Prim Perfect’s Guide to Third Party Viewers: The Future? Second Life Viewer 2

Welcome to the second part of part of our guide to the various viewers available to users of Second Life – and other virtual worlds constructed on the same code (such as Inworldz, Reaction Grid etc).

This time, having already looked at the basic standard Second Life Viewer 1.23.5, we’re going to move on and look at the future – what is commonly known as Viewer 2, with the help of Elrik Merlin who provides a very full review the Beta version 2.2.0.

First, here’s a screenshot of Viewer 2:

 

Screen shot of Second Life Viewer 2.2.0 - skinned with Starlight by Hitomi Tiponi
Screen shot of Second Life Viewer 2.2.0 - skinned with Starlight by Hitomi Tiponi

 

The upper and lower menus have been considerably simplified. A major changed is the right hand panel which can be extended or minimised.  It is difficult to customise it, however, and I felt that I had to accept a lot which was unimportant to me for a few limited gains.  And I really dislike the way that chat windows are crammed together in the righthand corner.  I would LOVE to customise those to appear top left, as I have set them to do in Viewer 1.

Viewer 2 was widely unpopular when it was first introduced, especially with creators who found it downright counter-intuitive.  Improvements have been made since then, but the jury of public opinion is largely out.  However, more users are coming to see its advantages, and the fact that Mesh will ONLY be available in viewers constructed on Viewer 2 code will doubtless hasten the crossover.  Already it has its adherents – one of whom is Elrik Merlin (as you will see below).

But first let’s look at the facts and figures, courtsey of the excellent MCF Viewer Comparison Spreadsheet.

Name SL Viewer 2.1.1 Audio supported Yes
URL http://bit.ly/secondlife-vwr Video support Yes
Last release? 2010-08 Voice support Yes
Graphics support Standard + Shadows Text-to-Speech No
Avatar support standard SL avatar Player Song Info No
Supported Platforms Linux, Mac (intel only), Windows Doubleclick TP Yes
Language, License C++, LGPL Import/Export No
Code Lineage LL Chat translator Yes
Plugins LL media plugins Multi-grid support Yes
Max Cache / Bandwidth 1 GB / 5000 Kbps OGP support Yes
Misc Notes Shadows via debug menu, Multi-Wearables, alpha layer, tattoo layer Client-Side Scripting No
External services IM Encryption No
CLIENT NAME / index SL Viewer 2.1.1 Stability in SL Medium
Stability in OSgrid ?

Full Review by Elrik Merlin:
Second Life Viewer 2 is the official Viewer that we’re all supposed to be using or moving to. In many areas it is radically different – particularly in screen appearance – from the 1.23 codebase that most other viewers are based on, and this led to early versions receiving a great deal of criticism.

Viewer 2 – the latest version at the time of writing is 2.2.0 Beta – abandons a significant number of traditional Viewer concepts and replaces them with new incarnations with which many people have had a great deal of trouble. Early releases were often found downright ugly in terms of their screen furniture and overall appearance. In addition, some features simply didn’t work very well to begin with: outfits, for example (and I’ll come back to those in a minute), really screwed up on items that were no-copy, which made the feature virtually useless.

The disappearance of the “pie” menu (it’s replaced by a simple pop-up) and a more “web-like” title bar, the fact that a number of features are hidden and require additional clicks to bring them up, and most of all the addition of an enormous right-hand tabbed dock that slides in and out of view with a click to provide access to familiar items like Inventory, Landmarks, People and so on, has resulted in Viewer 2 being deprecated by many Residents, and it would appear that a majority are still firmly opposed to it. My own view until very recently was that it was a “consumer” rather than a “creator” viewer. However, to be frank, I am not a professional creator myself: I tweak things, change things and generally tune them to my needs, and I really haven’t had a lot of trouble doing the things I want to do. If you are primarily a creator, you may have more difficulty than I do – let us know in the Comments section. If you haven’t tried it, my suggestion would be to put aside your preconceptions, dive in, and be as open-minded as you can before dismissing Viewer 2 out of hand.

