One basket?

i’ve just switched to the latest beta release of the Firestorm Viewer – a release that caught me a bit by surprise. Essentially, it’s a service release – which takes advantage of the code changes rolled out by Linden Lab in the past week to fix the large groups editing problem (it’s only taken just over 3 years) – however, it also incorporates all the goodies promised for the release candidate which is still pending – like Paperwork’s Phototools.

All very exciting for a geek like me, but there are a few things about this particular release that have got the old conspiracy theorist nerves twitching in me! Nothing particularly exciting, but i do think that we’re starting to see the changing climate that third party developers are facing, and there’s certainly subtle indications of how LL’s approach to its customers is becoming focussed – and, if my feelings are anywhere near the mark, i think they need to be extremely sure about their game plan.

The logic behind the Firestorm beta release is pretty straightforward – in order to take advantage of the Lab’s code changes for large groups you need a viewer equipped to do it: either the official Lab Development Viewer, or now Firestorm beta. My guess is that this is something we’ll be seeing happen more and more in the future, particularly as the sl architecture becomes more server-side oriented and less viewer based. Changes to the graphics pipeline and how inventory is handled will eventually, inevitably, break existing viewers. The sort of changes we can expect are not going to be of the type that talented third party developers can apply a sticking-plaster to, no matter how innovative they may have been in the past. Consequently, we’ll be faced with a choice – upgrade, or be denied access; a choice dictated by the Lab – incidentally, i don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, particularly if the changes are innovative and produce significant improvements. Certainly, the large groups code is not a feature that pass beneath the radar of most users, and we could consider the Firestorm beta to be unnecessary right now, but with bigger, more substantial changes, we’ll be finding upgrades to be essential rather than optional.

The impact of the Lab’s changes to TOS earlier this year are evident too – take a look at the change log for the new beta and you may be surprised to see just how many of the developer names end in ‘Linden’. It’s clear that the Firestorm team have collaborated very closely with the Lab on this release, and when you consider the relationship that the Lab has developed with the Exodus Viewer dev’s,  i can’t help wondering just how much third party talent the Lab is purloining relying upon in this brave new world. (Cynical, me? You betcha!). With TPDs now limited to adding features that have been pre-approved by the Lab and incorporated into the official viewer first, then the only way dev’s are going to see their ideas become reality – that is, in sl – is to offer their expertise to the Lab. i still feel that’s going to completely stifle innovation – i’ll leave that for you to decide, but consider how many third party viewers would have a built-in mesh deformer by now, if left to their own devices?

Let’s return to where i started – the large group editing – because, for me it speaks volumes about the Lab’s business model.

The fix is not something that the vast majority of us will care about. The only people who will be interested are those who manage groups exceeding 10 000 members and, whilst i completely understand what a pain it must be not to be able to easily change group roles or undertake housekeeping of members, the proportion of sl users for whom this would cause real problems must be pitifully small. So, who are they? i’d hazard a guess that most will be land barons and the top echelon of successful sl businesses – the people who own the bulk of sl private land and probably are one of the biggest revenue streams for the Lab. These are the people for whom sl is a business venture and you can understand LL wishing to protect their interests by ensuring they have the best tools for the job – although, if they were that important, surely they’d have come up with a solution a long time ago?

In recent months the position of such high flyers in sl has been hotly debated in the blogosphere, since it’s not difficult to conceive that the loss of even a small proportion of these people from sl could have significant repercussions, but let’s not forget what it is that puts those at the top in the positions they are – indeed, it’s the same reason that those groups are so large in the first place… the rank and file of sl.

How many low value rentals does a land baron need to lose before they consider moving to a grid where land is cheaper? How many sales does a retailer need to lose before they decide it’s uneconomical to continue trading? Yet, rather than work on retaining those rank and file that keep the wheels of SLindustry turning, LL seems more concerned with fixing the things that don’t matter to the masses. Losing thousands of accounts a week may not matter to LL as a whole, but eventually it will start to matter to the big businesses of the virtual world… and when they start to leave, the whole economy will be hit.

There, i’ve done it again – had a rant about Lab policies, when i promised myself i wouldn’t! Ah well, perhaps i’ll just go and play with my new viewer instead – after all, who knows how long it’ll be before there’s nowhere to play in!

s. x

This wheel’s on fire
Rolling down the road
Best notify my next of kin
This wheel shall explode
Julie Driscoll Brian Auger & The Trinity – Wheels On Fire

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