Phoenix-Firestorm February Status

A new release of Phoenix Viewer is coming. This is a bug fix type release. There is another Preview of the Firestorm Viewer coming, Preview 2. The recent Phoenix Office Hour on Rezzed.tv covered many of the aspects of the viewers. One important point covered is the future of Profiles, which you REALLY need to read about. My summary of the hour’s content follows.

Rumors

Not that we ever have any in Second Life… But someone at Linden Lab has apparently talked about adding features from the Firestorm Viewer to the Snowstorm Viewer Project. Some bloggers are saying that means the Phoenix/Firestorm team has partnered with Linden Lab. That sort of implies a paper agreement. Jessica Lyon in the recent Phoenix Hour show says there is no formal partnership, no signed agreements. They are sharing code and features. After all that is the purpose of open source.

The Phoenix-Firestorm team is making every effort to have all their code available under the correct GNU LGPL license. That makes it available to Linden Lab. Along with signing proper formal agreements with Linden Lab for use of their code and for providing code to Linden Lab there should be an easy flow of code back and forth. So, as I understand it now, no special partnership is needed or required nor has anything other than the standard TPV agreements been entered into by the Phoenix-Firestorm Viewer Team.

Phoenix Viewer

As of 2/9 10:15 AM PT the 818 version viewer is still the primary download. Expect that to change any day now. As mentioned above, the coming release is a ‘bug fix’ release. More stuff works, like Display Names in various panels and windows. The list of high profile fixes is on the Phoenix site. See: Upcoming Viewer Releases

Firestorm Preview 2

Most of the news is about the new viewer, Firestorm. Preview 2 is coming soon. Release is anticipated about the end of February. Remember. The Preview Viewer is pre-alpha version software.

While one can expect pre-alpha software to be buggy, Preview Viewer 1 has fewer crashes than Phoenix 818, not quite 1% less but less. This is a nice accomplishment by the Phoenix-Firestorm team. I suspect the team members are as surprised as anyone. Whatever the case, congrats.

Radar – This is a very popular feature of the Phoenix Viewer. For the Firestorm team it is a high priority to get radar up and working. In the meeting it was pointed out the Emerald/Phoenix radar was the result of 18 months of work. Because of code 2 changes and licensing issues the radar code is being rewritten. So, it is going to take some time to fully implement in Firestorm. Some of the code that allows radar to be integrated into the mini-map and/or sidebar comes from the ‘Catnips Viewer’ (did I hear that correctly?). But, much of the code has to be rewritten and it will be some time before the full functionality of the radar will be in Firestorm. Expect it to take months.

The Bridge – OK, most of us have no clue what the heck they mean by bridge or what it is used for or what it does. The Bridge is explained in the Phoenix Wiki: LSL Client Bridge. Basically it is a prim attachment the viewer adds to your avatar. A script in it communicates with the Phoenix viewer to improve radar performance, enable point-to-point teleport even when the SIM forces all teleports to the regions Tp Hub, and a bunch of other handy stuff people like. The Bridge is now making its way into Firestorm and getting some better TP ability.

Grid Manager – We are not going to see a grid manager in Preview 2. We may not see one for some time. The team does not want to promote the idea that the viewer can beused in other grids until after they can test it on other grids. I already know the Phoenix 818 has some issues on OSGrid. Kirsten’s has come clothing and appearance issues on OSGrid. So, we may be some months way from having new viewers for use in OpenSim grids.

Login Manager – Firestorm Viewer Preview 2 will have a login manager. This helps when you have multiple avatars or more than one person uses the computer and viewer.

Spell Check – This is panned will probably not make it into Preview 2, however it is a feature that is on the list of things to add.

Preferences – The Preferences panels and tabs are something the Team is working on. In general the interface is being worked on to improve usability. This includes the accordions in the sidebar and panels other than Preferences. Accordions in the Preferences panels are going away. I won’t miss them. I didn’t particularly like them. The hope is that the new Firestorm section of Preferences will be easier t use and find things in. We’ll see. Where to put what and how to get it to fit are ongoing problems.