Over the course of several releases, the interface has been tidied up and its “heaviness” reduced, and as a result you can begin to appreciate that there are some must-have features in here – apart from the fact that upcoming new features like Mesh will require a Viewer based on the Viewer 2 codebase, so if you want these capabilities you’ll need to learn it. In addition, you can customise the interface by “skinning” it – adding a different XML-based skin fine-tunes the interface, making it more friendly and usable. My personal favourite skin is Starlight – http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Viewer_Skins/Starlight – don’t leave home without it. Just be sure that the skin version matches the Viewer version you’re using, as each new beta needs tweaks to the skin to work correctly. I found even early versions of Viewer 2 were remarkably stable: the MCF Viewer Comparison rates Viewer 2 as “Medium” stability in SL, but I’d actually give the latest version “High”: I think it’s crashed only once in a good few hours of use, and that was because I did something silly.

In reality, it is quite likely that much (but not all) of the criticism of Viewer 2 results from the fact that it is so different. You really have to unlearn a lot of things that have become second nature, and learn new ways. Some of us are really bad at that: I have certainly had trouble. But the new features (and the way the Starlight tweaks smooth out and ameliorate some of the nastier aspects of plain vanilla Viewer 2) have grabbed me – like double-click teleport, which I’d become reliant on in Emerald – and especially Outfits.

Being involved in broadcasting in-world, both as a Radio Riel presenter/DJ and as co-host of Designing Worlds, one thing I need to be able to do is change outfits easily. In the old days I used to do this in a really clumsy way. Now, however, it’s simple, thanks to the “Outfits” feature of Viewer 2. You can kit out your avi as you like and then save that as an Outfit, which makes it accessible with a single right-click. Importantly, no-copy items are linked as aliases, so they can appear in multiple outfits. This is vital and was not the case in early Viewer 2 versions. Be warned, however, that your clothes may get in a mess if you play with Viewer 2 and then decide to go back to the earlier codebase. I tend to use the same skin, shape, hair and basic accoutrements, so I saved an outfit with those and then simply returned to it each time I wanted to create and save a new one, adding items to the basic outfit until I had the look I wanted and doing a “Save As…”. Once done, you can switch smoothly, rapidly and accurately between outfits – and I’m sure you can think of times that’s really important.

Again on the subject of clothing, Viewer 2 supports multiple attachments at the same point in some cases, which sometimes includes the ability to
wear more than one item on the same nominal clothing layer, such as wings and coat-tails (though I have yet to completely work out what’s multiple and what isn’t). There’s also a “tattoo layer” that I haven’t tried out yet.

One annoying thing as a broadcaster, relying on IMs for cues and other info from co-workers, is that Viewer 2’s IM windows don’t open automatically: instead you only get a miniature profile icon to the right of the bottom bar with an added speech bubble if there’s new content, and you may not spot an incoming new message. And if you click in the main window (for example to do virtually anything), the chat window will vanish. Luckily you can sort this out for a current conversation by undocking the window – just drag it somewhere (you have to resize it by dragging an edge first, for some reason) and it will no longer vanish.

Viewer 2 is the future: you will need it for features like Mesh. It has many features you will actually like, once you’ve unlearned half of what you knew before, and perhaps once you’ve tweaked it with a skin. It also has some that will annoy you – particularly the fact that a few things that were once a click away may now be two or three. But it’s stable, and most probably it is something that, like it or not, you will come to feel you need to adopt.

Earlier Posts:
===========
Prim Perfect’s Guide to Third Party Viewers: The Basic: Second Life 1.23.5
Prim Perfect’s Guide to Third Party Viewers: How will we review them?
Prim Perfect’s Proposed Guide to Third Party Viewers

3 comments

  1. Wow – this is great. While I personally don’t use Viewer 2 all that often (I want enhancements like built-in radar and the better building tools in Phoenix) and I certainly can see it has some issues still, a lot of baseless vile also gets heaped upon it.
    Thanks for a balanced review that points out the good as well as the bad. It’s nice to see.

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