Viewer two point "ohhhh, shit!"

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Should I bother with adding my opinion about Linden Lab’s beta Viewer 2.0 to the hundreds already posted? Oh, what the hell… why not? Nobody at the Lab is going to read it, and if they did it wouldn’t matter. The course is set, the 12-sided die is cast, and eventually even the 3rd-party adaptations of the code will march to the same drummer, even if in a different battalion. So pardon me while I blow off some steam.

I downloaded it the day of its release, viewed Torley’s tutorials, and “used” it for approximately 8 hours. “Used” is in quotes for a few reasons, which I’ll try to make clear… but I’m going to have to do that with words only. No illustrative screenshots for this post, I’m afraid; I refuse to start 2.0 beta up again. If you’ve tried it, you’ll know what I’m describing. If you haven’t tried it yet, don’t. Wait until you have no choice but to use the post-beta “final” release.

Let’s hit the good stuff first. There are two — count ’em, two — changes in the new viewer design which I judge to actually be improvements. The first is the re-organization of the top menu bar, especially the division of the catch-all “Advanced” menu into two, which can be individually displayed or hidden at the user’s discretion. Mind you, there are things still in the Advanced menu which n00bs (who are the target demographic) ought to know about, be able to find, and enable or disable — “quiet snapshots”, “multiple threads”, and turning off “show Away when idle”, for instance — without needing to see the rest. Overall, the menu designers did a good job.

The second genuine improvement can be called “The Death of the Blue Boxes”. Those annoying drop-downs in the upper right corner (group notices, teleport offers, inventory offers, payment confirmations), as well as requests for IM, have been replaced with a series of notification “chiclets” at the bottom right of the screen — exactly the sort of thing I’m looking at right now in the status bar of Firefox, with its notification plug-ins for Gmail, Yahoo mail, and Twitter. With those, I can choose whether to react to them right away, or later, or not at all. That kind of discretion is now granted by the new viewer, whereas before, you pretty much had to deal with them, just to get them off your screen.

Maybe you’d think, with that evidence, that “screen real estate” would be a guiding principle of the design… wouldn’t you? It wasn’t, and it won’t be. Every other major change — and a few of the minor ones — has the effect of eating screen in great big bites. Most prominent and therefore worst offender: the sidebar.

The Sidebar Must Die!

It won’t, of course. It’s the most-touted new feature, the one thing the Lab thinks makes this viewer new and exciting. We’re stuck with it. We’ll be stuck with it in the open-source adaptations, too — unless someone has the skill and the gumption to make it optional. Are you listening, Emerald?

When I tested the damned thing, I didn’t do any “power user” stuff like build or edit; I went out to a couple of my favorite clubs. There are three things I do constantly and habitually when socializing: talk to people in Chat and IM; take snapshots; read profiles of people new to me. In Viewer 2, which got rid of the pie menus, there’s a new “info” button that appears when you hover your pointer over another avatar. OK so far… so, click it, get the context menu, choose Profile… BAM! 20% of your screen is replaced by the sidebar! And it doesn’t just slide over the top, it pushes your worldview to the left by its width. To do what? To display a combination of what was (and still is, in the 1.x viewers) your main and “1st life” profile pages — but a truncated combination, cutting off the text in each with a “more” selection, while displaying both photos. The result takes up about 1/4 of the available “column inches” in the sidebar; the rest is just dead black space. Why???

Next up: Chat and IM. I mentioned before about the chiclets in the bottom right corner; for IMs, they’re tiny (as in, barely recognizable) reproductions of the main profile photo of whichever avatar you have ‘on the line’. Click on them, and a IM history window pops up. First problem: the default setting for the viewer is a separate IM window for each conversation. Lucky for me, I was forewarned about that in one of Torley’s tutorials, so I changed to its other option, a single window with tabs for each IM (which requires a restart, naturally — can’t switch ‘on the fly’, that would be too easy).

However — Local Chat (which they’ve renamed “Nearby” for unfathomable reasons) is forced to remain in a window of its own. If you’re like me, and find it easier to follow Local with the history window than with the slow fade in the lower left corner, and have an IM or two (or five) going on, you’ve got two to park somewhere on the 80% of your screen that won’t be usurped by the sidebar when you do something that invokes it… like, look at the profile of the stranger who just IM’d, to decide if you want to answer or ignore. In short, one Communication window has become two. I found this “feature” in the Hippo viewer, too, which I use in OSGrid — but Hippo allows you the option of returning to the “old” way. Viewer 2.0 doesn’t. Why???

One more about Chat before we move on: Even in the separated Nearby history window, there’s no field in which to enter text. The only place to do that is in the bar at the lower left corner. Think about that for a moment… You’ve already had to decide where to put the Chat history, and now you have to take your attention away from it in order to participate in the conversation! Has no one born after 1980 heard the word ergonomics???

