realXtend – the not so slow burner in virtual worlds

Back in February we profiled Openlife, an alternate Second Life-based grid. The realXtend platform underpins grids like Openlife and since February they’ve achieved some significant milestones. Now up to version 0.3, the 3D modelling in realXtend is something to see now. Here’s a snippet:

Caleb Bookers states “When these guys hit 1.0 the web will quake”. At the very least, the graphical improvement on Second Life will cause some sort of impact.

If you’re super keen, download realXtend for yourself – Windows PC’s only at this stage unfortunately.

New Zealand OpenSim grid on the way

I stumbled across a communication from a consortium of New Zealand Universities, who are making a public call for support for their proposal (which is reproduced in full below):

I’ve been asked as a contributor to OpenSim to pass along the following.

There is a bid going on for a new public project in NZ, through the University of Otago, and the principles (researchers at the university) are making a general call for support for their bid.

If you could sign a letter of support for this bid within the end of the week, please forward it to me, and I will pass it on.

“Support” can be any thing of your choosing, and is non-binding. Samples are appended to this email.

I have been authorized to pass along the following excerpt from the application:

Executive Summary

Project Title: National Virtual World Grid

Project overview

Rationale for the project

The National Virtual World Grid (NVWG) project will develop an open access national virtual world grid based and bring together a community of researchers and educators with an interest in playing an innovative role in the development and usage of the next wave of the Internet: Web3.D.

Continual advances in telecommunications bandwidth and computer processing power are already giving users a more multimedia-intensive experience on the Web. Now with the advent of online virtual worlds (e.g. Google Lively, Second Life) we have the harbinger of the next wave of the
Internet: Web3.D, where users inhabit and participate in a 3D Virtual World (VW) by means of their
personal in-world avatars. An IT industry research and advisory company, Gartner, has predicted that by 2011, 80% of all Internet participants will be regular users of Web3.D technology. Already over 500 US universities are offering courses of instruction in Second Life, and major companies are
getting involved too (e.g. Vodafone, IBM, TelstraClear, Sun). The commercial nature of the most widely used Virtual World implementations, such as Second Life, places high financial costs on users who are charged for developing in-world content and for the traffic associated with accessing the remotely located servers.

This proposal describes how through the development of an national virtual world grid based on open
source software deployed on KAREN, and activities to promote the development of an active user
community, NZ tertiary educators and researchers can be given an accelerated opportunity to play an
innovative role in Web3.D development and usage.

Project outline

The National Virtual World Grid (NVWG) project will operate NZ-based computer servers running the OpenSim software (an open-source clone of the core functionality of Second Life) in “grid mode”. This will encourage uptake of Web3.D technology across New Zealand by enabling organisations connected to the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network (KAREN) to obtain free and high speed access to virtual world “regions” hosted in our servers, or to interconnect their own “region servers” with those of other institutions in NZ.

By developing, managing, and operating this National Virtual World Grid, and Web-based community
support tools for users, there will be an opportunity for all institutions that are connected to
the KAREN network to:

1) undertake both experimental and routine use of virtual worlds in teaching and research;

2) develop engaging, interactive in-world content customised for New Zealand use; and

3) develop new context-specific plugins enabling interaction with external applications that are
connected to the real (non-virtual) world and external services.

Expected outcome

The project will:

* Promote the establishment, growth and maintenance of a community of NZ users of Web3.D technology for tertiary education and research
* Provide the environment for New Zealand to become an innovator in Web3.D technology at the
international level.
* Facilitate the tertiary education sector to produce graduates ready to exploit Web3.D technology for the economic benefit of New Zealand

Project partners

University of Otago (Department of Information Science): Project leadership and management; grid
development and management of central grid services and Web-based community support tools.

University of Canterbury: deployment and management of Canterbury grid node (SIM); exemplar VW learning environments for two learning application areas.

University of Auckland: deployment and management of Auckland grid node (SIM).

It’s great to see such advocacy coming from New Zealand universities. I’m more than happy to be corrected on this but I’m unaware of such a project underway in Australia. There’s an enormous amount of development going on in the Australian university sector but is there anything as potentially unifying as the New Zealand model?

Thanks to Mo Hax (via Mal Burns) for the heads-up.

Interview – Nathan Organ (AUGrid)

Back in February this year we interviewed Steve Sima, founder of the Openlife grid. Since then another Australian has set up a grid based on the Open Simulator architecture. This one is called AUGrid and has been set up by Norgan Torok (RL: Nathan Organ) and we caught up with him for an interview this week.

Lowell: Can you tell me a little about your background and how you got into virtual

Norgan: I discovered Second Life around a year ago, after resisting for a while I finally logged in and started exploring. I found it fascinating but had to look into this “game”and work out just what it was about. After realising quickly just how great and diverse the culture and people in
there were I had to explore more. As with most things i encounter I looked deeper and deeper into it. Until the interoperability announcement I considered SL a closed system. The interop test showed me the light into OpenSim and its great possibilities.

Lowell: What was the impetus for you setting up AUGrid?

Norgan: Two things inspired me to do AUGrid. Firstly, the interoperability of OpenSim and Second Life opening up that user base to a wider world of virtual worlds. There was concern that Linden Lab would make Second Life a closed world for a while there. Secondly, my own work supporting 1000 hours for autistic kids and my work with EnGeneIC who develop novel cancer treatments, and my
yearning to help support these admirable causes. AUGrid is focused on providing exposure and services to these causes as well as the education sector.

