Viewer 2 Released

For your information, Viewer 2 was officially released today. If you care to download it, you can get it here. Fear not, it's not a mandatory upgrade by any means (it will likely be another 4-6 months before support for 1.x viewers is discontinued - by that time any of the third-party Viewers will have most likely updated to remain compliant).

Probably the first thing to know about the 2.0 Viewer is that the overhaul was geared towards making some desperately needed improvements for new and first-time users. This is because something on the order of 90% of the people who had bothered to sign up to SL, download the software, and log in never ever came back. From a UI design and business standpoint, that's just plain tragic. The continued existence, as well as success and growth of LL's business depends on improving that number.

Does this mean that LL doesn't care about those of us who are already in-world? Of course not, that would be stupid. Just about everyone benefits from LL improving that number, too. For merchants and land baron types, it means more potential customers to do business with. For artists and creators with no commercial inclinations, it means more people will get to see and experience your creations. For RP/gamers, it means more people to play with. For those here purely for social purposes, it means the party will get bigger.

Knowing that puts the rest of it all into much-needed perspective. With that said, let me talk about the new Viewer. For experienced users, it will likely be disorienting and confusing at first. The look of the interface has changed, and buttons and controls are in different places than they used to be. Have patience, you'll get used to it in less time than you think.

My impression of the re-work is that they went for a decidedly more browser-like feel. I think that's a good thing - just about everyone using the internet is already familiar with a web browser. The chat/communications functions appear to take cues from sites like Facebook. Complain all you like about Facebook, but with 400 million users worldwide there's something to be said for using what people probably already know how to use. While it's different from the 1.x Viewer, it's not that hard to get used to. Small square icons along the bottom right of the window represent any open group chat windows or IM's, along with a "conversation feed" (that tallies up the # of unread msgs) and "notifications feed" (that tallies up and organizes notification windows). A yellow dot on a button indicates that there's something unread. Gone are the annoying blue boxes in the top left corner. Click a button, the window opens up. Click away and the window is minimized. Or click another button and it swaps windows. You can 'tear away' the chat/IM window if you like, just click and drag it.

While I don't intend to walk through the entire viewer in this post I felt it was important to point out the above since in my experience over the last month that's what people seem to have the most trouble with. You do have the option of switching back to IM's in tabs (making the change requires a restart), but my advice is to have some patience and give it a little time. During my first experience I just didn't like it at all. The next couple sessions weren't so difficult - I felt like a traveler changing trains at an unfamiliar station, not quite sure what track I was on or how to find the platform. Soon after (in my case, once I made the Facebook connection) it started to make a lot more sense. Now I'm at the point where I miss the ease of use and functionality when I jump back to using Snowglobe 1.x for any reason.

During your first session, you'll want to give yourself a little extra time, as you'll likely need to re-adjust any custom settings you've made in the past. While it appears to try and retain most of your preferences, some things needed to be re-set. Viewer 2 was certainly usable the first time I ran it, but I prefer twisting some of the knobs and adjusting the dials to improve performance on my system and get it configured to my taste. For the more technically-minded user, a page of tweaks is available on the Second Life Wiki.