Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Rezzing to You…Firestorm

A look at Firestorm Beta
Firestorm…the new It viewer in SL! If you haven’t tried Firestorm, you should. It is a new viewer created by the team that brought you the widely successful Phoenix viewer. Firestorm is V2-based, so it is like V2 but with a lot of Phoenix features. To try it out, just go to phoenixviewer.com, navigate to the Downloads page, and click on the link for the Public Beta version,

As of September 6th, there is a Beta version 3 out that is mesh compatible, so you can see mesh. You will be able to upload mesh as soon as coding for that is finished. Keep checking the Phoenix main site for updates.

I have been in SL for over a year, long enough to get a feel for many SL viewers. Viewer 2, Emerald, Imprudence, Emergence, Cool Viewer, Dolphin Viewer, Metabolt (once), Kirsten’s viewer, Phoenix, and now Firestorm. They are all interesting and complex viewers. It’s hard to compare them against each other. Frankly, I do not mean for this article to state which is the best or which one you should use. Personally, I feel most comfortable with Imprudence or Phoenix…though I’m getting better at using Firestorm…having used it and struggled with it when it was in the preview stages. Since Phoenix viewer came out, I was a member of the group and I still am. When I can, I help out in chat. It pleases me to help others, not that I desire to be on the ever-growing support team. I have enough in SL to keep me busy and then some. Man, those devs and group members are awesome!

I want to put Firestorm viewer in perspective. By now, you have probably heard through the grape vine that Linden Labs plans to pull all the V1-based viewers off the grid eventually (no news on when), so we’ll all be forced to use V2-based viewers or Viewer 2. I am sure many if not most of you are grumbling about it…using a Viewer 2 or Viewer 2-like viewer does not sound enjoyable. I understand, having struggled with Viewer 2 and using other viewers that are very similar to Viewer 2. However that being said, it is not a complete tragedy. Firestorm is the latest Viewer 2-based viewer and while it uses Viewer 2 code and the UI (user interface) looks a lot like Viewer 2, it is actually easier to handle. You can change skins like say you don’t want to see the sidebar, use the Firestorm Grey skin, the default skin. That is the skin I use. If you want to see the draw distance slider, use one of the Starlight skins. The Starlight skins come in several colors like teal and silver blue, while the default Firestorm skin only comes in grey. But I am digressing here. My point is that it is not so horrible that Viewer 1 viewers will go extinct. I am sad and I know I will miss those viewers, but everything changes and time only goes forward. We live in a progressive time of life. Nothing stays the same and things are constanly being improved.

That said I truly understand how difficult it is to switch to a Viewer2 based viewer. I have used Viewer 2 before and I had trouble even figuring out how to make a notecard (I forgot what version that was, but I ended up writing on a notecard I had created in a different viewer.). It’s laughable, but it is little things like that that can make changing to new viewers so overwhelming and frustrating. When I get frantic, I try to calmly ask questions in Support chat or in any help groups I’m in; and just framing the question can calm me down, because I know that I need to make sense so that others can try to help me. Those groups are valuable and terrific, so if you feel grateful…please thank them. They work hard to keep people coming back for help and support. And they do all this for free, so don’t take them for granted or be unnecessarily rude. You’re wasting your time and you’re wasting their time. We all get frustrated but that doesn’t justify lashing out.

Often maybe even on a daily basis, I see people in chat complain about how hard it is to use Firestorm and how they want to go back to Phoenix. They storm off (pun intended) or they keep on whining in chat, giving most active users in chat a bit of a headache, to state it lightly. Instead of whining, they could be listening more attentively to what people on the support team or other members are trying to convey to them…that Firestorm is usable and it is still being developed. Public Beta still has some kinks and problems (what viewer doesn’t?), but it has improved and will continue improving. Everyone in group is working hard to make Firestorm the best it can be. So whether you self-compile, manipulate code, file Jiras (at the Support page of the Phoenix website), or help out in Support chat…you are definitely making a difference.

I asked for statements from Jessica Lyon and Ed Merryman, the two leads of the Phoenix/Firestorm team and here is what they said:

Jessica Lyon:

While Firestorm is based from the LL V2 viewer, we have worked very hard in making it as customizable as humanly possible. We have accomplished a great deal in fact, though it isn't obvious at first look. The most common complaints seem to come from people who logged in, saw the side bar and immediately logged back out saying it's just like V2. This is unfortunate because Firestorm can in fact be made to look just like Phoenix and V1 with very little effort.

It's also very important that people understand viewers like Phoenix took years to get to where it is now in the way of features. Most people in SL now were born into SL when most of these features already existed. This makes it hard for people to understand why they aren't already in Firestorm. The reality is Firestorm is still very much in its infancy, yet has already advanced miles ahead by way of features added in time. It is already the fastest growing viewer by way of usage, averaging about 30% increase in usage per week for the last month. This is something never achieved by any viewer, it's practically a phenomenon and we are very proud of it.

The plans we have for Firestorm in the future near and far will be outstanding and more innovative than anything yet seen in a viewer in second life. This is the dawn of a new era in viewer technology and capability we are witnessing together. We are grateful to our early adopters and ask our users to show patience as we progress further and further into making Firestorm the best viewer Second Life has ever seen.

Ed Merryman:

Firestorm is different, it’s not Phoenix, and it’s not V2 either, rather it is a hybrid. That said I suspect that it would be an easier transition from V2 to Firestorm than from Phoenix. The Phoenix team are suggesting that people download Firestorm, install and use it when you are not busy doing something important, in order to learn and get used to the differences. We have a large and growing body of documentation at http://wiki.phoenixviewer.com/doku.php?id=firestorm to help you out as well as free classes and our support group where you can ask questions. Frankly the one thing that frustrates me is when people install it, log in, take one look and log out without seeing what you can actually do to make it more usable. This is the most customisable viewer for SL I have seen. Take one look at Jessica's video at http://www.youtube.com/user/PhoenixViewerSL#p/a/u/0/3y4PH0rczJQ and you'll get the idea.

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