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Accurate? My Guesses for OpenSim in 2009 Reviewed December 31, 2009

Posted by justincc in opensim, opinion, secondlife, virtual-environments, virtual-worlds.

Hi folks.  I thought that I would spend a little bit of time today assessing the guesses I made for OpenSim back at the start of 2009.  It might be less than usually coherent since I’ve been struck down by a cold today, so please forgive that.  Next year I’ll stick my head out again and make some more guesses for 2010 :).  Anyway, here goes:

  1. OpenSim will remain in alpha for the first half of 2009, and probably for the second half as well.

    CORRECT. This wasn’t a hard call.  For a project with over half a million lines of code, I don’t think that 2 to 3 years of development is a long time.  It’s also notable that one of my missing feature examples from the start of 2009 – “allowing rez/derez of collections of objects” – is still not implemented.  However, I would say that there has been a reduction in hard race condition bugs.

  2. Lots more public OpenSim based grids will appear but growth will be steady rather than spectacular.

    INCORRECT/CORRECT. Here’s where I wish that I’d get a copy of the OpenSim grid list page from the start of 2009. The earliest version of the page still available in the wiki history is 04:55, 23 May 2009. On this date, 57 grids were listed.  As of today, there are 59 grids in this list.  Other possible sources (such as GridHop and YoSims) are less comprehensive and don’t provide historical data.

    Of course, the grid list is an extremely inaccurate proxy.  We only have ‘data’ for 7 months of the year.  People can put any numbers they like in this list and some people don’t even know about it. But it is true that some individual grids, such as ReactionGrid, have grown significantly.  For instance, Kyle Gomboy of ReactionGrid is quoted in an October 2009 piece on The Metaverse Journal that

    “On growth, since launch in January we’re up to almost 5,000 users platform wide, with over 60 independent servers and almost 500 sims platform wide, 150+ here on our world. So extrapolating to next year, we could be pretty huge hehe….”

    Maria Korolov appears to have some region numbers but these are from a point in time and aren’t useful for comparative purposes. So it’s pretty difficult to tell but on balance I’m going to venture that the absolute number of public grids has not grown significantly.  However, some individual grids (such as Reaction Grid and OSGrid) have probably steadily expanded.  I’d be very interested in any feedback from grid operators on this.

  3. The leading Second Life viewer by a very large margin will remain the Linden Labs Second Life viewer and its derivatives.

    CORRECT. On reflection, what I meant to say was that the leading OpenSim Second Life viewer would continue to be the Linden Labs viewer and its derivatives such as Meerkat, Imprudence and Hippo (though I’m informed that nobody is currently working on the Hippo viewer).

    From personal anecdotal experience I think that it is the case that Linden Lab derived Second Life viewers remain the most popular for accessing OpenSim-based Second Life grids.  Some interesting new viewers have appeared such as 3di’s Rei viewer which can operate as a web browser plugin.  Realxtend also started work on their new Naali viewer this year – a viewer rewrite that is not based on the Linden Labs codebase (unlike their previous viewer). LookingGlass is also an interesting active project.

    However, none of these have hit the core OpenSim big time (which is an extremely relative term considering the embryonic size of OpenSim).  Rei is oriented towards support for their own 3di OpenSim platform and isn’t yet compatible with Second Life features such as avatars and textures (actually it is now compatible with textures from looking at this YouTube movie and Zaki’s blog post – many thanks to JeanRicard Broek for the correction).  Naali is too new to have had any impact and is also oriented towards realXtend’s modrex extension of the OpenSim platform. LookingGlass is still a fairly new one person project right now.

    Of the viewers that Adam highlighted last in December 2008, none of them appear to be active (Xenki was last updated in April 2009, OpenViewer in February 2009 and IdealistViewer back in November 2008).

  4. Open Grid Protocol (OGP) efforts will remain almost at a standstill.

    CORRECTISH. As far as I know, OGP has effectively morphed into VWRAP (The last update to the OGP draft documents was in October 2008 last year.). VWRAP is still alive so perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, particularly as standards documents always take a long time to produce. But it’s hard to get excited about a process that hasn’t yet produced anything except a draft charter.  It’s notable that few OpenSim developers are participating in the mailing list discussions.

