Killer features (Imprudence & Phoenix)

What I like the most about Third Party Viewers such as Imprudence and Phoenix is that they are developed by people who actually use Second Life and so have features that, whilst they may not grab the headlines, are genuinely useful. As an aside, I think it’s pretty clear that the developers at Linden Lab who developed Viewer 2.x don’t, but that’s not the subject of this entry.

This is a roundup of what I consider to be genuinely useful features. It’s by no means an extensive or all-inclusive list.

Imprudence

Profile groups
When viewing your profile, groups that you have hidden from public view are shown greyed out, giving you an idea of how your profile will appear to others.

Communicate window
When new IMs come in, the title bar of the ‘communicate’ menu updates to say how many are unread. My friend Mariana actually ported this to Phoenix and submitted it as a patch and it was rejected as the person who rejected it didn’t see it as being useful, which was a shame as I think it is.

Group chat
You can suppress Group Chat for individual groups. This is just so useful for those busy groups where people just can’t STFU in group chat but you still want to receive group notices.

Radar
The client-side radar / Avatar List is very compact and hung off the bottom of the Mini-Map. I actually really like this as it is very compact and can be up all the time, unlike the Phoenix one which takes up too much screen space to be up all the time.

Phoenix

Intra-sim teleports even when there is a Landing Point
By this I mean teleports that take place within a sim, rather than when teleporting into a sim from another sim.
Sim Owners have long been able to set a Landing Point to dictate where you land when entering their sim. I can see the value of it, as it means people are forced to rez near a rules giver, or a prim notice, or a shop display, or the starting point on a tour, or whatever. But when you are already in a sim, is it still necessary? I don’t think so. In fact it is really, really annoying when you want to cam around a large shop (for example) and then TP to where your camera view is to get closer to a vendor board, or the like. Most Third Party Viewers allow you to double-click teleport, but often you fall foul of the Landing Point and get an unhelpful message saying you are unable to TP closer than where you are. Or, worse, you get zapped back to the Landing Point.
However, there is an option in Phoenix when using the LSL Client Bridge to use llMoveToTarget for double-click TPs and this zips you straight to where you double-click even if this sim has a Landing Point. It does this because llMoveToTarget is a script command used to move things around rather than a teleport as such, so isn’t restricted by the Landing Point rules. For me this is the killer feature as it is just so useful for enabling me to shop in a large store the way I want to.

Aspect ratios on textures
As I’ve blogged about before [link], Second Life stores pictures (textures) in squares, or rectangles made of squares, and unless the Aspect Ratio exactly matches that of the texture it’s going to be distorted. With most Viewers you have to stretch the texture till it looks right.
Phoenix adds a useful little drop-list at the bottom of a texture view to let you tell it what Aspect Ratio it should be. So for a 16:9 picture stored in a texture you can send it to a friend and, provided they are using Phoenix, tell them in IM “you’ll need to view that at 16:9”. They set the drop-list selection to 16:9 and ‘hey presto’ the picture looks right. Useful!

Profile pictures
This one has been around since the Emerald days. When there is a picture in a Profile (wherever it appears) you can pop it out into its own window and view it actual size (which will be bigger than it is being displayed at in the Profile). Of course the Aspect Ratio may then be wrong and you might need to refer to the above and also my blog post on Profile pic aspect ratios [link]

Prim manipulation – cut & paste values
One for the builders and tinkerers amongst us. Phoenix has a really useful feature where you can copy the size, rotation, etc. of a prim and paste it to another. It saves you having to individually highlight and copy each value for x, y & z and paste it into the same box on another prim.
It’s easy to miss this feature, but if you look next to the values you’ll see little buttons marked “c” for copy and “p” for paste.

Prim manipulation – linked prims
Following on from the above, there are also useful buttons for linking / unlinking prims when editing parts of a linked prim set. There is also functionality for moving through a linked prim set.

Autocomplete for names in chat
Finally, a useful little feature for open chat. If you type part of someone’s name you can hit the tab key and Phoenix will try and complete if for you based on who is in chat range.

It’s a shame that Phoenix is now in a maintenance phase, with no planned new functionality, because I would love to see the features I mentioned for Imprudence brought into Phoenix. However, I have it on good authority from one of the Lead Developers that this is not going to happen.

Viewer usage in Second Life, post-Emerald

As I wander around Second Life at the moment, I’m keeping my eyes open for what viewers people seem to be using. Not in a clipboard and notebook way, just getting a feeling.

Before the Emerald scandal, an awful lot of people would have been using Emerald. In fact, up until the point it was blocked there were still a significant number of people using it.

Now that Emerald has been blocked, I was expecting to see a marked increase in the usage of Phoenix and Imprudence, with possibly the odd Emergence from people who don’t realise it is a dead-end choice.

