Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Viewer 2.x & The Coming Snowstorm

On August 16th, Linden Lab announced Project Snowstorm (Web), a new viewer development plan and an unfortunate name choice all in one. Despite living in New England I can't say I'm fond of snow even if it doesn't arrive in a storm, but I'll give this one to The Lab since they are at least keeping in theme with the Snowglobe viewer. Let's hope it bodes well for the User (AKA, Residents) as their last effort, the V2.x viewer, has gotten a bad reception by many.

Repeating for clarity, Snowstorm is not itself a new viewer, but rather it is a process by which the next generation of viewers will be created. In short, we'll see more open communication from The Lab, faster release cycles, and all the stuff they promised with Snowglobe, but using different names and rubrics. I'll leave discussion and analysis of this to others (like the talented Tateru Nino and her recent blog post). Rather, I'd like to focus on what is right in Viewer 2 and how I think it should fit into Snowstorm.

"What?" you ask. "This won't be your take on Snowstorm?" No. Politics, sausage, and corporate organization are three things that one should not watch being made.

Since some one-third of Residents access the World via the Emerald Viewer (Web) and a considerable number of Residents pick yet other viewers, I have to admit there is some backlash against Viewer 2 and so I'm not surprised The Lab has quickly jumped at revamping access. But Viewer 2 works for me. Not 100%. No viewer does.

For me, Emerald is slow, crashy, and has too many security concerns (Web). Imprudence (Web) is better and my preferred viewer for in-world photography and accessing InWorldz, but (like Emerald) it still uses the 1.2x Viewer interface which I find hard on my eyes and lacks some features I like from Viewer 2. The Kirstens Viewer (Web) builds on the Viewer 2.x interface and I really like to use it save for the lack of one button. The coders there have, for some reason, decided that 2-3 clicks are needed to close the Sidebar window rather than the one click in The Lab's version.

So what makes Viewer 2 my favorite? The interface. The light text on dark backgrounds in dialog boxes, windows, menu bars, chat history, and IM windows is much easier for me to see. Chat gestures look funny in the new chat format, but that is a minor irritation. About the only thing I would change about chat is I'd like to see time stamps for Friends logging in and out. I sometimes see the message in the bottom right corner, but it isn't preserved anywhere.

Probably the biggest complaint about the Viewer 2 interface is the Sidebar. I like it. I like the Landmarks section, particularly, and I like that I can consistently look at one place for information. A few things are needed, however, and when I find a way to submit changes to Snowstorm I'll try to get them added. I'd like to be able to resize the frame or pop out any panel like the way Inventory can be popped out. Sometimes I need to see two or more Resident Profiles at one time. There is no way to do that in Viewer 2. A mini-menu should be brought back to the Inventory pane (or an option to have one given). Going through the little gear icon takes more time.

Everything else is comparatively minor, be it a praise-able item, a complaint, or a wish:

Praise: I like being able to set specific window sizes (Advanced > Set Window Size ...). I have a 27" iMac and I seldom need to run full out. Smaller windows reduce lag and make snapshots saved to my computer much more consistent.

Complaint: Some changes to Debug settings don't save across sessions. I prefer to set RenderVolumeLODFactor at 4 to make sculpties rez more accurately. Unfortunately, I have to set it often.

Wish: Go look at the Mini-Map that Imprudence uses then bring it to the next release from The Lab. It has radar and is loaded with a lot of useful information. And Noobs can turn all that off. While you are at it, let me see a clean Mini-Map if I want. Let me turn off color-coded splotches so I can see just the terrain and the little green dots.

Praise: Annoyingly large, blue drop-down boxes used for simple notifications are reduced to small, simple pop-ups at the bottom left corner and are archived in their own little menu for when a dozen things try to get your attention all at once.

Complaint: SLurls created by copy/pasting the Navigation Bar contents create problems for users of other viewers. I can paste http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Menagerie%20Island/128/128/47 into chat or an IM and Viewer 2.0 users can click to visit with no problems. Those on v1.2x-based viewers have to wait for a Web page to pop-up then click a link then wait for a viewer message then pull their hair out. Those users are given http://slurl.com/secondlife/Menagerie%20Isle/128/128/47/ as the format when they copy/paste SLurls from the Map. We need some consistency across viewers.

Like & Wish: Can a girl get confirmation that the Lost Inventory Bug I tried to have fixed and was soundly ignored is now fixed (Web)? I like the Outfits feature in Viewer 2 but I'm afraid to use it again.

As you can see, any viewer is going to have quirks and features that some Residents hate or can't live without. Despite being a fairly cutting-edge group, though, I feel that most Residents aren't open to change. And Viewer 2 was a big, BIG change. What I hope the Snowstorm team comes away with from (hopefully) listening to the Residents about the Viewer 2 experience is that we all want something different than what someone else wants. Noobs want and need Simple. Casual Users need Consistency and Reliability. Power Users need more control (and are willing to put up with some lack of reliability ... it's a geek thing). But we all need to feel like we are part of the Community. We've had "Your World; Your Imagination" taken away. If you now take away our Sense of Place then you take away much of our desire to stay with Second Life.


Anonymous said...

I hate the sidebar in Viewer 2. I still use Snowglobe 1.x because of that - I need my windows here and there. Hope someone will make an Viewer that has all the new features 2.x has, but with the old interface.

Ari Blackthorne™ said...

I'm in ruv.

You have described my exact sentiments regarding all viewers almost verbatim. I can not only say "I agree with you", I can actually say "you stole the words right out of my mouth."

Uccello Poultry said...

/me runs to Ari's blog to see if she copybotted him ...