct ports lol)

  6. I know, lansing...but for me, community is an essential part of virtual worlds. I know that you can tp to any hypergridded region, but I just feel more "connected" if I'm a part of a grid where some stranger can just come walking or flying or sailing over to my place. Maybe someday I will feel the need for privacy so strongly as to break off from the crowd, but that has not happened so far.