Second Life software becomes open-source

Linden lab releases source code for viewer software of its popular real-life simulation; server software to follow.

Linden Lab on Monday released as open-source software the viewer used to access Second Life and plans to follow suit with the server software that powers the company's virtual realm.

The initial move means outsiders will be able to modify the Second Life viewer software. That practice isn't a guarantee for success, but it has worked well with other open-source projects such as Linux and Apache. Linden Lab Chief Technology Officer Cory Ondrejka hopes initially for bug fixes and a better Linux version of the software, but in the longer run expects more significant changes.

"It's pretty clear when building something as open as Second Life, you want the product itself to be open," Ondrejka said. Second Life participants already have written millions of lines of script code to control Second Life objects, he said. "It would be a little silly to not allow that talent and energy to be applied to the client [viewer software] itself."

Second Life is a virtual world where people's avatars can chat, fly, buy goods, and interact with programmable objects. Basic membership is free, but Linden Lab sells real estate to those who want to set up shop.

The release means that Linden Lab has begun a move across a philosophical chasm of the software industry. On one side are proprietary software companies such as Microsoft, which can control and sell their products. On the other are open-source organizations and companies willing to accept unfettered distribution of software but betting on advantages of outside involvement and the possibility of fast, broad adoption.

Linden plans to eventually make the server software that powers its grid open-source software as well, Ondrejka said, though he said Linden will proceed cautiously and gave no deadlines.

"We do think that in the long run, Second Life makes much sense as an open-source project," he said, arguing that an open-source server project will increase the scale of the Second Life project and Linden Lab revenue. "There are plenty of opportunities for revenue even if the entire kit and caboodle is open-sourced. But we want to be careful about that."

Not all are convinced that opening the server side of Second Life makes financial sense for Linden. "Server-based virtual worlds reliant on subscription fees aren't a good match for a fully open-source business model," said Raven Zachary, an analyst for the 451 Group. "The value to the vendor is in restricting access at some level to the worlds themselves."

But Ondrejka said there's a "long list" of revenue possibilities. "There are lots of ways to make money on the Web that have nothing to do with hosting--domain registration, search, services."

Linden Lab released the viewer software under the General Public License (GPL), the license that governs the Linux kernel, Samba file server software, the MySQL database, and thousands of other projects. The GPL requires that anyone may see, modify, and distribute a program's underlying source code, but anyone who distributes the modified software must make the changes publicly available.

Linden Lab will vet all outside contributions and maintain control of an official version of the viewer software, the company said. Programmers must sign a contributor agreement to submit code.

By signing the contribution agreement, a programmer agrees to assign joint copyright to Linden Lab and grant Linden Lab and anyone who receives the code a patent license relating to use of the code. With Linden Lab owning copyright, it will be permitted to change licensing terms if it desires.

Changing licenses is a very real issue. Like MySQL and the Linux kernel, the Second Life viewer is licensed only under version 2 of the GPL, Ondrejka said. That means that moving to GPLv3, due in March and at the center of some open-source controversy, would require an active decision by Linden Lab.

"It was the conservative decision and gives us the most options going forward," Ondrejka said of the licensing decision. "The GPL...gives us the most options down the road. It is, in many ways, the purest of the open-source licenses. If we decide down the road also to potentially allow less restrictive open-source licenses, it's easier to go in that direction than to have started with, say, the BSD license."

Linden Lab's open-source move is "embracing the inevitable," as the company said on its blog. Netscape may have been desperate when it decided to make its Web browser open-source, but "we are not desperate, and we welcome the inevitable with open arms," Linden Lab said.

Open-source viewer software was becoming a reality regardless of Linden Lab's choice. A project called libsecondlife has been working to deduce the protocol that governs how the viewer communicates with Second Life servers.

A Major Revamp Linden Lab's open-source move comes at an important time for the company as it wrestles with growth challenges and a major architectural revamp of its virtual realm.

The company built much of Second Life's inner workings on proprietary communication protocols, but it's moving to standard ones such as XML (Extensible Markup Language) for sending messages on the HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) used to transmit Web pages.

