March 8th, 2010 by Marianne McCann
The more I use Second Life’s Viewer 2 beta, the less I seem to like it. More so, I find myself less interested in being within Second Life at all, and a lot of that relates to my experience with Viewer 2. I feel as if there are some core issues that may need revisiting.
I don’t want to come across as yet another person jumpin’ on the anti-V2 bandwagon, nor do I have a track record of responding angrily to every little thing Linden Lab does. I want to like Viewer 2, and there is a lot I do enjoy about it. I personally feel that while Linden Lab has not batted 1000, it has had a fair share of hits (Windlight, Linden Homes, and arguably Havok 4 and the acquisition of Avatars United) to go along with its misses (Homesteads, SL Answers, the Blogorum, Homesteads – and yes I did say that twice).
I actually had the good fortune to get a slightly earlier look at it than most, and have taken to using it as my main SL viewer. My reasoning on this is simple: this is the viewer will will likely get, in spite of whatever flaws it might have, and we’d best get used to it. It’s a cynical view, perhaps, but I really don’t expect I’ll see much change in it from the initial beta to the release product. Please, Linden Lab: prove me wrong.
Like I said, I *want* to like Viewer 2. I really do — but so often the bad outweighs the good.
I love having the top bar, for one. The browser-like interface is great! Having favorites up there is even better. This has been a boon to my own travels. But here’s the bad: need to get to, say, North Channel 112, 128, 506? That’s going to be a bit more work. If you have a SLURL or a LM, you’re golden, sure. but you cannot enter coordinates on the map, which is especially frustrating with Z coordinates. You also don’t see coordinates in the top bar anymore automatically (you need to enable this with a right click in the top bar), making it harder to know exactly where you are at any given time.
Unlike many others, I like the sidebar — but again, there’s trouble here. Nothing tears off or undocks, nor can you switch it to dock on the left. Opening up multiple profile windows is impossible, and attaching anything to a group notice (or even seeing how many items you have in inventory) requires opening a secondary inventory window.
This brings up one of my major issues with Viewer 2.0. The stated goal is to make the user interface easier for new members to grasp, presumably easing use and, therefore, retention. Yet that does not seem to be what has happened. While some things are arguably easier (You can, for example, go back to your last location much easier than in Version 1.x), many things are harder, require more steps, of have become less intuitive.
A caveat: I’m not referring to the fumbling around one typically has to do when exposed to a new interface for the first time. New and old get the opportunity to fumble around with our well-worn ruts erased in Viewer 2. I’m talking about trying to teach people to turn off their music by hitting a “play” button, helping people find shared media hidden on the texture panel, or being able to only right click and build n ground versus on top of prims.
My second big issue with Viewer 2 is that the UI gets in the way of the world. I half-joked early in the private beta that Viewer 2 was great – but they should really get rid of that 3D virtual world that was getting in the way of my chat and IMs. Windows no longer go semi-transparent when not in the forefront, notices and IMs steal focus, and some windows can even be overlaid over the bottom bar.
As a test, go to a busy location. Let’s day the Ahern Welcome Area, though a popular club or large event works just as well. Open up your sidebar — maybe you are checking out someone’s profile, or changing outfits, or something. Field some IMs in the midst of it all. Now, now much of the event you are at can you see? Any of it? You have a screen full of black bars of text obscuring the world much like the redaction of a formerly top secret government document.
The #1 thing that separates Second Life from being just another chat room or instant messaging program is the 3D virtual world. This is what we’re showing on the front page of secondlife.com (assuming we’re not logged in) and the login screen of the viewer. It is why we have a snapshot buttons – particularly a snapshot to postcard. It’s kinda the whole point. Yet it becomes quickly overpowered by the 2.0 UI.
Ironically, the third big issue I see is the continued push for voice use. I am not anti-voice chat. While I do not often opt to use it, i’ve long had it enabled, and have seen a great many events enhanced by its inclusion. Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that Viewer 2 is trying to do some not-altogether-sly attempts to push text chat out of the way of voice. You can tell this the first time you enter the world and see the size of that box for text chat. You’ll see it when you try to type your chat into the “nearby chat” window. You’ll even see it the first time you hit the “speak” button and discover that its not the old “say” button it once was.
So I’ve kvetched enough. How about some solutions. First thing, look at http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Viewer_2_Tweaks – here, many Second Life users have left to the challenge of making Viewer 2 much more useful, making windows semi transparent, extending the chat bar, and much more. Much of this really should — and could — be part of Viewer 2.
Speaking of shoulds and coulds, the JIRA is full of them. Here’s a few good ones:
http://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-17130 “Build” missing from contexural menu when clicking prims.
http://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-17010 The viewer 2.0 chat bar needs to fill ALL unused space in the bottom bar
http://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-16978 ‘Inspect’ is missing from Viewer 2.0
http://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-16964 PLEASE allow adjustable transparency of “Nearby Chat” window, Chat History and Chat “Toasts” in Viewer 2.0!
http://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-17314 Glow on Screenshots, and Hirez Screenshots broken.
http://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-17202 High-Rez Snapshots to Disk produce regular rez snapshot surrounded by black to bring the final photo to high rez
http://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-17094 Advanced > UI > Use Default System Color Picker missing in Viewer 2.0
http://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-17022 Clicking on the current time in the Viewer should bring up events happening right now.
But beyond JIRAs and XML tweaks, we need a sense that any of this is fixable. Like I said at the beginning, the feeling is that this is the viewer we’re going to get, like it or lump it. Word is that this thing is hoped to be the main viewer next month and, well, I think thats woefully optimistic. There’s a great many things that could be addressed, but first someone needs to be hearing these needs and acting on them. I fear that timelines, business decisions, and all sorts of things may well lead to a less-than-finished product — one that does not serve its goal of bringing in new users and further alienates the existing user base.
Again, please prove me wrong. I’m beggin’ ya.