New Viewer, New Thinking

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I can now reveal that for the past few weeks, I’ve been a member of a very secret group that was invited to preview the much-anticipated new Second Life Viewer 2.0. Since the viewer was publicly announced today, I am now legally permitted to write about my experience.

I’ve been intensely interested in this topic; readers may recall my recent post detailing the complexity of the existing viewer. In the post I discovered the old viewer included a staggering 1,708 controls (or 3,792 if you enable the advanced menu). This is far more than any normal human can comprehend, and I believe a simplified viewer is a key element of any strategy to restore resident growth in Second Life.

You’re probably wondering what I think about our new viewer. To cut to the chase, I like it. I like it a lot. It’s similar to the old viewer, but new at the same time. Many things are organized differently and in my opinion, mostly in better ways. There are some terrific new features, but mostly it’s all about reorganizing the presentment of function.

Menus

Menus killed me in the old viewer, and I am very happy to report they are vastly simplified in the new viewer. Many items have been relocated to logical places, and it’s visibly far less complex. The first menu item, plainly labelled “Me” epitomizes the process of making a user-centric viewer. Under “Me”, you’ll find quick access to all aspects of your avatar.

The “Communicate” menu is similar and includes all appropriate items. One item that you’ll be certain to look for are the parcel audio controls, which are no longer on the bottom control bar - look for them instead under “Nearby Media”. It took me a while to realize that’s where they were, while suffering to undesirable loud Abba music. Initially I was annoyed at the time required for me to figure the location of this control, but once found it seems to make a lot of sense.


The Side Tray

The Side Tray will be where you spend the most time. It’s a series of tabby icons pasted on the right hand side of your screen. When you touch an icon, the relevant controls slide out from the right into your view. You can access a great many things from the tray, including inventory, friends, groups, profiles, etc. It’s all very consistently prepared, and once you “get” the icons, you’ll quickly zoom to and fro in the tray. One issue: when the tray opens, the entire screen view shifts to the left - including any HUDs that actually slide off the right hand side of your screen.

Preferences

Preferences seem to be somewhat simplified and it is less of a struggle to get things set up. I’ve kept most of the default settings so far, but if I wanted to change things, the preference options have been consolidated, making it simpler to locate settings.

Inventory

Surprisingly, the Inventory window itself is mostly unchanged. Yes, it’s found within the tray, but once you pull it out, it appears very familiar. This is one of my big disappointments with Viewer 2.0 - managing and using inventory is still a horrific task and it should be addressed in the future. On the other hand, residents will find their inventory management methods almost the same as before.


Messaging And Notifications

Instant messages, group notices, payments and inventory offers now use a different scheme. Gone is the familiar baby-blue box that appeared in the upper right corner of your screen. instead you see contemporary style notification boxes appearing at the bottom right of your screen with friendly “X”s to send them away. Clicking expands them to the right detail. I feel the new messaging scheme is mostly good, but because the system is not as prominent as the old blue box, important events don’t poke you in the eye as they once did. I find this change to be the most difficult to adjust to, as you’ll quickly see messages stacking up and icons flashing on the bottom bar. It’s taken me a couple of weeks, but I think I’m fine with it now.

Look And Feel

The color scheme is very dark, and it seems to match the new styling of the Second Life web homepage. While it is a consistent style, it sometimes makes things hard to read. I found certain types of local chat hard to read due to color contrast issues. I expect many will demand different skins.


Advanced Menu

The old viewer has a special “debug” mode that enables a secret menu from which you can access a large number of unusual features. I always enabled this menu in the old viewer, because there were things I really wanted to use that were found only on that menu. However, in my Viewer 2.0 experience so far I have not had to access any hidden features; a good sign for the design. For example, many people use the advanced menu to turn off that horribly annoying typing animation (set PlayTypingAdmin to OFF). The new viewer has replaced this as a simple ticky box in your preferences. The new viewer seems to have identified the popular hidden features and revealed them in more appropriate places. That said, the Advanced menu still exists, albeit somewhat simplified, if you really must have it.


Pictures

Taking snapshots was tricky in the old viewer as there were different ways to do it. The new viewer includes a very handy button at the bottom of the page that instantly captures images. Even better, the controls will easily layout the image in a variety of commonly requested formats and sizes.

Voice

For readers who use voice (and I do constantly), you’ll find Viewer 2.0 provides a superior voice experience. You will find yourself worrying less often about the “Talk” button, as the new Viewer correctly turns it off and on automatically most of the time, unlike the previous viewer. There’s a “Speak” button on the bottom bar that’s easy to use. Even better, according to Joe Linden, the new voice will soon include an automatic gain adjustment (e.g. quiet voices will be boosted and loudmouths will be moderated) and *hallelujah* automated echo reduction. This means those evil ones who play voice through their computer speakers will no longer destroy everyone’s audio experience. Thank You!

