I'm taking a moment out of my regularly scheduled product releases and rants, to focus my thoughts into something that, in my opinion, is very important for users and Linden Lab alike. The Second Life Viewer. I know that there are a million of these kinds of blog entries all around, and you can probably throw a stone and hit someone who has bashed V2 since its release or someone who bashes people who won't convert to V2, but i figured I'd give it a good honest try, and be as fair as I could in my blog entry.
And lets face it....many of you don't want to hear it...and I don't even want to say it really, but even the folks over at Pheonix has said it....moving to Viewer 2 (or V2 based viewers) is going to be inevitable...and it is much sooner than you think. Mesh is coming and say what you will, it will change the landscape of Second Life. The debate is on somewhere if it is for the better or not, but regardless, we'll be forced to adapt (one way or the other) to the Viewer 2 code, or be left behind.
So while many are waiting for a Viewer that takes what they like about Viewer 1.23 and places it on the V2 system, I thought it was a good idea to actually rediscover Viewer 2 after not using it since its original release, and then share my experience with you....and you can go ahead and make up your own mind too, agree or disagree...i just ask that it's a fair opinion.
So, lets start with a description of what I do in Second Life, and how I use the viewer in those tasks. Mainly I build and run my shop. My business is the most important part of my Second Life these days. It could be making new products, promoting them, offering support on them, re merchandising my store, sponsoring a event for the store...that really is my main function.
So in my viewer use, Screen real estate is very important to me, being able to see what I am working on completely, while still being able to manage items in and out of my inventory, and handle IM's and local chat messages. In Viewer 1 my system was Inventory window open in the bottom Right of the screen, , Camera movement in the top right, Chat window in the upper left, build menu in the lower left, and the rest was my view of what was around me. It looked very similar to this image (taken recently in the latest phoenix viewer)
There are a couple things i will point out here later, but right now the starting point is to show what I am familiar with. Now when approaching any new viewer, you hope to be able to get something that resembles your perfered set up. In fact in all the online games/worlds I have been in, there have always been a few constants I could count on, which is why this screen is so comfortable for me. It is very similar to what I have set up in other worlds. Specifically the chat window, which I will touch on more later.
So now with that in mind, lets log onto the latest build of Viewer 2, in its standard form and have a peek. First of all, I will say that I am running this in advanced mode, with the inventory detached from the sidebar
Ok, so lets point out the thing that stands out the most to me, and that is in order to have access to my local chat and im's at the same time, I need to now have two windows that are open, and not able to access both in one. This takes up more space, and as you can see I haven't even added the build menu to this shot.
Also the camera controls take up much more space than the other viewer, which i find a bit irritating. I really notice it now, where before it was just a part of the screen i could mouse to when i wanted to rotate around something easily. When I build I do a lot of rotating around objects with that.
The inventory window is for the most part ok, but i do notice the layout, again, is much larger than it used to be. All in all this combination I am comfortable with on the previous viewer, is now using up a great deal of my screen space, and not as efficient as the old viewer.
I want to point out here that those are my main complaints about the viewer. Other than those things, I could probably adjust to V2 quite easily. I don't even hate the sidebar, now that it can be closed or opened without adjusting the screen too much, and now that you can detach the pieces from it. I'm even going to say that while I prefer the PIE menu system when selecting something, I can easily adjust to the drop down menu, because I have been using drop down menus for ages on other programs and operating systems.
So though this may sound like I am having a real bashing session at V2, I am really not. 3 specific things that make my experience less enjoyable. That's really not bad. Unfortunately it is enough to make me want to go back to the 1.23 interface.
Luckily, there are solutions to most of my problems, by using the great skin work of Hitomi Tiponi in the Starlight skins that are available. So lets revisit Viewer 2 with the skin installed. The option i chose to run was the classic with no sidebar. Lets have a look
First thing you should notice is I regained a lot of screen real estate with the new skin. The inventory window and camera controls are much less intrusive. However There is still that pesky problem with the chat windows. I need to have both windows in order to access local chat and IM's at the same time.
I really want to focus on this...I think this is one of the major problems people have with moving over to a V2 based viewer. When you visit the majority of chat based worlds/mmo's/games (at least the ones I have tried) you can have things set up to access all your chat in one place. The viewer 2 set up just doesn't allow this. Also, not everyone likes to chat at the bottom of the screen (and in my case because I am in windowed mode, if i drop down there my windows bar will come up and cover the chat entry).
ETA: Also in this same respect, the Local chat, IM's, Groups, and Friends could all be managed from this one window. While my focus is on the chat itself, having the contact section in this same single window was a fantastic ease of use function. Now I have to look into my sidebar for that...which is fine I suppose, but it really does feel like more steps to do something I could do much easier before.
Now, I hear the Firestorm viewer is coming out with a version of chat that does combine the local and im's in one for people, but I can't help wonder why they had to? I can't imagine what the thought process was at Linden Lab to not allow those to be combined. In all the promotion and marketing of Second Life, the main draw is what you will see. And to be honest, in viewer 2, when I have nothing open at all, i see just fine, and it looks just lovely (with better performance too)
But try to do anything other than look around and see things that are pretty...well, that's manageable....now add 4 or 5 im's at once, a group conference, someone trying to talk to you in local chat, be half way through building something creative, trying to move your camera around, toasts popping up at the bottom because people are sending you notecards....
Ok true, even on Viewer 1 a lot of that was a pain in the bottom, but at least the local chat, im's, group chat, could all be confined to one single box in the UI. And that is the killer for me, the thing that keeps me from switching over. Everything else I really can adjust to. I have had no other issues with it (well except the crashing, but that is only with shadows)
So I suppose i wait for the Firestorm TPV to come out so I can have this. But it still keeps me from using the official viewer, which should be a concern to Linden Lab in my opinion. They made the statement that they wanted Viewer 2 to be THE BEST choice in viewer to use in Second Life. They can achieve this if they want to, for me anyway. Just re combine the chat into one simple window again, and I believe you will find a few less complaints about the viewer, while not losing anything that will affect new user retention (if anything the combined window was a plus for new users, not a negative. I don't know why that was taken away really)
What did I like? Well, a whole lot actually. Love the world with shadows...it really made Second Life look on par with more modern worlds. The outfit management is a godsend. A friend had a movie playing from his youtube page in a theater in Second Life, and i was finally able to visit it and enjoy that because it was web on a prim (sure i could have gone to youtube but how cool is it to be sitting in a theater with your avatar and watch something...no? no one? well i thought it was cool!)
Things I need to mention because it's a pain in the bottom: I havn't been able to figure out how to access my classifieds anymore through Viewer 2...that's an issue for me, also can't seem to find land for sale through a general search like I used to...that is greatly missed. Sometimes when i type in a notecard the cursor doesn't appear where it should and i have to start over...that's particularly annoying, and finally sculpts seem to take a long time to load on http textures, which i had thought was actually supposed to help loading. maybe i'm wrong
My verdict of Viewer 2 as of June 8th 2011:
It isn't that bad in fact I have better performance while using it. It is not as scary as it was when launched with the use of a third party skin (Starlight), but without some changes to how it handles the chat windows I can't see myself using it.