OpenSim: A Brief Introduction

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OpenSim (short for OpenSimulator) does not refer to one virtual world, but to dozens of virtual worlds! The main webpage of the OpenSim project states:

OpenSimulator is an open source multi-platform, multi-user 3D application server. It can be used to create a virtual environment (or world) which can be accessed through a variety of clients, on multiple protocols. It also has an optional facility (the Hypergrid) to allow users to visit other OpenSimulator installations across the web from their ‘home’ OpenSimulator installation. In this way, it is the basis of a nascent distributed Metaverse.

OpenSimulator allows virtual world developers to customize their worlds using the technologies they feel work best – we’ve designed the framework to be easily extensible. OpenSimulator is written in C#, running both on Windows over the .NET Framework and on Unix-like machines over the Mono framework. The source code is released under a BSD License, a commercially friendly license to embed OpenSimulator in products. If you want to know about our development history, see History.

Out of the box, OpenSimulator can be used to simulate virtual environments similar to Second Life™, given that it supports the core of SL’s messaging protocol. As such, these virtual worlds can be accessed with the regular SL viewers. However, OpenSimulator does not aim to become a clone of the Second Life server platform. Rather, the project aims to enable innovative feature development for virtual environments and the Metaverse at large.

None of the OpenSim grids is anywhere near as popular as Second Life. I sometimes still pop in to visit OSGrid, the most popular of the OpenSim-based virtual worlds, with about 65,000 user accounts created. I also visit InWorldz, which is not really considered a true OpenSim grid, because although it has its roots in OpenSim, Inworldz runs on the in-house developed Halcyon platform, while OSgrid runs on current OpenSim software.

There is a very active Google+ community called Opensim Virtual, where people post news and events happening in various OpenSim-based virtual worlds. The great thing about OpenSim is that there is nothing stopping you from setting up your own virtual world, which other users can visit! Many people have already done exactly that.

Thanks to Talla Adam for her comments urging me to include OpenSim on the list of virtual world platforms I have written about on the RyanSchultz.com blog!

UPDATE July 5th: Talla tells me that this is a more up-to-date list of OpenSim virtual worlds: Active OpenSim Grids (maintained by Hypergrid Business).

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Hypergrid Business is Winding Down: Does This Mean the End for OpenSim-Based Virtual Worlds?

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Hypergrid Business is a long-running website that covers enterprise uses of immersive virtual reality environments and virtual worlds, with a particular focus on OpenSim-based virtual worlds.

In early June, editor Maria Korolov announced that the Hypergrid Business is winding down, saying:

The reasons are both personal and practical.

Personally, I’ve moved on from covering virtual worlds to covering cybersecurity and, most recently, artificial intelligence. (You can see some of “day job” articles here: mariakorolov.com.) I barely spend any time in OpenSim anymore.

Practically, there was once a strong possibility that OpenSim would evolve into an open source, virtual reality metaverse. That’s not happening. Our viewers are still stuck where they were ten years ago, without any real support for web or mobile access or for virtual reality headsets. All projects to address that issue seem to have faded away. Instead, the focus has shifted to VR-native platforms from Google, Facebook, and, to some degree, Microsoft. We don’t know yet what Apple is cooking up, but they’re busy as well.

It’s increasingly looking like the whole SL-OpenSim ecosystem has hit a dead end. It will probably continue to exist as a niche platform for its half million active monthly users, shrinking slightly each year until it’s just a nostalgia thing, like text-based adventure games or manual typewriters.

They’ve had quite a long and successful run, publishing more than 3,000 articles by over 200 contributors since March of 2009. The website was my main source of news on OpenSim-based virtual worlds, so I will miss them. I wish Maria the best of luck in her future endeavours.

Does this mean the end of the many OpenSim-based virtual worlds that Hypergrid Business covered so well? No. Many will no doubt continue for years to come. But perhaps this is indeed the end of an era, the end of a dream that a hypergrid of open-source, OpenSim-based virtual world platforms would eventually supplant Second Life. In the end, there just didn’t seem to be enough people who believed in that dream to work on it and make it a reality.

If you’re interested in exploring the Hypergrid, here’s a list of OpenSim virtual worlds.

Thanks to Richard DE Haan Eesti on Facebook for the tip!