Lowell: Are you personally hosting the grid or working in conjunction with

Norgan: For the moment i am personally paying for co-located servers, with a view to reselling regions servers to help bring money back into the project. Reactiongrid have been helping with supply of cost effective servers to run the grid on. My training and experience in network design and operation helps me manage the topology of the grid servers and plan for growth. We also get support form various developers and sub-communities within the OpenSim project and in return I share my knowledge and experience in networking and my work in OpenSim with the community at large. AUGrid has also set up its own dedicated PayPal account to more easily manage any donations or funds coming in. With
these funds I hope to bring in extra resources to help expand the project and donate services to schools and charities.

Lowell: How far along the development path is AUGrid?

Norgan: AUGrid follows the core development path of OpenSim. I have been busy
talking with the core development teams and some people from Microsoft who have been helping AUGrid along with feedback, advice and techniques. This project and many others on OpenSim are a 2-way development structure where the users and various groups contribute to each other and the common code. This is how I am able to setup AUGrid confident in the fact that the OpenSim community is there to help as am I to help them. As I mentioned before I try to keep the
code quite new, which can bring in new bugs and cause some down time but also pick up the improvements as they are developed.

Lowell: Compared to say Second Life, what would a new resident see on your
grid? Is it a similar experience at this stage?

Norgan: The experience is quiet similar to Second life for general navigation and user experience, in fact you use the SL viewer in many cases to log into AUGrid. There are also other viewers with extra features like building higher height and megaprims allowed. The LLFunctions script
implementations are two-thirds the way through with new ones being added every day, so the scripting and building environment is similar also. The real difference is the flexibility on the server side. For example, we can play with gravity and I have setup an experimental sim that has moon gravity; but really that’s just the start. With some projects using RL integration of robots and information fed in from hardware and external databases, the possibilities are almost endless. This is
the real power of the OpenSim platform – using a modulated approach to the code design, you can create and integrate your own modules on the server. An example of some of AUGrid’s technology is the data center that monitors RL servers in real time. It actually pointed out a problem with one of my DNS servers which I was able to investigate and correct as a direct result of seeing the server in-world.

Lowell: What have been some of the biggest challenges to date with the grid’s

Norgan: Biggest hurdle is the code management and avoiding downtime. Rapid development code is always a task to handle but for the most part the core systems are very stable. We try to explain and notify of any bugs and issues as they asrise and why there was any downtime to help the
users understand how the system works and just how quickly things can change.

Lowell: What are you plans for AUGrid in the coming 6-12 months?

Norgan: To expand the grid onto more servers, which is why we have started taking donations, and allow a more powerful grid for better in-world experiences. The topology of
AUGrid is designed in such a way that it can be easily scaled up and this has been done because i have grand visions for AUGrid. Aside from the obvious expansion of the grid the biggest thing will be to provide free or low cost regions to educational and medical projects, allowing them a powerful platform on which to teach and learn. Ideally, the grid will pay for itself and allow donations of regions to schools and charities.

We have started toying with the idea of medical and education hubs and once we acquire more servers i will be setting these up so when users visit in-world they may more easily get to those areas and projects they are interested in.

Lowell: What differentiating factor do you believe you have over other grids, including Australian ones like Openlife?

Norgan: The differing factor is AUGrid’s primary focus on real life support of charities and good causes and it’s non-profit business model. As well as a true aussie flavour while travelling around the grid with many and varied parts of aussie culture on show. Triple X Industries sim is
a great example with an Aussie pub and amazing aussie shop fronts and areas. This is one of the big helpers to establishing AUGrid’s content – I don’t know what I’d do without him. We also have an accurate representation of Brisbane’s Southbank with much more coming along.

Lowell: For people wanting to check out AUGrid, how do they best do that?

Norgan: Thanks to TheCritic we have an SL Launcher that can be downloaded from a
link on It works for Windows, Linux and Mac and allows the user to quite easily launch their existing SL Viewer to connect to AUgrid, among others. There is also a Hippo Viewer made for OpenSim that with a quick shortcut modification can be used on AUGrid allowing the extra features like higher build height limits and larger prim sizes.

Microsoft’s paws on OpenSim?

Am I the only one that experiences nausea at the thought of Microsoft integrating its technologies with the OpenSim virtual world platform?

To me, any technology that’s brand-specific is going to cause more problems than deliver solutions when the longer term view is taken for interoperability.

IBM and Linden Lab take the next big step for (virtual) mankind

As announced on the Linden Lab blog today, IBM and Linden Lab have successfully teleported avatars from the Second Life preview grid to an OpenSim virtual world.

Some video of the event below or read the FAQ for future plans:

It’s another noteworthy step toward the holy grail of virtual world interoperability. Linden Lab state they’ll have their own Open Grid beta this month. It’s all very cutting edge for most of us but an echo of a very interesting future in virtual worlds.

OpenSim discussion panel: podcast available

Zatzai Asturius from Second Convention held a discussion panel last week about the future of the Second Life grids (both the Linden Lab and OpenSim grids).

The panel consisted of Australian Adam Zaius and Teravus Ousley from the OpenSim project and it’s now available as a podcast.

Zatzai describes the podcast: “The discussion is about an hour long and it covers why there are problems with the grid today and what can be done, and what is being done to correct it. As well as what OpenSim is doing differently and what it is doing the same for compatibilities sake. The capabilties and mentality of the OpenSim design are also brought up and I think it gives a good glimpse into their development process.”

It’s a fairly technical discussion but if you’re interested in what’s under the grid, it’s an interesting listen.

Listen to the podcast here.

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