  5. Experiments with Hypergrid and similar cross grid architectures will continue but will not become mainstream.

    CORRECT. There has been continuing interest in the Hypergrid idea but it’s impossible to secure assets where any third party simulator is available for teleport, as outlined in the linked blogpost. Diva continues to work on the Hypergrid infrastructure but she has also started work on an ‘HG2’ Grider project.  HG2 is a second generation Hypergrid architecture where assets and other important data are delivered directly to the client rather than via a potentially malicious region simulator middleman.  In Grider’s case, this trick is managed via a proxy that wraps around existing viewers.  This project seems to be still in its early days.

  6. Linden Labs will launch their “grid behind a firewall” product but this won’t significantly reduce interest in OpenSim.

    Don’t know. Guessing the release of Second Life Enterprise (SLE) itself wasn’t exactly hard, particularly as it had already been unofficially announced. But I don’t think that there’s enough data to tell whether SLE has hurt or hindered OpenSim at this early stage of open-source virtual environment platforms. All I can say is that I haven’t personally detected any notable decline in interest in OpenSim compared to 2008, hopefully for the reasons outlined in January’s guess 🙂

  7. There will be growing corporate interest in OpenSim.

    CORRECTISH. I would say that Intel has significantly stepped up its involvement – OpenSim was featured as part of this year’s SC09 SuperComputing conference as part of their 3D Internet ‘thrust area’ :). They’ve contributed a fair number of patches and now have two people in the core OpenSim development team.

    On the other hand, IBM’s direct involvement in the OpenSim codebase has declined with the absence (temporarily?) of IBM’s OpenSim representative Sean Dague as of September 2009. We haven’t seen any other big companies step into OpenSim yet, though one always hears rumours of skunkworks projects in some big organizations.  On balance I would say that there has been uptick in interest.

  8. Later on in the year, products using OpenSim as part of an application will start to beta.

    INCORRECT. There have been occasional projects of this nature, such as Shaspa. But these don’t appear to have caught on (actually, Oliver Goh of Shaspa e-mailed me to let me know that the project is still very much alive. For instance, they’ll be at CES in Las Vegas on 7th – 11th of January and there will be a panel discussing the Shaspa framework).
    I think that 2009 was still too early for this considering the alpha nature of the OpenSim codebase and the lack of any published standards for intergrid or grid-viewer communication protocols.

  9. There will be considerable growth in third party OpenSim modules this year.

    INCORRECT. On the OpenSim forge, 10 projects have been registered since the middle of July 2009. Of these, 1 was a region module project. Linear extrapolation makes for 2 modules this year, which isn’t very many.

    I’m not sure exactly why this is.  There are probably lots of contributing factors; a lack of documentation for region modules, the still embryonic nature of OpenSim, more interest in projects surrounding the simulator (such as monitors and automatic deployers) rather than embedded within it. The forge itself is also likely another inaccurate proxy but I don’t know of a better one.

I’m going to charitably call this 61% (5.5/9) which is a pass mark I think :).  Any comments/agreements/disagreements/clarifications are very welcome.  Other than that, I hope everybody has a Happy New Year and a prosperous 2010!



1. Diva - December 31, 2009

About 2: I’m pretty sure the number of grids has increased substantially, and I have seen a substantial increase in the number of sims that register with Metaverse Ink during the year. However, these are not “known grids”, i.e. they aren’t anything like SL or ReactionGrid; these are very small grids, personal or group worlds. Most of them are standalone grids. For every “known grid” out there, there are about 50 or so unnamed/unknown small ones. This is the reality of OpenSim adoption. It’s not about big public splashes; it’s about quiet anonymous adoption. If OpenSim is to become the Apache of VWs, that’s exactly what we want! — and that’s what we should be designing for.

About 5: I’m not not the Hypergrid is more experimental than OpenSim itself 🙂

2. Marcus Llewellyn - December 31, 2009

Concerning #9…

I’ve contemplated writing a module for OpenSim a few times. A weather module, maybe. Or a new, pretty version of the webstats module that didn’t have the HTML hardcoded. And yeah… a lack of documentation was part of why I never went too very far with them.

Now, this should not be taken as a diatribe demanding documentation. While I always appreciate it when a core dev takes the time to explain things, I don’t see that as a primary responsibility. But quite often, the code itself is the only documentation available. As you point out, there are over half a million lines of code, and more than a few bits of functionality are dependent on other bits. For someone like myself who has not been elbows deep in it from the beginning, wading through it to find what I need can be quite a chore. 😛 The result is that I’ve spent hours tracking down this and that without ever getting the chance to write much in the way of code myself.

This definitely says something about my ability to stick to a project, I ‘spose. But I don’t feel too very guilty after what feels like endless searches through the OpenSim code. It takes a whole lot of dedication at the moment.