One advantage of the new architecture will be that Linden Lab will be able to upgrade a few servers at a time and that clients will also be able to move to new viewer software at their own pace. Today, the entire Second Life grid must be taken down and all viewers must be updated to update the virtual realm. Another advantage will be that Second Life will be able to employ the broad technology already designed around Web standards, Ondrejka said.

One change that will come with the new interface is the ability to run scripts on Novell's Mono software, an open-source implementation of Microsoft's .Net programming project. Mono runs scripts much faster than Linden Lab's current approach, so the shift will mean more sophisticated programming.

"Say you want to make an AI [artificial intelligence object] that responds to somebody coming into your store...or make a tour guide that's really good and interactive to a wide variety of stimuli," Ondrejka said. Today, "Linden Scripting Language doesn't have sufficient performance to make that very intelligent."

The new moves lead Ondrejka to expect people will develop software that can fetch information from Second Life without actually being a full-fledged 3D graphical viewer.

"We expect to see more ways to peer into Second Life or extract data from Second Life," Ondrejka said.

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43 comments
theKSMM
theKSMM

Calling GPL the "purest" of Open Source licenses depends on how you define purity. If "pure" means that this software is put into your hands for you to do with as you please, then it's far from it. If it means that this software is now Open and shall henceforth resist all efforts at being made proprietary, then it probably is the most pure. Still, I notice that they avoided the additional "purity" of GPL v3. Nonetheless, the use of the GPL combined with Linden's own copyright terms and use of patents seems a bit overkill for a company that wants its software to be available for use by all.

MOONAIZA
MOONAIZA

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

bonik
bonik

This is not a game, anyone who has compared this to a game are just ignorant. This is a peice of flaming crap in a bag, all you do is walk around and "interact" with objects. By interact, they mean click on something and choose the premade actions designated object. For anyone who has played a game in thier life, this "simulation" is worse than the games angry nintendo nerd reviews. http://www.cinemassacre.com/Movies/Nes_Nerd.html Stay away from this, It's not even worth the time it takes to download.

Ray_735
Ray_735

I prefer my own life...second one? No thanks.

krazilec
krazilec

Second Life is dull. If u can pay for EVE play it. Not this garbage.

Swampthing
Swampthing

"I can't think of a single reason anyone would want to play "2nd Life" when that game "Real Life" has been out for years. Unless, of course, you suck at "Real Life" and have given up on your character. I tell you man, give "Real Life" another shot. Just try harder this time." You gotta love smartasses like Haaz who sit at their computer muching Fritos and soaking up Red Bull all day long complaining about others not experiencing real life... LOL.

Timbydude
Timbydude

"Wrong. Blizzard Entertainment made millions on WoW (maybe billions)." Is Blizzard Entertainment a WoW player?

comthitnuong
comthitnuong

at least the software isnt under pressure by a due date or anything like that

cjcr_alexandru
cjcr_alexandru

gatsbythepig "people made millions on second life none have made that on WoW" Wrong. Blizzard Entertainment made millions on WoW (maybe billions).

gatsbythepig
gatsbythepig

people made millions on second life none have made that on WoW

nikefreak
nikefreak

"world of warcraft stays better dudes, sorry " WoW is a game, and doesnt have much in common, so poor comparisson. "I can't think of a single reason anyone would want to play "2nd Life" when that game "Real Life" has been out for years. Unless, of course, you suck at "Real Life" and have given up on your character. I tell you man, give "Real Life" another shot. Just try harder this time. " Just because you use Internet Explorer to check game news, talk to friends, check email, etc. doesnt mean you have no life correct? The same applies to a VR world that can be used for many purposes as well.

imbacon
imbacon

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

rijnie
rijnie

world of warcraft stays better dudes, sorry

HaaZ
HaaZ

"2nd Life" is the closest thing in our world to resemble the "Matrix". Theres another game out, where you can buy and sell property, design clothes, perform basic labor, fly around the world, invite friends over to your house, swim, drive, read to make your character more intelligent, and order food for your character from a number of delivery services. You can even have sexual relations with other characters! On top of that, the control scheme is unique, in that you can individually control each of your character's limbs in a way more innovative than the Wiimote! The graphics are insane! Incredible draw distance, absolutely NO pop-up, and you don't even need a high end computer. I can't think of a single reason anyone would want to play "2nd Life" when that game "Real Life" has been out for years. Unless, of course, you suck at "Real Life" and have given up on your character. I tell you man, give "Real Life" another shot. Just try harder this time.

