There is need for a “Lite” Second Life Viewer

Lately I have had several discussions with residents seeking a very efficient SL viewer. In all cases these people either 1) have computers that are on the low end of the Minimum System Requirements scale; or 2) use their computer for other things while they are in SL (have several applications running at once in separate open windows). What they all are looking for is a viewer with full graphics but minimal “bells and whistles”, one that is very efficient and uses as little computer memory as possible. They would be happy most days with a viewer sufficient simply to live in Second Life; on those days when they want to build or have need of the more advanced features like windlight settings, they can log in on a full featured viewer.

One approach might be cloud streaming SL as Hamlet discussed at NWN, although this is not really what they want and based on Hamlet’s assumptions would be a pay service.

Text viewers are another way to go. These have very rudimentary graphics if they have any at all. For the people I have spoken to this is going too far, the graphics are a big part of what makes SL enjoyable to them.

So, what could such a viewer do without, and what must be kept.

  1. Build- strip everything away except rez, stretch (re-size with the white handles), rotate and move.
  2. Windlight- remove the dialog, use region default at all times.
  3. Inventory- full functionality, one window only.
  4. Avatar appearance and clothing- full functionality.
  5. Graphics- preset Low → High based on computer properties detected during install. No advanced settings. No Ultra setting. No shaders. Maybe a LOD (level of detail) slider. Draw distance slide max at 256M.
  6. Transactions- full ability to buy, transfer, etc. both L$ and items both in person and via a vendor. Also to accept deliveries via Marketplace.
  7. Movement- basic arrow keys + page up/down. No double click teleport or other enhancements and options.
  8. Eliminate- built in AO, spell check, translator, flight assist, color selection for chat or tags, or any of the other nice but unessential features found in advanced viewers.

Whether it is built on a V1, V2 or V3 code-base, or some mix is not nearly as important as that it runs efficiently and treads lightly on computer memory.

If people think this is important enough to leave comments I will do my best to drum up some attention from Linden Lab and third party viewer developers.

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22 Comments

Filed under Veiwers and tech stuff

22 responses to “There is need for a “Lite” Second Life Viewer

  1. DJ Welles

    I think Shug has basically nailed it. I would love to see a lightweight viewer – perhaps a thin client. The main thing I would like to see is a viewer that minimized the internal memory caching. I use Imprudence atm, and if I log on and move around a bit my memory usage quickly approaches 1Gb and pretty soon my whole machine performance is in the soup.

  2. Miro Collas

    I’ll try to be brief: the concept is great but unrealistic. People do want a simple viewer, but they do not want to be limited in their choices as to how that viewer behaves; in fact, they want it to be just how they want – each of them… in other words, person A wants it to be blue, while person B wants it yellow. Extend that to all the aspects of the viewer, and you get … tons of customizable options.

    Basically, those wanting a simple viewer are asking for the impossible: they want one that fits their likes exactly, and that cannot happen. They also don’t want to be limited in their specific needs.

    So we have a paradox: a simple viewer that does everything each resident needs and wants it to do.

    I mean no offense at all – I understand the reasoning behind wanting this. But … it simply cannot be done. SL’s basic mode proved that. It isn’t *how* it was done (design), but rather that it was too limiting for almost everyone… for their own, specific needs.

    N.B. The above reflects my opinion only, and not that of the Phoenix Viewer team.

    • I do not think anyone knows what “minimal features” is, especially to those ppl who struggle with the viewers we have now. I am pretty sure noone has asked!
      Basic Viewer, and for that matter any viewer with the graphics set to low, is still a full viewer sitting in RAM, much of it is just turned off. Both approaches impact CPU usage but not RAM. For ppl running several applications at once RAM usage can be critical.
      You may well be right and it is impossible to satisfy enough ppl to make a Lite viewer worthwhile, my point is noone is trying! In the mean time many teams and individuals are struggling to add more high end features. Perhaps, like the high end viewers, it will take several Lite viewers to satisfy everyone.

  3. Miro Collas

    LL tried. Basic mode didn’t flop (I think) because of the design, but precisely because it was “basic”, and limited things people need.

    To take one example from your list: windlight forced to region default. That would alienate all those users who want it always midday. If you reverse that and force it to always midday, you alienate those who want time of day change. In short, you cannot win.

  4. DJ Welles

    I’m afraid most people are missing the point about what a ‘lightweight’ viewer is – it has nothing to do with a so-called “basic” viewer. Sure, a light viewer might not have the long laundry list of features that the TPVs have, but I would bet just about anything that a huge majority of users in fact make use of only tiny a tiny fraction of those features.