Instead, I’m seeing a handful of Imprudence, the odd Phoenix and a handful of “LGG Proxy” (which I assume is Emergence). And, amazingly, I’m still seeing the odd Emerald (which surely shouldn’t be allowed?)
Everyone else displays no Viewer tag which either means they are using an Official Viewer or else have suppressed transmitting their tag. I know a number of friends who do the latter so this is obviously skewing my results.

I am left with the feeling that public confidence in Third Party Viewers has been severely knocked and people are returning to the Official Viewers in droves. I’d be interested in hearing other peoples’ comments on this.

Emerald Viewer to be Blocked From Second Life

Just posted on the Second Life blog:

As of 10am PT Wednesday, September 8, the Emerald Viewer will be blocked from logging in to Second Life as a result of violations of our Policy on Third Party Viewers. Residents who have been using any version of the Emerald Viewer will need to use a different Viewer to access Second Life. You can download the official Second Life Viewer, developed by Linden Lab, here. Or you can learn more about alternative Viewers, developed by third parties, here. There are several new Viewers listed in the TPV Directory, so there are many alternatives available to you.

We take Residents’ privacy, safety, and security very seriously and will take action to enforce the policies that help protect it. As our CEO, Philip Rosedale, has blogged about, we recently removed the Emerald Viewer from our Third-Party Viewer Directory due to violations of our Policy on Third-Party Viewers.

Since then, we have been in communication with the Emerald development team and have requested several changes in order to remedy violations of our policy, including changes necessary to meet our privacy requirements, and to address GPL license violations. Unfortunately, the team was unable to comply within a stipulated time frame. As a result, we have decided to block logins from the Emerald Viewer in order to protect our Residents. All versions of the Emerald Viewer will be blocked from logging in to Second Life as of tomorrow at 10am. Please be aware that attempting to circumvent our blocking to access Second Life with a banned Viewer is a violation of the Policy on Third-Party Viewers and may result in the loss of one’s account.

[Source: Second Life Blog]

Well, this isn’t a huge surprise. And given the number of people I see still running Emerald, it’s probably for the best. Yes, some will moan but I think LL have little alternative but to do this.
And now that Phoenix (Emerald without the bad stuff) is available then I don’t see what the big issue is.

Emerald, Emergence, Phoenix – confused? You’re not alone!

I was talking to a friend in Second Life today who was really scratching her head over what viewer was what and what the hell was going on. So this is just a short post for her and anyone else who might benefit.

  • Emerald – well, I think everyone knows about Emerald. And those that are still running it are simply ignorant or don’t care.
  • Emergence – this is a sanitised Emerald (ie. Emerald with the bad stuff taken out) that was done by LordGregGreg. Don’t get too attached to it because he has said he is not going to develop it further. So there will be no updates. This is partly because he is now on the development team of…
  • Phoenix – this is another sanitised Emerald and is being actively developed by some of the ex-Emerald team. They are following good software practises as detailed in this post of mine, so I have very high hopes that this is going to be a goodie.
  • Imprudence – this has nothing to do with Emerald and is a completely different Viewer. It is also following good software practises. I wrote a short review on it here

There are other Viewers out there too – Cool Viewer and Kirsten’s Viewer, for example. However I don’t have enough experience of them to comment.

The Phoenix Arises – Emerald by a different name

Well, it seems Jessica Lyons doesn’t hang around and has assembled a team to take over where Emerald left off. And amongst that team is LordGregGreg.

According to her blog entry [here], Phoenix is starting out as a sanitised Emerald, like LordGregGreg’s Emergence Viewer, and will be developed from there.

In keeping with my recent post [here] on how an Open Source Project should be run, they’re running a publicly-viewable repository and full transparency.

This is very encouraging news indeed.

Emerald – so what went wrong?

[Disclaimer: This blog entry is personal opinion based on a personal understanding of current events. Should you feel any facts are materially wrong then please contact me, citing sources, and I will be happy to make corrections or retractions as appropriate]

I try to keep my RL separate from my SL, but I guess it’s not giving too much away to say that I work in the IT Industry and have direct experience with software development. So the self-destruction of Emerald has been very interesting for me.

So, where did it all go wrong? I think to answer that you need to look at how a proper Open Source Project is run.

Generally you have a version control system which is able to be read (but not written to) by anyone who cares to do so. Obviously members of the development team can write as well.

This open access ensures transparency, because anyone with the technical ability can examine and review the source code to make sure there is nothing nefarious in it. They are also able to download the entire codebase and compile their own version of the application rather than trusting that the pre-built binaries available for download were actually made from the source code.
Furthermore, the version control system has an audit trail of every check-in, showing what changes were made, by whom, and when. This makes it more difficult to introduce malicious code although there are ways round it, of course. However, even if the developer subverts the process to avoid the audit trail (if they have direct access to the actual files on the server hosting the repository), the code is still available for inspection and anyone can compare a previous snapshot of the code with the current one using an automated difference tool. So there is still transparency.

