June 23, 2009

Snowglobe - a first look

Yesterday my SL sister Trinity Dechou mentioned the "Snowglobe" project to me, an open source approach initiated by Philip Linden. While the regular viewers are open source too, it takes rather long until fixes and extensions added by the community find their way into the official viewers. This causes quite a lot of frustration in the community and contributes to the perception of the Lab being "slow" or "uninterested", but basically has to do with the quality assurance procedures behind the scenes. The slowness of the Lab to adapt community fixes and expansions has led to a whole culture of alternative viewers for the more tech savvy residents: Gemini, Imprudence, Kirsten's Shadow Viewer and Rainbow Viewer among the most popular ones and even some old Nicholaz viewers still in use.

Project Snowglobe tries to shorten this process and to establish a very close cooperation between selected open source developers and developers from Linden Lab. This is intended to basically implement quality assurance on a submission level and a planned/steered development process. Instead of checking submitted patches and see the impact, a roadmap for development is used.

I have not used an official viewer in ages. I think during the 1.12 or 1.13 viewer release I switched to the Nicholaz Viewers which I would happily still use if not for the annoying sculpt bugs. So after that I switched to Imprudence, the viewer I liked best so far. Imprudence uses a very strict no-3rd-party-components approach, and as a consequence the graphic library used is significantly slower than in any other viewer. So reluctantly I switched to Boy Lane's Rainbow Viewer (previously known as Cool Viewer) - the viewer I primarily use these days. I have yet to check the Gemini viewer, which gets advertised for power users and has some promising features.

Getting back to an official viewer (or at least a Linden Lab released viewer) after that many months is strange. The viewer feels odd, and a lot of known functionality from 3rd party viewers is missing. However during my test-run I did not run into any issues.

What I can tell is that this viewer is fast. Right now Snowglobe has two major areas of change compared to a regular viewer: texture download via HTTP instead of UDP (and thus making textures being cachable in the net infrastructure itself) and a completely revamped map interface. The map is blazingly fast. The island screenshots come up in full resolution in instants. The reason for this is that the map tiles do not get queried from the SL servers, but gets cached on the worldwide internet backbone of Amazon (yes, the book guys). Texture rezzing seemed very fast as well, however I have no idea how much of this is the effect of a cleaned cache - I have to run experiments.

The overall impression was good, and I will certainly test it a bit more. It's too early for me to give a final verdict, and I am dearly missing some features I get with CoolViewer. But I encourage you to try it for yourself.

You can download the Snowglobe viewer from the project website.
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