LordAndrew
LordAndrew

There's no way I'm reading all of the article. Just tell me in which way this might affect Second Life and its users.

sj420
sj420

lmao @ nappan open source is always good

nappan
nappan

"imbacon nappan, Someone are cry huh?" I'm sure it's not your first language, so let me kindly inform you that what you typed is not english, nor does it communicate a thought to an english speaker via the wrtitten word. Please hang up, and try your call again. :)

imbacon
imbacon

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

nappan
nappan

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

chrisdojo
chrisdojo

great.... now there's gonna be 1000's of clones of 2nd life...

nikefreak
nikefreak

"This is just a subtle way of them giving up on the game. Its pretty much a lost cause now. " Love the people who dont know what they are talking about. Further, when I spoke of this being a good example of the Web2.0, I meant it. And that included the eventual open sourcing of the software, and someday, it no longer would be controlled by Lindens, but by the world at large, the same way the Internet is today... Also, this isnt a game.. Sorry to burst those peoples bubble that think it is. Regardless of what some stupid webpage that devotes itself to gaming (Not here, another place someone mentioned that tried to deduce SL to a game) It is no more of a game, than an IM application, a cell phone, etc. Just because you can play games on them, doesnt mean they are a game anymore than Internet Explorer...

KarlZoneX
KarlZoneX

Actually, they've been talking about making it open source for ages now. It's the only way to allow it to expand beyond where it's been the past year. It's something the users have been waiting for since it's the first big step towards better things.. it's a shame it took them so long. Remember they don't profit from the software at all, so this has no impact on anything like that. Perhaps someday it'll have more to offer for gamers or a wider audience.. for now it's sort of a niche thing i guess.

Subterfuge
Subterfuge

This is just a subtle way of them giving up on the game. Its pretty much a lost cause now.

Urbansquid
Urbansquid

Hmmm... LL seems to be unable to prevent exploitation of their software (see gray goo), perhaps they expect the open source community to solve the problems for them?

Doolum
Doolum

this article is too long to read.i pass

Destroyeron13
Destroyeron13

I don't understand how they're going to make money off of this...

vaejas
vaejas

Set me up with some Perfect Dark technology and I'll give it a go.

EepSquared
EepSquared

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

EepSquared
EepSquared

Linden Lab, the developer of Second Life, is a tyrannical dictatorship over it and will ban anyone at will for anything they disagree with whatsoever. I was banned from SL months ago due to posts on their forum. They said I would only be banned for 2 weeks and then allowed back but I was NEVER allowed back and numerous attempts at contacting the company about why failed--even a Better Business Bureau complaint filing didn't help obtain any sort of resolution. More info at http://tnlc.com/eep/sl/

ElectrolightSH
ElectrolightSH

It would be nice if they put Second Life on the 360, then I would play it.

blackleech
blackleech

Well... I think there's some twist to it...

shadow53
shadow53

Cough cough sexmods cough** what?! who?1 where?!

chibi-acer
chibi-acer

Shrug. I don't get what the big deal about Second Life is. More power to em, I guess.

Shaner258
Shaner258

I would play this but having to buy real estate is stupid.

peeweeshift
peeweeshift

lol this migth create lots of nicce mods but it might go unoticed b/c world is pretty big)

Ryo_Kensen
Ryo_Kensen

Even though you can mod it, I doubt it'll ever be as good as GMod.

Re_ensurer
Re_ensurer

I don't play Second Life, but I wonder what kinds of mods people could make out of it.