Activity #3: Snapshots, which means camera controls. Two-plus years of working with the old HUD system for moving the camera around has made it almost instinctive — on the order of “body memory”, like the old saw about riding a bicycle. Everything needed was there, too: “orbit” and tilt on one circle, pan and elevate on the other, and zoom in the middle… and it was small and semi-transparent, occluding but not obscuring. Not in 2.0! It’s 3 times bigger and completely opaque; worse than that, it’s tabbed, so that there’s an extra mouseclick to switch between circular and straight movement. Zoom is there, but it’s so damn sensitive that the slightest movement of the slidebar sends the camera way past where you intended. Using the scroll wheel on your mouse is a lot easier, if you have one. (Do Macs still have the single-button hockey-puck mouse?)

The forums, and lots of other blogs, are chock-full of comments about the new viewer, so I won’t belabor the topic… except to comment on the one new feature everyone is raving about: “Shared MediaTM“, a.k.a. “HTML on a prim”. My comment: I don’t give a rodent’s rear end. Yeah, yeah, I can see genuine advantages in some limited applications — none of which have to do with my day-to-day Second Life. I can also see possible avenues for data-mining and malware exploits. Here’s the deal: I already leave streaming media disabled; I’ll be damned if I turn it on under the nouveau régime.

I don’t come to SL to do things I can do in my Web browser — that’s what I have a browser for, open and running on my second monitor. I come to SL to do things that only can be done there: meeting people from all over the planet; talking to them; recording them, and the often amazing surroundings, with screenshots I’m vain enough to consider photography. Viewer 2.0 makes my Second Life more difficult, not easier.

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Edited March 3 to add:

Miss Emily Orr’s blog post: “so why do I keep coming back?”, in which she repeats the same complaints as I have, and then some. All valid.

Meanwhile — I haven’t merely stopped trying it, swearing never to touch it again. I uninstalled it. Lucky me, I had been forewarned by others’ comments. No idea how it works in Mac or Linux, but in Windows, the metadata created by your use of the client (settings, logs, whathaveyou) goes in a different place than the actual viewer software. In Win7 (and, I suspect, Vista), the metadata’s destination is C:\Users\[your username]\App Data\Roaming\SecondLife, even though the program itself goes into C:\Program Files(x86)\…

The important thing to remember is: All Second Life viewers (for example, Emerald) write that stuff to the same set of files. Running the Uninstall routine for any one of your viewers will empty those logs and settings. So… If you are driven, like I was, to uninstall 2.0, but you want to maintain continuity, you must first copy all of those folders to another place on your computer. Then, after the uninstall is done, copy them back into their original location before starting up your remaining viewer(s) of choice.

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7 responses to “Viewer two point "ohhhh, shit!"

  1. Thanks for reporting your experience.

    I like Viewer 2. There are some new really exciting features (shared media, and shadows / global illumination are upcoming).

    The interface is simpler and with a few fixes it will be OK. Knowing that they're going to update the Inventory interface as well is encouraging.

    I think most old users will adapt to Viewer 2 without too much problems, and that overall it will improve in a relevant way the SL experience.

  2. We obviously lead very different First and Second Lives, which is not surprising or probably even worthy of comment. I don't own a desktop computer and certainly don't have a second screen, to cite a first life difference which also impacts on my Second Life.

    Personally I am finding the new interface much better than the previous one (and I have been in SL since 2005 so I have a lot of experience with the previous one). I agree that there are things that need fixing/developing before it is finalised but then that is what part of what betas are for – figuring out the kinks.

    For me Shared Media is a major step forward, and one that will definitely impact my everyday Second Life. The opportunities it opens up are the main reason I am excited about Viewer 2. However I completely understand your position – and, if media play no part in your SL, I completely understand why you might prefer the old viewer.

  3. @Owen: You raise a good point, of the sort that's usually sloughed off with the abbreviation YMMV = “Your Mileage May Vary”. Hardware configuration has a huge impact on how each one of us interfaces with SL, even before the GUI is considered… and that, in turn, is based on real-life decisions made independently of our being in SL.

    I'm from the pre-laptop generation. I completed university long before they existed, let alone became necessary or required. I worked with desktop PC's for years before I could afford my own… so you could say I've been acculturated to them, and my habits are ingrained. I don't need portable hardware to accomplish what I want. I also don't have a “smart” phone, for the same reason. That's the basis for my reaction to “Web on a prim”: great idea, full of potential, not something I need, but others do and they should have it.

    Anyway… I'm certainly aware of what beta releases are for. I used to try out the Lab's Release Candidate viewers before I switched to Emerald, and I was willing to give 2.0 a whirl in the same spirit. 8 hours into the experience, I decided [a] it needed much more work; [b] someone else could write the JIRAs; [c] I'd learned enough to vote for the ones that made sense; [d] I didn't want to continue the frustration while waiting for the fixes.

    Something like the current beta will inevitably become the default viewer, probably as early as this (northern hemisphere) summer. Its new features and innovations will also be incorporated into 3rd-party viewers. My complaints are about the GUI, and I hope certain aspects of them will become optional… but in the final analysis, I won't leave SL merely because I can't keep my old viewer.

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