3. Baloo Uriza - December 31, 2009

Boy I sure wish universities considered 61% passing…

4. Rob Knop - December 31, 2009

Re: #9, lack of documentation is a big issue. Also, the API is still in flux…. That both makes writing and updating documentation challenging, and is something that should give folks who want to write third party modules pause.

Baloo Uriza: what do you mean? Very few universities have an official policy about what percent correct is “passing”. I know that lots of people have this idea that “70-79% is a C, 80-89% is a B, 90+% is an A”, and indeed I discovered that it was easier to adjust my scoring than adjust students’ attitudes when I taught. But that’s just a convention. What is passing depends entirely on context.

Consider baseball hitters. If somebody is hitting 0.450, he’s an AMAZING hitter. But by your implied “according to the standard” snark comment, this should not only be an F, but a resounding F….

I took tests in college where the high score was in the 70s and the median was in the 60s. It’s just a matter of how hard the test was, how it was designed, etc. Context.

All of which is irrelevant, because nobody’s grading JustinCC on his predictions. He’s just looking back to see how things evolved compared to how he expected them to. I suspect he would have been THRILLED if it turned out to be wrong about #1, for example.

5. Tweets that mention Accurate? My Guesses for OpenSim in 2009 Reviewed | justincc.org -- Topsy.com - December 31, 2009

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Terry Thorpe (Kohd), Justin Clark-Casey. Justin Clark-Casey said: Accurate? My Guesses for OpenSim in 2009 Reviewed – http://bit.ly/50bTRV […]

6. JeanRicard Broek - January 1, 2010

Great recap of the state of affairs.
One very small correction:
“Rei is oriented towards support for their own 3di OpenSim platform and isn’t yet compatible with Second Life features such as avatars and textures.”

Rei can do OS/SL textures but not SL avatars. see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBbR4txM9M4 & http://zaki.asia/2009/12/21/osgrid-in-rei/

TKS again

7. Mike Pitman - January 1, 2010

RE: #7 Corporate interest is hard to gage. There aren’t a lot of meaningful tweets, and if there were, the volume would undermine its own utility. I’ll speak from my own perspective about my own projects at IBM research as an example of corporate interest and upticks. Early in 09, egion modules were up and running, and functionality was coming together fast. New service interface and code management, both net good moves for the project, had a hard hit on some of us early adopters working on internal projects. It took a bit to recover (months not weeks), and for those who recovered admidst untold levels multitasking between other projects, likely emerged stronger. Region modules in the new world, and oh, lots of MRM scripts (!), look more promising than ever.

Documentation, yes, always needed. But one thing worse than no documentation is obsolete documentation that deceives, and when the code is changing so fast underneath, I agree its _not_ a solution to expect volunteer core dev folks that are coding fast to stop coding and document for the sake of others.

2009 was opensim’s clearest year yet of conflict between research efforts and pressures to more formally develop. As one whose day job is research, I like to think of research code as part of a process of figuring out what is ultimately worth documenting, since most of it just dies in the churn. Of course, the frustration not having documentation for other research code I want to use can sometimes rule the day, it is par for the frontier (what part of ‘bleeding edge’ was not understood?).

A more formal development process would go a long way to reducing the barriers to adoption. That usually takes money to pay devs to obey paid project managers. Core, as it should, moves the code forward, broken halves coming and going, for free. Many thanks. Pressuring core toward’s more formal development, dryly stating from my corporate view, doesn’t look like a good long term strategy.

I hear there is a foundation on the way to head up a more formal development effort towards documentation and stable release, a comfortable distance away from trunk. That would take some pressure off of core and help research on the bleeding edge to go by with fewer flames. More importantly, I think that will go a long way to help the uptick in interest from corporations and educational institutions.

I’m looking forward to lots of progress in 2010!

8. justincc - January 2, 2010

@Diva – interesting to know about the grid registration numbers you’re seeing.

@JeanRicard – thanks very much for the links and the correction, I’ll work that into the main blog post shortly.

@Marcus, @Rob, @Mike – I agree that it does take too much dedication to get to grips with how to do things in OpenSim region modules at the moment. I also agree that one factor here is the high rate of underlying code churn. It does make it both difficult to keep up with the code and tends to make documentation obsolete (though personally I think that even obsolete and slightly misleading API documentation is much better than none at all).