The trouble with Emerald is that the version control system was not open and there was no transparency. Yes, the source code was published periodically but in a snapshot form. You were expected to trust that this source code was the real deal and not some sanitised version. And that trust was betrayed.

Because there was no transparency, certain members of the Emerald team were able to inject undesirable code (which is well documented elsewhere so I won’t bother going into it here).

Worse still, Emerald also used some Closed Source software which meant that only the developer(s) of that code knew what was in it and the members of the Emerald team were expected to trust that it was non-malicious. Again, that trust was betrayed.

It also appears to me that the team weren’t really following good Software Engineering process. This isn’t too surprising as, as far as I understand, they were all programming for fun and were all fairly young. So there were few controls in place to audit what was going on. I genuinely believe that the more respectable members of the team (and I’ll leave it for you to decide who they are) didn’t know what was being put in by the less respectable members. This is why we have processes, checks and safeguards in professional Software Development and I simply don’t think they were in place for Emerald.

And I’m not even going to comment on the clash of personalities, egos, hidden agenda and motivations of the actual developers of Emerald. That’s not something I want to explore as this piece is really more about the technical side of things.

In many ways, the Emerald project was a nuclear reactor being run without control rods or safety systems, and it went critical and suffered a meltdown.

So, where does this leave Third Party Viewer Development? Are we doomed to use Linden Lab’s awful Viewer 2.0? The short answer is no!
Emerald was not the only Third Party Viewer and some of the others are being run properly. Imprudence, for example, is fully transparent and Open Source. They are by no means the only one, of course, but it’s the one that springs most readily to mind.

Finally, I just want to say that this blog entry may seem very negative about Emerald. However, I don’t mean it to be because I do genuinely believe that Emerald was truly innovative and really moved the Second Life Viewer game onwards. The developers added some very good features (the nefarious ones notwithstanding) and they should be praised for it; they’re clearly very talented. However, as I’ve said, I think the project was very badly run and was very open to abuse. And that abuse was made.

Farewell to Emerald

[Originally posted 01-Sep-2010 here]

As you know, there has been a lot of worry and concern over Emerald with regards to privacy issues, data mining and illegal activities.

Linden Lab have removed Emerald from their Third Party Viewers list and advised everyone to use other Viewers.

As of today the developers of Emerald have folded the project due to mutiny, disagreement, and Linden Lab demanding that certain developers be removed which they were unwilling to do.

I’m sad to see Emerald go as, for all it’s warts and dodginess, it was a very good Viewer and was very innovative.
It’s just a shame that it was ruined by a bunch of immature Script Kiddies who couldn’t resist messing it all up for everyone.

I’m sure the hard work will be back-ported into other Viewers. LordGregGreg has a version of the full source code for Emerald that he has released as “Emergence” although has stated he will not be actively developing it.

Meanwhile Jessica Lyon has resigned from Emerald and has set up a blog to discuss her side of things – jessicalyons.wordpress.com

The rabbit hole goes deeper

[Originally published 26-Aug-2010 here]

See

http://alphavilleherald.com/2010/08/nelson-jenkins-why-would-anyone-trust-these-emerald-guys.html

http://blogs.secondlife.com/message/367966#367966

http://www.taltech.co.uk/2010/08/23/emerald-there-is-still-an-onyx-phox-in-the-hen-house

Emerald and alternatives

[Originally posted 26-Aug-2010 here]

Oh dear. Just when we thought Emerald was ok, it turns out that it (or possibly just one developer) had nefarious intentions after all.

http://alphavilleherald.com/2010/08/emerald-viewer-login-screen-sneak-ddos-attack.html

http://alphavilleherald.com/2010/08/emerald-viewer-mutiny-fractured-crystal-thrown-to-sharks.html

http://blogs.secondlife.com/community/features/blog/2010/08/24/malicious-viewers-and-our-third-party-viewer-policy

http://blogs.secondlife.com/message/369842

I love Emerald and it has some fantastic features, but this is very concerning. I think that it’s laudable that the remaining members of the Emerald team are making very positive noises about restoring confidence in the viewer, but I think perhaps it is time to investigate other viewers. Not least because of questions on whether Fractured Crystal was working alone or in collusion with developers who are still on the Emerald team.

Talk on the blogs and stuff is that the Imprudence Viewer is worth a look as it has a lot of the features Emerald has, including a client-side radar, RLVa, temporary texture uploads, Disable Login/Logout/Teleport Screens, See object’s Last (previous) Owner, IM autoresponder, and Breast Physics. Yes, we all claim that Breast Physics is no big deal but we all know it is. LOL.

So I’m going to have a play with it tonight. Imprudence, I mean. Not my breasts.

Have fun
Becca