Over the last year, Linden Lab has introduced a lot of new features to make Second Life more attractive. We now have Mesh objects, and options in the viewer to enable depth of field, shadows, and spotlights. Additional functionality has been added with more flexibility in how we can attach things to our avatars, and the ability to put multiple things on a single clothing layer. Functions like Search and the Profile have been expanded and linked more closely to the Web.
Along with all these improvements have come increasing demands on the performance of the computers we use to access SL. My computer is about three years old, but it is still quite powerful. It has a quad core i920 processor, 12 GB of RAM, more than a terabyte of hard drive storage, and an NVIDIA 560Ti graphics card. I have Verizon's fastest FIOS data link. Despite an impressive set of specifications, my frame rate when using Mesh-enabled viewers is often so low that SL becomes unusable. Not only does movement on the screen slow to slide-show speeds, but even the entry of text begins to lag behind my typing ability.
The problem of avatar textures persistently failing to rez has gotten so widespread that the Firestorm viewer has a new pie menu function, "Tex Refresh" that you can apply to yourself or to other gray avatars that you see on your screen.
It's not just me. The forums are full of posts from people who can't log in, or can't teleport, or can't see the world around them, or can't get their avatar to look like anything except a cloud. Last night, I met two newcomers who had just gotten new laptops for Christmas and were trying Second Life for the first time. These were brand new computers, and yet they could not see anything around them but gray shapes.
It's not just the official viewer, either. ALL of the mesh enabled viewers I've tried have these problems. Viewer 3, Phoenix, Firestorm, and Nirans.
Is anyone at Linden Lab testing the software with real world computers, on real world internet connections? When Viewer 2 was released, the vision was supposedly to make SL more accessible to Everyman. Somehow, that has failed to occur. Instead, SL is becoming LESS accessible. Unless you are a computer geek with the very latest custom gaming rig, and highly knowledgeable about how to tweak and troubleshoot your machine for maximum performance, Second Life has become a very unfriendly application.