Amazing New Features

The new viewer includes a few new features, and my apologies, I have not spent much time using them:

  • Shared Media is perhaps the biggest new feature, intended to replace the hokey mechanisms used today to view web pages, video and listen to audio on your parcel. You assign any URL to the face of a prim, and assuming the correct web plugins exist, it simply works. For example, in the top image, I’ve placed my URL on a box and I can use it just like a browser. Scrolling, clicks, etc. all work just fine. I’ve even watched YouTube movies! There is little doubt gadgets based on this tech will often replace the now-archaic parcel media. 
  • No pie menu exists; instead you get a simple, hierarchical popup menu that I believe is faster and more flexible to use than the pie.
  • Tattoo layers now exist for the head, upper torso and lower torso. This should make tats a little bit easier to use when wearing a complex set of clothes or attachments.
  • In addition to Friends and Groups, you now have a Nearby tab as well. Very handy!
  • Outfits are special folders that “point” at items to be worn all at once. This is very similar to existing protocols with one major difference: you don’t need extra copies of items, since you need only point at them. In other words, you can have no-copy items in more than one outfit!
  • Navigation is quite different; the new viewer has a web-browser style of interface, where you can paste in SLURLs directly - and even use the Back button to return from where you came. This should be very familiar to new residents who know how to use a browser.

And there's much more I haven't mentioned.

My Expectations

I like this viewer. It may not have the dozens of minor added features cluttering some third party viewers and it is certainly not bug-free at this early stage (especially the slow texture load bug), but I strongly believe it’s heading in the right direction.

Nevertheless, I believe there will be a truly massive outcry against this viewer by almost everyone, because most people don’t like change. That said, I further believe that after a few weeks, most people will adjust to the new viewer and begin to like it. Because it IS much simpler to use. The only way to make things better is to change, and I think this is a good change.

How will the new viewer affect the Lab? I’ll save that for a future post.

7 comments:

Tycho Beresford said...

"especially the slow texture load bug" - is it ready even for Beta if it has such a bug? That blows me away!

Ari Blackthorne™ said...

Nice.

Now I await in bated breath for the "Snowglobe Engine version" of this new new toy. :)

I will trade every single "feature" for performance. And up to now, that meant Snowglobe.

for Paisley Beebe said...

Armi did you find it laggier on you Mac! I'm glad that glow now works on my mac. But my frame rate is much worse than on snowglobe. Also for us at pwp the hidden music controls will be a night mare, at least on the old viewer they were easy to see. If you couldn't find them and you were trying to turn something off...imagine how ba it will be trying to get people to find the buttons to turn some thing on. At live music concerts and our shows where we sometimes show video, and for our in world TVs. They need to make the media buttons more visual and show them easily for watch video or play music. I had exactly the Same issue as you but I was hearing both my treet.tv and my favorite radio show it took me ages to find out where to turn the vid off not just both. I hope they redesign that. it's the hardest thing at concerts and my shows dealing with the folks that hear the streams or watch the vids cause they can't find the buttons. Paisley

Hiro Pendragon said...

I think you hit it on the head with the title. The new SL Viewer and related features represents a new way of thinking from the Lab in a very positive way.

ArminasX said...

@paisley - SL2.0 is laggy in the sense that there is a known bug that really slows down texture loads. In other words, when you travel to a new place you'll wait several moments while things turn from grey to textured. My frame rate is basically the same, although the missing textures might alter the frame rate while you load them. But always remember, this is a Beta release that will have bugs. It is NOT a production system. Their purpose in releasing it is to FIND bugs. That's our job when we use it.

The music controls are easy to find once you know where the are. Communicate -> Nearby Media. However, the theory is that parcel media will be completely replaced eventually by shared media gadgets that could have much easier controls. So these controls won't really matter.

I hope they DON'T redesign things - because once you find something, it is usually in a more natural place. I've seen this effect multiple times so far; the new controls are typically in the right place and in retrospect the old viewer had things in crazy places. Crazy places we just happened to learn over time and now must unlearn.

Simone said...

Good review...one issue I have with the color scheme is that some of the buttons could be just a bit more obvious...but shared media is definitely cool.

Yup I was disappointed in that there were not more changes to inventory management.

Ari Blackthorne™ said...

Can anyone say "Photoshop 2.5 upgrade to 3.0"?

We will simply have to unlearn the bad to relearn the good. :)

I like what I'm seeing. The only frustration so far is the way the properties panel appears in the sidebar... and I have yet to figure out how to edit the properties of multiple items.

For example to change permissions on ten items. Old way: select all, edit, change perms, ctrl-w; change perms; ctrl-w; change perms...

In this new viewer, that doesn't seem possible. No, not referring to a prim's contents, as there is the mass-perms-change ability.

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