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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Parallel Universes Part II: OpenSim – Stareyes Galaxy Reporting

Getting started on OpenSim (OS) is not quite as straightforward as it is in SL. You must configure your viewer, first of all, to connect to OS. Being cautious about not messing my SL settings on my Firestorm viewer, I went out to download the Singularity viewer to connect to the OS grid. This viewer works very similarly to any third-party SL viewer. The account itself has to be created on the OpenSim web page. Once I got the viewer configured and logged on, I had quite some trouble loading on an avatar. I went around as a white cloud until I was able to confirm, with another, more experienced avatar that I was facing a known Singularity bug. “Adding” instead of “wearing” my avatar folder (that I had acquired from various sources) finally worked, and I was able to start my journey. After self-combusting issues with the Singularity viewer and having done a clean reinstall, I organized an interview with Lani Global, a SL veteran designer who has made an impressive presence on OS. We met at her sci-fi themed sim.

SLE: To me, OpenSim looks like it is primarily intended for people who want to set up their own sims. Am I correct?

Lani: Really, OpenSim is for everyone. Mainly, it is a free simulator environment not controlled by a proprietary company.

SLE:  That seems to reflect in the non-commercial nature of the "shops".

Lani:  The OpenSim simulator happens to use basically the same viewer as Second Life, and the scripting language of SL also. There are commercial grids running on OpenSim as well as free grids.

SLE:  Thank you for the explanation. You say you left Second Life due to their TOS change in 2010. Can you please explain the logic behind this move?

Lani:  Well, in April 2010, the Terms of Service in Second Life were changed drastically. It became what is known as a Walled Garden. I didn't leave, but at that point, I sold my land holdings there, and decided to branch out into OpenSim. Since then, I have maintained a small vendor system there in some RP sims, and a small presence on SL MarketPlace. I have nothing against SL, I would just rather be creating in a place where I can save all my inventory and save my whole sim as a file, keep backups. SL doesn't allow that. I just don't trust companies to totally control all my works of art and 3d creations. They lock it up, and want to use it to their advantage, sometimes to the detriment of the creators. Especially if that company fails, that could be catastrophic. You might say, here in OpenSim, all the creators are more like masters of their own destiny.

SLE:  What you have created here would cost loads of Lindens in tier fees. How would you compare financing this estate on your own server, to the Linden experience?

Lani:  Yes, the cost of my 2 main sim regions here in OSGrid is quite low compared to what it would be in Second Life. This sim has a lot of visitors, about 15,000 unique visitors per year. So, it requires a server in a data center. I rent the simulator server at about 25% of the cost of what it would be in Second Life. But, for most people, they can run a sim server on their laptop at home, if they have high speed internet ISP service. They can do that for free, and have friends over to their home regions. A lot of laptop sims that people run at home are only online when they want to turn them on. But some people keep a second computer devoted to their OpenSim regions, on 24/7/365.

SLE:  How about institutional builders, such as universities? There seems to be an exodus for these from the SL side over to the OpenSim.

Lani:  OpenSim is vastly popular among not-for-profit organizations and educational institutions. They can give every student a sim, and that can run on a thumb drive. Also, some universities have their own open or closed OpenSim grids or services, for their students. The actual number of OpenSim servers and regions is unknown, because there is no central reporting service for the software (it is open source). But, recently, for the publicly known OpenSim grids, the vast area of land surpassed that of Second Life. So, OpenSim is larger than Second Life now.

SLE:  Interesting. So far, however, I have seen very few avatars anywhere.
Lani:  I see a lot of avatars here, but they are spread out over thousands and thousands of regions. For example, on Saturday, I had over 80 unique avatars visit this region we are in. That may not seem like a high traffic sim to some in SL, but for OpenSim, it is a fairly good traffic number. Typically on weekdays, there are about 45 to 65 avatars per day here in the Lani region of OSGrid.

SLE:  For anybody new to OpenSim, how would one best approach getting to know it?

Lani:  There are so many sims in OpenSim because people can build their dreams. And they just keep building more and more. Since it is free or low cost, there is a huge Dreamland out there. 

We then discussed getting around OpenSim grids by “hypergrid” travel that can reach anywhere in the OpenSim Metaverse. The trouble seems to be that you need to know the equivalent of the SLURL to be able to know where to go. The “Search” function is in this sense incomplete and can only address parts of the Metaverse, some of which will remain unknown to the search engine. Some websites attempt to catalog all this information. Lani explained the nature of the Metaverse further: “OpenSim is considered ‘Alpha’ software, that is, it is still going through experimental development. However, the quality of the OpenSim experience is very high now. It is close to Second Life's technology in most cases, and surpasses Second Life in some other features and technology.” She then proceeded to show me an example of the OS capability by taking me to a cloner. With this, I made an exact replica of my avatar that could exist as an autonomous bot. This is still impossible in Second Life.

SLE:  How about if you wanted to set up your "home" in OS metaverse. How would one go about it?'