    The real point of a lightweight viewer is to minimize resources while optimizing performance on a highly stable platform. Most of the viewer features mentioned in this posting do not take much memory and most have little impact on performance. Graphics settings are an exception, but the user has the option to dial back the settings if they want better performance.

    Of course, as Miro points out, slashing functionality is always going to upset someone, but again, it is not about features, it is about system architecture.

    Memory management, componentization, data abstraction, comms, etc are what limits the performance of any piece of software. I log into SL and just stand there and do nothing and my viewer’s memory usage climbs and my CPU is pegged. This has nothing to do with how many features the viewer has, but how they are designed and how they are implemented.

    I realize that most (all?) of the viewers out there are based on the SL viewer code base. I have downloaded and compiled this viewer myself and found the experience less than satisfying. The viewer code was a rat’s nest of C++, scripting and old linux technologies. It looked like it would not be that hard to add new features, menus, UI, etc, but it seemed a daunting and unrewarding task to try to re-architect it into a lean mean viewing machine. Miro can probably verify this (or not).

    A lightweight viewer would, for example, limit the number of DLLs it needs at any time and would forgo some performance by keeping caching at a minimum.

    When I am in SL I rarely use the main menu – my settings are what they have been for ages and I rarely have a need to change them. Between my chat windows and my inv, I have most everything I need.

    As Shug points out, such a lightweight viewer would be for hanging in SL not for doing any complex work – for that you would use one of the heavy viewers. The LWV would not max out your CPU if you were standing still, doing nothing, not even camming. The LWV would be optimized for social interaction and for sim-hopping (remember exploring SL?). The LWV is not a ‘basic’ viewer – doomed to failure as others have pointed out – but a lean viewer that is highly responsive and stable.

  5. Kimberly McClintock

    Shug has it right. I play other mporgs with far lower lag issues. Less bells and whistles and more usability, please.

  6. By my count there are 6 third party viewers in addition to the official LL viewer atm, nearly as many text only viewers. Each of these compete with the others within their range of capabilities, the users choose which best suits their needs and personality.
    I do not think it is unreasonable to expect at least one “lean and mean” (small and efficient) viewer somewhere in the middle of those extremes.
    Miro is correct, it could not satisfy everyone. Many ppl might find it a good compromise though. And why “it” if there were more than one we could choose within the LWV range of viewers!

  7. Inara Pey

    I think there is a misconception in the comments relating to the Basic Viewer. It was never intended as a “lite” Viewer or as a “stripped-down” Viewer – or even to survive as a standalone. It was always a short-term interim approach while LL reassessed the Viewer and what was needed to make it more usable by (particularly) those new to LL, rather than actually presenting a “light” Viewer to the community at large. As such, its “re-absorption” into the “main” Viewer was always a given – and Rodvik commented this would be the case via Twitter virtually from the day Basic was launched (I traded a number of Tweets with him on the subject).

    So it’s not strictly fair to cite the Basic mode as an example of people not wanting a “lite” viewer, or that a stripped-down Viewer won’t be popular. Going on the comments that exists on this subject (just look at the various SL related fora), I’d say that there is an audience for a Viewer that is lighter on client side resources than those currently available, and applaud Shug for putting forward some suggestions for doing so; however, I do have to caveat doing so.

    Miro has a point where people often want the “resource light” without the Viewer being “functionally light” – and the two don’t easily go hand-in-hand; as such the development of a “lite” Viewer is always going to be difficult no matter how well ring-fenced the capabilities and clearly-stated the limitations. This then brings up the question as to whether the potential audience justifies the effort (coding, support, and so on). The only way to find that out is to give it a go – which is a big step to take.

    What would be potentially beneficial for the Lab (and it is something that has been indicated by the likes of Bagman Linden and Esbee Linden as being on a “wish list”) – is a more modular Viewer in general that would allow people to add functionality as and when they require it. BUT as Esbee also said at SLCC 2011, this also requires a massive amount of re-engineering of the Viewer from the ground up, and it’s something that doesn’t appear to be on the cards any time soon.

    So, all ways around, it’s a tough question to answer – but again, kudos to Shug for putting ideas out that can be discussed.

  8. Shug has made a very good point – I have a reasonably decent system (MacBook Pro) but even with everything on low res, all the SL viewers are frying my processor and my graphics cards, and I often struggle to run other applications. However, I don’t see why the only alternative to this is text-only.

    For example, I’m an inworld DJ and running the extra apps like Nicecast and iTunes, plus a normal browser to search for requests means SL runs at around 1 frame per second even on low-res graphics. Text-only is not an option when I am DJing – whoever heard of a DJ who stands stock-still on the dance-floor?

    So why can’t we find some middle ground?

