Thursday, January 3, 2013

Get Phfsated!

There has been much ado lately in the Phoenix/Firestorm Support Group forum over the end of official support for the popular Phoenix viewer.

Wait, let me back up.  Way up.

A “viewer” is software that you use to access a virtual world like Second Life…a program that you download to your computer, then run, like a…well, OK, like a video game.  The viewer that most newcomers to Second Life use is the “official” Linden Lab viewer, simply because it’s downloaded and installed as part of the signup process for Second Life.  The current version is Viewer 3.4.3.  Sometimes, the viewer is called the “Second Life client”, but that’s just confusing so forget I mentioned it.

Although there were several iterations between Viewer 2.0 and the current 3.4.3, the biggest change in viewer appearance and functionality came a couple years ago.  We were all using Viewer 1.26, when LL rolled out the new, long-awaited Viewer 2.0.  It was very different from Viewer 1.xx, and many people chose not to move to it.  Instead, they looked to third party viewers.

The software for the Second Life viewer is open source.  Anyone can get a copy of it, and then fiddle with it to create a customized viewer.  Many talented programmers have done just that over the years, and there are a number of popular third party viewers out there. Inara Pey issues a weekly update on the status of the most popular ones, on her blog.

At the time Viewer 2 became available, third party viewers experienced a major split.  Some developers chose to continue to modify the Viewer 1.xx source code, while others jumped on the Viewer 2.xx bandwagon and started to customize that code base instead.  For technical reasons, it is very difficult to impossible to develop an interface that looks and works just like the 1.xx viewer, but uses the 2.xx underlying code…and vice versa.

The Phoenix development team began with…well, with Phoenix, which was a 1.xx style viewer, with many useful enhancements.  It was a stepchild of another popular viewer, Emerald, which fell by the wayside when some Emerald developers were found to be playing fast and loose with the code and collecting users’ personal data.  The Phoenix team parlayed an excellent viewer and a reputation for integrity into the most popular third party viewer in Second Life.

But all viewer developers knew that the days of 1.xx based viewers were numbered.  Linden Lab began to roll out changes to the server software that would eventually “break” 1.xx viewers…things like using HTTP protocol for textures instead of UDP, or implementing the new Marketplace Direct Delivery.  This was not out of malice, but intended to improve SL’s performance and reliability.

The Phoenix team began a “holding action” with the Phoenix viewer, only implementing the most necessary changes to keep the viewer working, while putting most of their effort into developing a new viewer, Firestorm, which would use the 2.xx code base.  Firestorm was introduced, and for quite some time now, both viewers have co-existed amicably.  But the Phoenix team always said that at some point, Phoenix would become unsupportable, as LL continued to make changes to the server-side code.

That time has come.  At the end of 2012, the team officially stopped supporting the Phoenix viewer.  You would think that, with more than a year of warning, the users would be prepared and at least resigned to the change…but you’d be wrong.

People get very attached to their viewers.  After all, it’s the interface between us and our virtual world, the way we interact with it and with others.  Changing the way we do this is very hard for some people, and it’s not fun for anyone.  The developers did their best to ease the transition, by creating an optional “Phoenix mode” for Firestorm’s on screen layout.  Even so, there are unavoidable differences between the two viewers.  Suddenly, the Phoenix blog and support group were full of bitter complaints and accusations.

I went through this transition long ago, when Firestorm first came out.  Indeed, at first it was no fun.  Some functions were gone, others re-located.  And there were some new functions to learn about.  However, in just a few days, Firestorm became second nature…and it was hard to go back to Phoenix and do things the “old way”.

Today, I coined a term for this transition process: phfsate.  That’s pronounced “fuff-fis-sate”, and it’s formed from the common chat abbreviations for Phoenix (PH) and Firestorm (FS).  Someone who makes a successful transition from Phoenix to Firestorm (or, by extension, from one program that does something to a different program that does the same thing in a different way) is “phfsated”.

I challenge all of you who are still clinging to your Phoenix viewers:  Spend a week with Firestorm.  I bet you’ll get phfsated too!


  1. Love the word but need to disagree!
    Singularity or Sl cool viewer can replace phoenix asap!
    And if you really want to change, then change for the only viewer that makes Sl worth!

    1. Everyone has a favorite viewer, ZZ! I suggest Firestorm for Phoenix users because 1) It's made by the same fine people that made Phoenix, and 2) it has an emulation mode that makes it look and work (mostly) like Phoenix.

      But getting phfsated can apply to ANY transition to a new software program. If you transfer from Phoenix to Niran's, and get to like it, then you too are phfsated!