Sunday, 4 March 2007

What it feels like to be blind

Now that Linden have opened up the client, it is possible for third parties to provide new ways into Second Life. One such way has been developed by Paul Clement a.k.a. Delta Kzukor with SLeek . To quote the Sleek download site...
"SLeek is a mini-client that connects to the Second Life main grid. It’s useful for situations where you want to be in-world, but don’t want to have the huge overhead of the graphics engine"

The software works a treat! I have been able to connect to SL from my laptop (which does not have anything like the graphics capability to support SL client) and engage in IM and chat.

The only problem is that I am now "blind". I have an idea where I am "in world" because the client tells my my coordinates. I know who is stood nearby - because the chat list lets me know who is there, and I can hear them chatting. But I have no idea what my avatar is up to.... is it standing, sitting, dancing, flying ????

Am I stood on a table; up to my waist in water; sat on top of someone????

I'm going to have to learn a new set of communication skills to take account of my loss of "virual sight". As a start, I think I am going to have to find a nice quiet "home" location - so that when I arrive in-world via SLeek I know that I will be reasonably "safe" and not likely to make a fool of myself!

Having extolled the virtues of SL as a communications medium elsewhere in this blog, and commented on how communication is so much better because of the immersive 3D experience, I now find myself getting excited about a simple, no-graphics interface! How bizarre! But then it is a case of "horses for courses"..... the reason I am in raptures about SLeek is that I now have the capability of "low-tech" connectivity to SL. I just don't have the compute-power to carry around with me for connection to SL.

I guess this raises a further point about the viability of 3D immersive interfaces - you just can't hack it with low-power low-cost IT resources. But this has been the case for years..... as computing power increases, so the demands on the user interface grow to soak up the extra power. Going back over 35 years to when DEC first produced their VAX systems (late 1970's - sadly, I can go back that far!) we had a situation of 3 models of VAX - a 730 that supported about 4-5 users; a 750 that supported about 12 users and a 780 that supported about 20 users. A few years later, a new range of VAXes was introduced.... the 8600 and some other models which I can't remember just now... But either way, there were 3 models... all with about 4-5 or more times the compute power of the old 7xx range. And guess what - the rule of thumb was that the bottom of the range would support about 5 users, the middle box about 12 and the top of the range about 20-30. All because the Office software had bloated itself to be far more friendly and functional.... and soak up all that extra power!

So what has this got to do with SL and 3D interfaces? Well, I can see the same sort of thing happening here. We currently have a pretty neat 3D user interface that needs powerful graphics to make it work. So old laptops like the one I have at work just won't support it. But currently the users of SL are pioneers - working out how best to use the environment. In 2-3 years time, most of the world will have gone through a "technology refresh" & the more powerful graphics will be the norm (even in business desktops) so the power to run a 3D interface will be ubiquitous.

In the meantime, current SL users should think themselves lucky that they are in the forefront of technology, with the capacity to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and civilizations.... to boldly go....

Gaaaahhhhh where's the Teleport!

1 comment:

Steve said...

DEC VAXES some of us remember PDP 8s and PDP 11s - but I agree the same rules applied. VAX was a giant compared to PDP 11, but still supported no more users.

Big Iron for Second Life anyone (perhaps Linden could use some !!!)

Aaron Aldwych - Silver Surfer