I’m a little conflicted about how fixable this is in the short term though – on the one hand I would absolutely love to see better documentation but on the other hand I’m not sure that this wouldn’t prematurely trying to stabilize the API before some of the really bad early wrinkles have been ironed out. I don’t think that’s any excuse for not writing short method/class documentation on externally facing interfaces though.

@Mike – really good to hear from you, it has been too long :). Yes, the churn over 2009 has not gone unnoticed – it’s a factor in the recent talk of foundations and stable distributions.

But my suspicion is that these won’t work until the upstream OpenSim has matured. Though some of us are trying to promote a culture of “publish your proposal and then work” for major architectural changes instead of “chuck in a bunch of code and never tell anybody how it works” there’s still no guarantee that this will take. Reading and commenting on proposals is far easier than trying to analyze 100s of separate code commits. But even then, I think that there are too few people who have the time to sit down, think through and thoroughly debate such things.

Which is one reason why I miss Sean. As a corporately funded developer, he had the reserves to deep think and debate that are much harder to come by for those of us who hunt for a living. I think that we need additional serious-minded people like him who can help evolve an OpenSim culture that can encourage experimentation yet provide a solid and more reliable central core of functionality. Without that, I feel that any downstream project or foundation will be trying to stand on unpredictably shifting sands.

9. Ener Hax - January 3, 2010

the iliveisl crew will go bonkers and jump into OpenSim via Reaction Grid. CORRECT!

for corporate involvement in OpenSim, would you count Microsoft getting in with Reaction Grid? as well as Intel, Hong Kong PolyTechnic, and so on? HK Poly is not corporate per se but they do hospitality training isl and shape the global hospitality sector’s perception of OpenSim

nice on the SLE one as well – that one is for such a small niche group and the price point is such that ROI is hard to justify – there are viable hosted OpenSim offerings that should be able to address the same desires

for 2010, there will be greater desire to see OpenSim get “more solid” for corporate use and certainly it’s alpha state reflects this. from my little tiny perspective, the big issue is hypergridding and asset protection – ecommerce does not factor at all in what we would like to do with OpenSim, but content protection is a concern (not of anything we make, but in anything we buy from others – to give them peace of mind)

thank you for your list, it helps someone like me, a newcomer and naive, understand where OpenSim has been and a glimpse at where it is going

10. justincc - January 4, 2010

@Ener – Ah I had forgotten about Microsoft! Their involvement isn’t at the code level though (as far as I know) but it’s a valid point.

11. Predictions for OpenSim in 2010 | justincc.org - January 15, 2010

[…] folks. Having assessed my 2009 predictions at the end of last year, I meant to get this post out very shortly afterwards but, as so often, life intervened :). Still […]

12. Gaga Gracious - February 1, 2010

I agree with Deva there are more small grids around than might be known and are certainly not on the OS grid list or most of the viewers available. I suggested that Imprudence might improve the grid list feature of their by adding a search to it. However, Jacek answered saying, the OS grid list was not in a form they could access in the viewer. I don’t know how it can be done but, as a user, it sure would be a way to find grids using OS since grid owners could conceivably add there grids to a central database that all viewers could access. In terms of community building in the free Metaverse I personally see it as important along with copywrite protection and monetary systems and centralized registrations that can be accessed for remote logins (I suspect that is what Linden Labs is up to with their recent acquisition of Avatars United).I have heard too many stories of people bringing their friends into OS grids only to have them put off by the lack of money service, protections and not least the fragmented distribution of grids of interest.

As a side note I felt it to be a shame no one is supporting the MeerKat viewer now. I had high hopes for it simply because it had the unique feature of inter-grid teleports. Now, I know that doesn’t stop anyone from logging out of SL and back into OS but from a marketing point of view it’s a selling point and gives people the feeling they are free to come and go as simple a teleporting from sim to sim in Second Life.I really wanted to use my SL sim as portal too. The slogans would go like, “Become a Gridnaught and travel beyond your walled garden into the Metaverse”. Become a Gridder, a Gridrunner, even a cyber hitch hiker *grins* But the object must be to get more people into OS grids for the free Metaverse to grow.

13. justincc - February 2, 2010

@Gaga – Sounds like an opporunity for someone to maintain an easily machine-readable grid list to me.

It is early days for everything yet – the OpenSim software is still alpha after all so some of the things you mention don’t surprise me. I suspect things will really start to take off once the software has matured to the point where the larger community can really start to use it. But in the meantime the most intrepid pioneers will make a lot of interesting stuff happen.

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