Second Life goes open-source

Linden Lab is taking its Viewer application of its popular online world Second Life open-source in order to push development.

Second Life goes open-source

Second Life has become a high-profile example of the growing interest in participating in online worlds, yet with a development team of 50 or so programmers, there is pressure to expand and secure the platform.

The source code will be licensed under the GNU General Public Licence version 2. A controversial third version will be announced later this month, although it’s unclear whether Linden Lab will adopt this.

The licence allows other developers to view, modify and distribute those modifications. What this means for Second Life is that developers could use this code to create their own viewer software, or participate in Linden Lab projects to improve Second Life.

However, the company says that while it will thoroughly test and support third-party code that is implemented in its own Viewer application, third-party code such as alternative viewers, will not be supported by the company.

The initial projects are likely to focus on bug fixes, improvements to compatibility with less common hardware configurations, such as older computers; support for additional multimedia types; User Interface changes; and potentially new look and feel ‘skins’ for the Viewer itself. Timeframes for these enhancements will vary depending on the scale of the project and project team.

Philip Rosedale, CEO and founder of Linden Lab, told AP that there might be other ways to interact with the game other than mouse and keyboard – such as gaze detection – to help the many disabled people who use Second Life.

‘We feel we have a responsibility to improve and to grow Second Life as rapidly as possible,’ said Rosedale. ‘We were the first virtual world to enable content creators to own the rights to the Intellectual Property they create. That sparked exponential growth in the richness of the Second Life environment. Now we’re placing the Viewer’s development into the hands of Residents and developers as well. This extends the control Residents can have over the Second Life experience and allows a worldwide community to examine, validate and improve the software’s sophistication and capabilities.’

Cory Ondrejka, CTO of Linden Lab, said: ‘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.’

A blog post on the Second Life blog said that much recent work had been spent on the Second Life Grid: a globally interconnected grid with clients and servers published and managed by different groups. The focus of this has been on ‘securing the code against potential threats. More recently and still in development, we are moving more of the communications to reliable and cryptographically strong secure channels.’

Because property and objects can be exchanged in Second Life for real money, there is inevitably attention from criminals seeking to exploit any code vulnerabilities. Recently, a ‘grey goo’ worm was discovered wreaking havoc in the online world.

The Free Software Foundation, led by Richard Stallman, the man behind the GNU GPL licence used by Linden Lab, has also announced open-source plans for online worlds, having donated funds to Ryzom. Ryzom is a fully open-source online world which is to operate as a non-profit organisation. The platform code can be used to create alternative online worlds or to enhance Ryzom.

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