    Ignoring the defeatists like Miro, I think that instead of wasting time on specialist resource-hungry features like mesh and pathfinding, LL should be working on a SL viewer which has basic graphics and which works on netbooks, chromebooks, tablets and mobiles.

    These devices are where the majority of people are going to be in the future, so producing a product that can only run on high-end machines is signing your own death warrant. If SL is going to survive, LL has to start thinking about making it available on a wider range of devices, and a graphics-lite, resource-effective version would be a step in the right direction.

    • DJ Welles

      Great points Myx. The world is moving quickly toward tablets and mobile technologies – lean and portable. Any service provider, not just LL, that hopes to stay in the game will have to ensure that their technologies support these agile platforms.

    • There have been a few suggestions knocked around, none are perfect.
      1- A modular viewer install where you never even load features that you never use or can do without. I do not think this would make enough of a difference to be called a solution.
      2- Some kind of cloud service where an intermediary server would do the heavy graphics lifting and you would stream your view of SL like a video. I seriously doubt this could be done for free, perhaps some kind of metered usage ($x/month for y# hours). It would probably work but would people use it?
      I do not know the answer but Myx makes the relevant point; as time goes on people with an adequate gaming system and a wired connection will dwindle into a smaller and smaller niche.

      • Inara Pey

        Regarding modular design (and without name-dropping). Rod Humble and I had a short conversation on the idea last year, and he indicated that Jeff Petersen (Bagman Linden, VP of Engineering) was interested in going this route shortly after he joined LL last March. However, at SLCC 2011, when I put the question of modularity to Sarah Kuehnle (Esbee Linden, now sadly gone from LL again), she indicated that while there was desire in LL to make the Viewer more modular, doing so would be a massive and difficult undertaking, and unlikely to happen as a result.

        An attempt was made to use an intermediary server/vice to handle much of the heavy lifting, graphics-wise, for the iPhone four years ago (see: http://modemworld.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/what-might-have-been-graphical-sl-on-the-iphone/).

        The relay gave rise to substantial lag at the client end at the time. Things never moved beyond proof-of-concept. But now we have accessible cloud capabilities, faster wifi, etc., who knows what might be possible – were sufficient users actually willing to accept reduced functionality for regular use to make the effort worthwhile, which is a question in itself.

        I’d also point out that many people are running SL successfully on very old hardware using the Cool VL Viewer and turning off / down the more advanced options as you suggest. There have been some very good blog posts in the past on people’s experiences in this regard.

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  10. As far as producing a modular viewer is concerned, there is already a viewer that is currently of a modular design and that could be used as a base to hang SL compatibility or OpenSim compatibility modules on…RealXtend’s Tundra/Naali viewer.

    Meanwhile, there are technical developments coming about that may require the current SL viewer to be rewritten anyways…SPDY , and HTTP2 .

    And finally, in about a year or two, a new generation of graphics engines will be hitting the market (Outerra, Euclideon) which will also have to be accounted for in the programming of future viewers.

    In fact, if the Euclideon project actually does what it claims, it’s quite possible that rendering speed on an underpowered computer will become a non-issue.

  11. I’m asking and waiting for a SL small little viewer for years, were are in 2012 there are still no good alternatives for Netbooks and old machines. Too bad that LL don’t understand they could bring a lot more people to the game if everybody could access Second Life by using a small tool or even just a browser. Many people like me would be very happy if they could travel through SL with rudimentar graphics (even ascii graphics :p) if that would keep us safe from burning our laptop. Text clients are very limited and they’re not the solution we’re hoping for…

    • @cmagica,
      Probably the most suitable viewer for a netbook would be the Rainbow Viewer by Boy Lane : http://my.opera.com/boylane/blog/all-new-rainbow-1-22-12
      Unfortunately, it does not see Mesh. It is, however, the last viewer that has an SSE only version available(all others require SSE2).

      I agree that it is sad that no one is making a V3 viewer stripped of all the bells and whistles and optimised for netbooks and tablets. As Cool VL Viewer developer Henri Beauchamp claims, the V3 User Interface is full of Bloat (which slows it down and makes it hard for lower powered processors to use) and is one reason why he won’t use it.

      • Lord_Nine, thank you. Rainbow Viewer is old software technology trying to do what I’d like to see new software technology do: making small and light applications for low powered machines.

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  14. I loved reading this discussion. I don’t know if I missed the answer or not, but is it possible to run SL on my Acer Chromebook with having to go through a third party host. Ideally, when I go to the SL site there would be a download link for chromebook. I’m humble enough to admit that if I knew what I was doing I would create such a program myself.

  15. Pingback: Marking the Passage of Time | Rambling with Shug

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