Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Beta Viewer

Thanks to New World Notes (Web), I was reminded that a new Official Viewer is in the works and that Daniel Voyager took a look (Web) at the beta (available here) as did Inara Pey (Web). Their reviews are pretty thorough so rather than rush my look to press I thought I'd try it for a couple days.

First Impressions
  • If you don't l like the GUI on v2 or v3, you won't like this one.
  • Moving from v3 to this viewer should be very easy.
  • Customizers rejoice!
  • Noobies beware!
Much of this is familiar to v3 users.
Gone is the much hated (though not by me) sliding panel that currently graces the Official Viewer's right side, but the buttons are not gone. They've simply been moved to the left. Sort of. You can move them back one-by-one, not as a set, but clicking them brings up individual panes, much like the v1.x viewers of yore. This should make many folks happy, but it doesn't answer the argument that the sliding panel took up too much room. As you can see in a later picture, your screen can get very full very fast. But back to the buttons ... I like the flexibility The Lab gives here. I won't use all the choices and it will be nice to keep them where I like them. And the Reset to Defaults option is going to be great when I help new Residents ... *pop* my screen will look like theirs and I can easily point out things. Well, then I have to customize mine again. Third Party Viewer (TPV) coders might want to consider adding options for presets -- like Buttons That Show When I'm Role Playing and Buttons That Show When I'm Building or Buttons That Show When I'm Hosting an Event. Lastly, you can customize the top bar a bit, too. See that green oval? Slide the grabber left/right for sizing or right click to select a partial hide option.

The usual menus are there with the usual features, even the hidden-by-default Advanced and Develop menus. Aside from the slider pane being taken away and the custom buttons, much of the interface is unchanged. Mini-Map, People, Groups, etc., all look familiar. I didn't see anything new in Preferences, either. Don't expect the lack of changes to continue, however, as I imagine that more tweaks are coming as evidenced by some subtle name changes buried in the menus and panes. The effort to make the viewer much more noobie-friendly has just begun. Dare we expect colorful skins that might be easier for those with visual impairments to read? For me, I just wish it was easier to change the Windlight settings. They are still overly complicated and discouraging. By the way, the standard button arrangement on the side takes up a fair bit of real estate when the labels are active, as you see here.

Notifications and IM windows have been moved, but not materially changed. You'll now find them in the upper-right corner. This makes sense for a couple reasons: For one, many Animation Overrides and other HUDs like to live in the bottom-right corner. IMs and Notifications often interfered with using them. For another, these are information items so keeping them with other information such as your L$ balance (see my pathetic balance?) at the top. Photographers will tell you that most folks like that corner, too, and tend to look there almost as often as they do the upper-left corner. Draw a big, imaginary Z with your finger over your screen. That pattern you made that tends to be the scan pattern most people use, particularly those who learned to read in the West. However, I use bifocals so text at the bottom of the screen is clearer for me. Like any change, this will take some time to get used to, but since I like v2/v3 already, it shouldn't be too hard.

Whoaaaaa! I'm gonna miss the slide out side pane and how it kept the window nice and tidy.
If you've tried the current Basic viewer settings some of what you see above will be familiar. These ideas were first tried when The Lab beta-tested a Web browser interface and I can see how they might apply to a light-featured client aimed at tablet computers. Such as (A), the Avatar Picker. You can flick back and forth after choosing an avatar type then click an avatar image to be instantly changed (depending on lag, your Internet connection, the speed/memory of your computer, and the will of various deities). The complete avatar is dropped into your Clothing folder. Wanna be a car? Do it! But please don't use the Avatar Picker to go back to your previous look -- a second (or third or fourth or ...) copy of that avatar appears with the first. The How to pane is also aimed at noobies and is danged easy to use. I'm very happy to see it here. The Outfits pane (B) is back. I love this feature introduced with v2, though there have been issues. It is one of the first things I teach noobs if I go beyond the basics. The Destinations pane (C), like the Avatar Picker, was found in the Basic mode and deserves a good look over by experienced Residents. Like map hopping, it is a fun way to discover parts of Our World that you might not otherwise have seen. Other windows are open here, too, so you can see how open windows are indicated by the button highlights. As you can see, the window can become quite cluttered so the button highlights are handy. Also, see the chat bar? It, too, can be moved. Open it with the button or just tap the Enter key on your keyboard before you start typing, just like in v2/v3. The Escape key changes the focus back away from Chat.


  • As I've mentioned, the Windlight settings are still cumbersome to use, and I'm being polite when I write that. 
  • Apple Mac trackpad gestures for scrolling, moving, and camera controls don't work, but I'm sure they'll say that this viewer isn't recommended for OSX/Lion, either.
  • The buttons automatically center themselves in a cluster at the side or on the bottom. I'd like to be able to have them not dock with each other and stay where I put them.

Despite this release being a Beta, the viewer seems to be very stable despite some teleport crashes. Likely there is little monkeying under the hood at this point, just a bit of body work and some new paint. Should you give it a try, feel free to drop some comments here. I'd be interested in hearing what you think.

No comments: