Saturday, 8 March 2008

Opening Pandora's box ?

For a while now I've been wondering what route Linden Labs is going. Rumours have been around that the server code would be open-sourced but until now that hasn't materialised. Would it be a good idea? Unlike some others I do think it's a good idea. Obvious benefit of opening the code is more people will look into it and fix the bugs and security holes that exist presently. It will also allow for a breath of fresh air when it comes to new features. wearing the sim for a skin?Most of all it means the SL-grid can grow and evolve. In my opinion 2007 was the year LL suffered from their own success. The grid has become laggy and unstable,riddled with bugs, security holes have left it open to griefing and DoS attacks and it looked like LL was scrambling to put out fires left, right and center but was never able to get control.

Many times the analogy has been made between this stage of development of the grid and the early days of the web. At present the grid is a privately held project with limited resources and limited space to expand. Imagine what could happen if those limitations were lifted. It could lead to the grid being an international network with sims all over the place. Sounds like the World Wide Web reinvented in 3D to me. It doesn't mean we all have to start running our own sims, but we could if we wanted to. More importantly, those willing to invest their money, ideas and creativity into a next generation www could do just that.

Maybe LL could follow the path the likes of Sun Microsystems, Novell and RedHat have taken. They split off an open source branch (open Solaris, open SuSE, Fedora) and take whatever good comes out of it into your their own relaeses. You could imagine LL taking a similar route: free open-sim server code for everyone to tinker with and use but unsupported by LL and server software sold and supported by LL. Sims based on LL supported servers could have a closer integration with the Linden owned grid.

Of course there are concerns. Some argue open sourcing the server would make the grid unsafe since it would allow owners of sims outside the Linden Lab controlled part of the grid to steal all content from whoever enters their sim or use it to plant malicious code on your pc, or ... the possibilities are endless. That is probably true and it will definitively be a challenge to find ways of solving those problems but it doesn't change the fact that the practical problems disappear in the shadow of what could be. The Internet as a whole has never been a safe place; there will always be people out there looking for an opportunity to steal your credit card number, prey on your children or make your life hell just for the fun of it. I believe the benefits outweigh the risks.

I think Linden Labs basically has no choice but to open up their source. If they don't others will soon be competing to set the standard for an open grid. I think LL owes it to itself to be the true pioneer of a really open Metaverse. They will probably never be able to keep control of the SL-client, nor do I think they intend to, but their server software can be the foundation of things to be that are far greater then what they could achieve all by themselves.


dandellion Kimban said...

Sure it is a good thing to do. Ask Apachee :)
Actually, they are so late with opening, but there are a hell lot of reasons for that. Some are very good but rooted in wrong planning years ago.

Octobriana (Oz) said...

While there is the possibility of malicious code, it would also be easier to fix and block.

Open source developments like Firefox and Thunderbird are successful for precisely the reasons you state. Both applications however also have something else - extra modules that specialise in specific things which users plugin as they want.

Not sure how that would work in SL, but maybe there could be custom unterfaces and such.