open-sourcing Second Life 01.09.2007, 3:16 AM
posted by jesse wilbur
Yesterday, Linden Labs, the creators of Second Life, announced the release of the source code for their client application (the thing you fire-up on your machine to enter Second Life). This highly anticipated move raises all sorts of questions and possibilities about the way we use 3-D digital environments in our day to day life. From the announcement:
"Open sourcing is the most important decision we've made in seven years of Second Life development. While it is clearly a bold step for us to proactively decide to open source our code, it is entirely in keeping with the community-creation approach of Second Life," said Cory Ondrejka, CTO of Linden Lab. " Second Life has the most creative and talented group of users ever assembled and it is time to allow them to contribute to the Viewer's development. We will still continue Viewer development ourselves, but now the community can add its contributions, insights, and experiences as well. We don't know exactly which projects will emerge - but this is part of the vibrancy that makes Second Life so compelling"
2006 was undoubtedly a breakthrough year for Second Life, with high profile institutions like IBM and Harvard taking a leading role in developing new business models and forms of classroom interaction. It looks like Linden Labs got the message too, and is working hard to court new developers to create a more robust framework for future community and business interests. From the blog:
Releasing the source now is our next invitation to the world to help build this global space for communication, business, and entertainment. We are eager to work with the community and businesses to further our vision of our space.
This is something that has definitely caught our eye here at the Institute, and while we may not be currently ready to dive into the source code ourselves, we are firmly behind Bob's resolution to find out what can be done in a three-dimensional environment.
Eddie A. Tejeda on January 9, 2007 1:09 PM:
I think releasing the client open source gives this platform serious legs.
Technologies that are closed source encourage competitors, which is great, but also cause projects to turn over rapidly.
People now dreadfully wonder "what will be the next myspace?", realizing that projects will high "gee-wiz" value turn over very quickly, and everyone will just have to switch again. I think this constant switching can do serious harm to an idea. Social networks are trending the fine line between cool enhancements and too much change.
But, like the Netscape Corporation releasing Mozilla, once the community a builds, not just around the idea, but also the source code, the project can last indefinitely. What might exist 10 years from now might not be anything like we know today, but the change will be gradual, and prevents sudden shifts.
What I imagine happening by releasing the source are serious enhancements to the client, similarly to the way the Mozilla client enhanced. The Second Life client will now be greatly improved by all those developers who intended of building their own version of a 3D World.
Also, expect Second Life server projects spawning all over the web. Once you have access to the client source code, reverse engineering the server is much easier. Then interoperability between these servers will be crucial if Second Life wants to be the 3D engine of the internet.
ben vershbow on January 10, 2007 10:41 AM:
I'm very glad to see Linden Labs making this move, but it's important not to lose sight of the fact that it's only the client, or "viewer", application that has been open sourced. The actual world of Second Life (the thing being viewed) is still a Linden code and server monopoly, so in effect Linden has opened up the consumption end of SL but not the production end. Netscape releasing Mozilla was no doubt a visionary move, but the web was already an open platform -- it's that combination that made all the difference. Linden still owns their web.
Ethan Zuckerman has a particularly good analysis of this:
Linden's taken a great step towards opening up their code, but it's still a huge leap before I would consider Second Life to be an open platform. The Viewer is the application Linden makes available for free so that users can interact with the worlds hosted on Linden's servers. By making this source code available, Linden is allowing independent developers to create Viewers that run on different platforms...This makes a ton of business sense for Linden....If an open-source Viewer emerges as a viable contender to Linden's viewer, there's the intriguing possibility that Linden could support that project and dump their internal Viewer team, saving on development costs and allowing developers to focus more on the server side of the project.
What Linden is not doing is releasing source code to their servers. If Linden made this code available, it would be possible for individuals or groups to run their own Second Life islands. (You could imagine these new spaces either connected or disconnected from the Second Life that runs on Linden's servers.) Releasing this code would be a major threat towards Linden's business model - it opens the possibility that I could run servers that were more stable or less expensive than Linden's servers and compete head to head with the existing company. You could also imagine situations where groups that wanted to permit or ban certain behavior might run their own Second Life spaces following their own rules, ajudicated by their own administrators.