Command Line – The basic Phoenix command line stuff is part of the Preview 2 release. BTW, this is another of those things the Bridge helps with. This is the feature that allows you to type ‘dd 64’ into chat and have the viewer change its draw distance to 64 meters. There is a bunch of other commands that it handles too.

Right Click Wear – This has been added to Preview 2 inventory abilities.

Temporary Uploads – This is the feature that allows you to upload a texture for free. You are limited to using it for your use. No one else can see it. For clothes makers it is a great way to test clothing appearance. It save a trip to the Preview Grid. That will be in the Preview 2 release.

Buttons – This is geeky. You may or may not know that Phoenix has quite an impressive support group. Lots of people are helping Phoenix Viewer users. I suspect they have learned that it is way handy to have buttons to take people to the viewer cache folder, settings folder, and log folder. It makes life easier for all.

Clear Cache – You have probably found that using the SLV2 style Cache Reset button to clear the cache also resets the cache location to the default cache location. Not exactly what all of us want to do. I use custom cache locations to make sure my viewers are NOT sharing caches. There are reasons. One has way less problems if they use separate caches for their viewers. Now Fire storm will have an actual Clear Cache button that only clears the cache. This will save having to manually clear the cache with the viewer closed.

Sidebar Option – As crazy as it may seem to some, there are people that like the sidebar… I’m not a big fan, but since they made it detachable (in SL Dev 2.6) it’s not bad. Firestorm will have the option to use the sidebar available in some skins. The same is going to be true for the old pie menus. Some skins will support them.

The Big Issues

Viewer Interface

Now that the series 2 user interface is becoming more usable, more people are adopting viewers using a more series 2 style interface. Acceptance is growing and the Firestorm Viewer Preview UI is very much a bridge from series 1 viewers to the series 2 viewer interface. I suspect many long time residents will adopt the new Firestorm Viewer as a good transition to the series 2 style viewers. I also suspect that the official SLViewer will move toward many of the Firestorm interface features.

KDU Purchased

This is a major step for a TPV. The Firestorm Team has purchased KDU.

KDU is third party software. It handles the ‘decoding’ or decompression of textures, image files. All images/textures in Second Life are stored in JPEG2000 format. It is a complex and multi-featured image format. KDU is used to translate the TGA, PNG, and JPG images residents upload to a highly compressed JPG (or JPEG same thing) image format with a minimum degradation of image quality. That reduces the bandwidth and time needed to transmit the tons of images needed for Second Life. The result is you rez the world faster.

It takes time to compress and decompress images. KDU is fast. In fact testing by Linden Lab has shown that KDU is 3 to 5 times faster (reference) than OpenJPEG, the open source alternative to KDU. The recent upgrade to KDU 6.4 (I think that is the version) is 30% faster than the previous version of KDU. Well, 30% faster in Linux and Mac, but only 12% faster in Windows.

Most TPV’s use OpenJPEG. Many of the problems with avatars not rezzing, fuzzy images, some objects failing to rez, and sculpty objects being messed up are directly traceable to problems that OpenJPEG is having with KDU compressed images. Something like 1% of the images simply will not decompress correctly. The viewer then either fails, tries to download a new copy of the image/texture, or gives you a fuzzy image that never clears up or simply leaves it grey.

It seems the team has licensed KDU for Firestorm. So, we will not be seeing KDU in use in Phoenix. So, one will not see the speed increases or elimination of image decompression problems.

Web Profiles

If you haven’t seen the new Web Profiles… well… I suspect you are not going to be happy. I certainly am not. This is one of those things that Linden Lab plans have considered as required for SL to grow. The idea is; the new Web Profiles will make SL more accessible to the social networking crowd and thus make SL more popular. I’m not at all sure that is true or will actually work, but I understand the need to try it.

However, Web Profiles suck in so many ways…

The Sucky Cons

The new web profiles are slow to open and I doubt that is going to change. It takes a long time for a profile to open. I could be giving birth to a guy’s child before I ever get to read his profile… ok, that is an exaggeration. But, 5 to 10 seconds is typical.

