Second Life looks to open-source move for growth

Second Life releases source code under the GPL Version 2.0 license

The 3-D virtual online community of Second Life is teaming up with the real-world open-source software development community. In an announcement Monday, San Francisco-based Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, said that it's releasing the source code for its end-user viewer application to bring in new ideas and thinking.

Open-source developers will be able to modify and improve the viewer code and contribute any changes back to the project. The code release is being done under the GPL Version 2.0 license.

Second Life is a simulated community that allows participants to create virtual lives for themselves and other "people" using avatars (See Computerworld's Second Life FAQ. Registration is free, but users can pay for additional features and more elaborate virtual activities. Using the Second Life Viewer, users -- called "residents" in the virtual world -- can control their avatars, interact with each other via instant messages, create virtual environments, buy and sell objects, access multimedia content and move around, according to the company.

Second Life has users in more than 100 countries, according to the company. It uses a development platform called Second Life Grid, which was created by Linden Lab.

Part video game, part real online community, Second Life is also getting attention from real-world companies that are beginning to stake out their own turf in Second Life communities. One U.S. House member, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), last week even joined the Second Life community to brief a group of invitees on the top priorities of the new majority party in Congress.

"We feel we have a responsibility to improve and to grow Second Life as rapidly as possible," Philip Rosedale, CEO and founder of Linden Lab, said in a statement. "We were the first virtual world to enable content creators to own the rights to the intellectual property they create. That sparked exponential growth in the richness of the Second Life environment. Now, we're placing the viewer's development into the hands of residents and developers as well."

The source code will be available from Second Life's Web site. The initial open-source efforts are expected to include bug fixes, hardware compatibility improvements and user interface changes, according to the company.

The company decided to move the viewer client to open source because Second Life users are very creative and the move will allow developers to add their own creativity, said Cory Ondrejka, chief technology officer at Linden Lab. "We've said before that Second Life makes sense as a fully open-source project. It's somewhere in the future."

For open-source developers, the code release allows them to start familiarizing themselves with the project, he said. And for Linden Labs, it gives the company a start toward a broader open-source future.

"Just like we have learning to do about open source, the open-source community has a lot of work to do to learn about how Second Life works," Ondrejka said.

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