Lani:  My estate here is in a Sci-Fi theme. It is a desert planet, with futuristic timeline, with spacecraft and higher levels of technology. If you want to get a home here in OSGrid or elsewhere in the OpenSim worlds, I would recommend two different ways, depending upon how much of a nerd you are. If you are somewhat tech savvy, you can run your own sim on your home computer. Then, if you are not so tech savvy, I recommend just renting a sim from Dreamland Metaverse (a sim server hosting company). They provide low cost high performance sims, ready to go. They are easy to use and can get you set up with a sim in OSGrid within 24 hours. I think they are one of the best ways for a non-tech person to get virtual land in OpenSim.

SLE:  Finally, do you have any "general" advice for anyone starting to explore the OpenSim metaverse after their "typical" SL experience?

Lani:  There are various OpenSim grids, but I recommend starting out in OSGrid, because it is the biggest and has a lot of free content. Also, get the OpenSim version of Firestorm viewer! It currently is the best one for most people.
We continued talking in an informal way and I discovered many important aspects of the OS grid and got helpful hints from Lani, to continue my exploration. While going around, teleporting to different sims, I never saw very many people around. Lani explained that there are social events that are scheduled. On Fridays there is a big party at one popular sim, and on Tuesdays there is a developer discussion forum. There is a listing of sims with avatars present available on the OpenSim login page.
Some sims I visited had been themed around one aspect of fantasy or another of reality. I went to “1001 Nights” that had a bazaar and a harem and to another sim that had a replica of a farm that the creator had lived on as a child. One of the best known replica regions on OS Grid is one representing University of California at Berkeley.

It is possible to get around on OpenSim spending very little money. Free items are available everywhere. Lani’s store is all free, for instance. Once you go there, your money indicator shows 100 000 OS$ that disappears when you leave. There are commercial grids that will sell items, and there you may need to delve into your Pay Pal account to finance your items.
My impression on OpenSim, from this limited excursion into the Metaverse, was that it really is less of a social interaction platform which SL genuinely is intended to be, and rather an open vista for expressing your creativity in 3-D art and item creation. Scripting is very much the core of everything that OS is, and as was demonstrated to me, there are some examples of capabilities that cannot be done on the vanilla LSL. If you are willing to let go of your ties in SL, and able to build your own sim, in OpenSim you will be able to do this without the prim limits of SL. Just let the inner scripter take the hold of your brain and let it all out!
I thank Lani Global for the great help she gave me in getting started on OpenSim.

Dreamland Metaverse:


  1. Nice intro to OpenSim!

    For folks interested in exploring further, the busiest grid, with the most people, is the closed commercial InWorldz grid:
    For folks interested in a free 100,000-prim region to build on, try Kitely. You can have your own region in a couple of minutes:
    If you want the easiest possible way to run OpenSim on a home computer, try the New World Studio:
    For some hypergrid addresses to start exploring with, try the Hyperica directory:

    Good luck!

    -- Maria Korolov, editor, Hypergrid Business

  2. Thanks Maria! The next edition of my "Parallel Universes" article series will indeed feature OpenSim-based closed worlds such as Inworldz and Kitely. I am sure our readers will appreciate the links you gave, so thanks for those as well! -Stareyes

  3. "Getting started on OpenSim (OS) is not quite as straightforward as it is in SL"

    What do you mean using Opensim is not as easy as using SL. Opensim is easy and very straight forward to use.

  4. Another gloom & doom prediction but lets look at a few facts
    Opensim is still in Alpha not even Beta with 1000's of showstopper bugs the software is fragmented with an undirected developers group this will not change for years in the future.
    Opensim grids mostly do not even meet secondlifes performance standards so to tell people its a good alternative is not fair just try crossing regions in osgrid or dealing with lag in metropolis or getting harassed by kitelys owner on forums or getting service from a bad hosting provider were nothing works right, the list just goes on and on.
    The only alternatives that have real people with software that is comparable to secondlife is avination & inworldz with inworldz being the top of them because they were willing to fork and spend the time and effort to make it stable while avinations is not far behind, the secret is both function as a cheaper secondlife with good support that's not dependent on opensim they developed in-house the changes needed this has to due with software we are not talking about plug in modules that anyone can make.
    If secondlife stopped running tomorrow in 2 weeks everyone would be in opensim but by 4 weeks they would be offline or on another platform .

  5. Interesting comments! I am glad this topic is being discussed. First of all, I might have done better getting on Opensim using e.g. Firestorm's OS version. Now, I did not want to do that on the computer I use and tried out Singularity instead. There were some problems getting started that relate directly to the viewer. You could argue that it takes just as long to spiff up your avatar in Second Life, but I found it more difficult to get my avatar going and I would have been very "Ruth-like" had it not been to the help of Lani Global to get me a decent starter avatar.

    I did not make a gloom/doom prediction of virtual worlds. The graph shown in the article is one I have seen before and it illustrates just one aspect of the OS Metaverse. Clearly, if you want to create a whole sim, OS is there for you as an economic alternative. There are no statistics that I know of about how active any of the regions are, compared to SL.

    The nature of open-source development is of course that everything is in a state of flux. A certain tech-darwinism will level out the playing field. InWorldz for instance seems to be an evolutionary branch of OS that has taken its own direction. I have now started exploring that branch.

    Thanks again for the comments! -Stareyes


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