The new profiles take up 3 to 4 times as much screen space. Viewer 2 interfaces are already eating up screen space. No one in their right mind wants to use a series 2 viewer in a combat sim, unless they like dying, which some do but my point is the user interface places users at a competitive disadvantage.

The Web Profile uses the in-viewer-browser. That means the TPV Dev and viewer skin makers cannot change or customize the Profile’s appearance. The Profile it literally a web page that is outside their control. The Firestorm team is considering using page scraping, a way to pull data off a web page and redisplay it in another format, to show profiles. The problem is page scraping is notoriously fragile, a very poor solution.

Another problem many have not considered is privacy. One cannot control who sees the profile. Because it is a Web Page it is available to Google. I’m not sure that Google can spider the Profiles. But, any link on a web page to the profile, like from the Market Place or SL Blog/Form can lead the spider to your Profile. Once it is in Google…

One of the next things you will notice about Web Profiles is there is no way to hide groups. Join a group and it is out there. Considering some of the kinky groups in SL this could be a big problem for lots of people.

Also, the notes many of us record on the profile of others is gone. So, I can’t write a note about the guy I muted for being a total jerk or an activist for the elimination of chocolate. Interests and language are also gone.

Your Profile picture is wacky too and it tends to get cropped.

Your Profile will contain Linden ads. It is likely a great new source of income for them.

Like There is Anything Good Pros

Search works better… if you consider that a plus. Once could search for people based on content in their bio, picks, and groups.

Web Profiles use fewer resources… or so I’ve heard.

They do allow social networking links. Some consider that a big plus. I’m playing with Facebook and seeing how it works with Twitter and my blog.

Web Profiles will allow LL income by adding advertising to your Profile. While that is a plus for the Lab, I’m not sure what it will or won’t do for me.

Profile Activism

The Firestorm team does not see any good solutions on the horizon. SLV2.5 is in beta release 3 now. That is uncommon. So, we can expect to see 2.5 becoming the standard viewer soon. With its adoption as the standard viewer these profiles become the default profile. Whether LL will allow the older style to be use in TPV’s is unknown. I think the chance of that is slim. So, the older style profile is likely to disappear quickly.

If anything is to be done about Web Profiles, it has to be done now. This means you must visit JIRA Web-3493 and place your comments. DO NOT vote for it, for that will have no effect. However, constructive criticism will have an effect. Write a paragraph of what you would like to see.

Remember. The Lab thinks this is a crucial change for the survival of SL and its future. So, eliminating Web Profiles is not a viable option. But it is possible to make the data in Web Profiles available to the viewer in a fashion other than a web page that eats up a massive part of the screen. It is also possible to once again have the controls to hide groups, have notes and interests.

Be constructive and respectful. Add something to the JIRA.

Other Grids & Misc

Firestorm and Other Grids – Not yet. As mentioned above there will be not Grid Manager in Preview 2. The team will not release a grid manager until they know the viewer works well on other grids. They say it works on other grids now… it is a matter of how well. I have yet to try it. I know Kirsten’s S21 creates some clothing and inventory issues.

SpotOn3D – The viewer for SpotOn3D, another grid, will be Phoenix not Firestorm.

Command Line Calc – no calculations – licensing issues prevents this feature from being added for now.

Persistent Search Term – This is something many of us would like to see. The question was asked but not answered.

Griefer Protection Tools from Phoenix will move to Firestorm but the move will take some time.

The Windlight Region Settings thing is moving to Firestorm and will work as it does in Phoenix.

LSL Preprocessor – They want to add this to Firesotrm, but they are not sure they can. It is a complex and labor intense change. So, we may not see it for some time.

The Phoenix Hour Video: http://rezzed.tv/2011/02/the-phoenix-hour-8th-february-2011/ (60 minutes)

One thought on “Phoenix-Firestorm February Status

  1. Thanks for the great summary, it’s great to have a heads up. ..Firestorm is already my fav viewer 🙂 The catznip viewer is spelled with a middle z.

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