Initial Thoughts on Viewer 2 Beta

After making sure that the new beta for Viewer 2 installed into a different directory than the main viewer, I finally gave it a spin over the past two days.  It’s proved interesting — not perfect, and to say it’s an improvement is subjective to how you feel about the layout changes.  But it’s a piece of software that should not be discarded out of hand.  If nothing else, I suspect that we’ll all be using this to navigate the Grid within a year at the most.

Screenshot for Viewer 2 Beta, (c) Linden Lab

You can see some of the basics here.  Before I logged in, I first hit Ctrl-P to get the Preferences, the same combination as Viewer 1, and the first thing I noticed was a lot fewer tabs on the screen.  Some of the functions have been consolidated or eliminated.  Most interesting, I couldn’t find a checkoff to let me set a custom preference for the graphics, so I could increase or decrease draw distance.  With trepidation, I logged in.  (Update:  I’ve found the button since; it’s at the bottom of the Preferences window when you open Graphics.)

And found that I didn’t need to fiddle with the graphics particularly.  Rezz time is pleasantly quick for my computer, and navigation seemed fairly rapid using standard keyboard controls.  This does slow down, of course, as region load increases.  Don’t expect to never want to diddle settings when you go in for Tuesday Carraig at Fibber Magee’s or a dance at Frank’s Place; that is a perfect world hope, and we aren’t there yet.

The screen first opens with the flyout panel you see on the right open.  It took some time for my inventory (the suitcase tab) to populate, but I have 14,000 + items in there.  You folks with monster inventories had better be prepared.  Linden adds a few things to the folders now, including what you’re currently wearing, and has added a “Wearing” subtab to the Appearances tab (a T-shirt), giving us one of the most popular add-ons from the third-party viewers.  However, the other subtab, “My Outfits,” only seems to tie in to the stock newbie avatar options from the Library.  Experienced Residents will probably find little use for this, unless it changes.

Landmarks may still be found in inventory, but there is a separately searchable tab, Places (a globe), on the flyout as well.  Not a bad arrangement, I think; and when you add in a Favorites bar below a typable navigation bar, similar to a Web browser, it means you have lots of favorite places at your fingertips for rapid access.  It also has a teleport history subtab, which I think is fantastic for when you’re trying to track down where you took that last set of photos yesterday.

People gives you four options:  avatars nearby, your friends, your groups, and “Recent,” which I’m unsure of the utility for now, unless it’s a list of people you’ve been talking to in the near past during your session.  On a login, it appears to be cleared.  All avatars and groups have their profile shot beside the listing, a nifty little trick aside from perhaps the load time it would cost.

Profile (an ID card) reduces the number of tabs to just two, your actual profile, along with your 1st Life photo below if you’re using one, and your picks; but all the usual information is there, and a click of a button loosens things up for editing.  Groups appear at the bottom of all profiles except your own — you have the Groups subtab in People for that — and are clickable.

Last, Home gives you various standard items:  an overview guide, link to secondlife.com’s Destinations page, a button for the World Map (also reachable from “World” on the menu bar), a link to your Web dashboard, etc.  Not a bad organization of information.  And it includes a link to leave feedback on the viewer as well.

Other good things:

  • Home is now reachable with a single mouse click, up near the address bar on the Home button.  But it can be confusing at first if you’re not used to the new controls.
  • The Advanced menu is still available, and still Ctrl-Alt-D.  (Some functions have been consolidated under new tree positions, though, which will confuse many until they search them out.)
  • A new menu (at Ctrl-Alt-Q, or the bottom of the Advanced menu) is for developers, and this, I believe, is what contains the command for the long awaited HTTP-on-a-prim, which is one of the big selling points now beyond the already popular added “tattoo” layer.
  • A personal preference:  the pie menu is now a simple context menu.  This may make things easier to reach at times, instead of going through 2-3 pies to reach your need.  (Take Off is an exception; it’s reached by a drop-down in the context menu, and still goes through at least one selection before you get to the clothing list.)

I haven’t experimented with the Build function yet; but I did click Edit on something, and the window that opened looked satisfyingly familiar.  This most vital of functions in Second Life may not have gone through many changes, which will make developers’ lives much easier.

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Now, for the controversial things that are driving some people up the wall.  I adapted rather quickly to these changes, but others are complaining much and loud about these changes.

The flyout panel itself is causing some rancor, and I myself am not totally pleased with it.  Some of us have HUDs or other things attaching in the top right, and the flyout might cover them up partially, or completely when it opens up.  (The open panel also reduces your screen view measurably.)  Since several brands of AO HUD must be attached at specific places, this gets to be a problem.  But the panel cannot be moved from what I’ve found so far, and nothing is undockable from it to make into an independent window.

Open chat, group chat and IMs are much different now.  Instead of being in a single Communications window, they appear as popups at the bottom of the screen, and do not fill the length of the screen across.  For some, this will create less confusion when trying to find minimized items; for others, the proliferation of windows when in a busy chat mode will turn annoying after a time.  Again, these cannot be consolidated into a single window from my current experience.  I do like the nifty status bar at the bottom, though, which shows profile and group pictures when an IM comes in.

I’ve already noted how the Map can be found; this, and the mini-map, no longer have buttons at the bottom of the screen.  The mini-map, indeed, can only be reached by the menu bar or a shortcut key combination.  Unless you memorize the shortcut, this makes for more work to get vital tools.

One of my pet peeves:  sound controls are up in the top right now, and trickier to get open.  If you hover over the play/pause button, you get options for properties and volume sliders, but the help popup box can cover them over, making them hard to find.  A little experience with this will show you what I mean.  The positioning and design on this needs to be cleaner.

Search is now accessible only from the search box in the top right.  This brings up a Find window similar to the old Search; but when you click on it, it does a “drop-down” of the entry instead of moving to a new page.  Make sure you’re on the right entry before you go clicking the buttons!  I ended up teleporting to someplace I wasn’t expecting the first time or two, until I got used to it.  Once you’ve run your initial search, you can do more searches in the window until you close it again.  However, a fresh search clears your history; there’s no way to get back unless you search the old term again.  Search should have back/forward buttons, as it does in Viewer 1.

The camera and movement joysticks now are “move” and “view,” reachable from buttons on the status bar.  For those who use mouse movement and camera control, these are usually an option anyway; but there are times you want them more accessible.  The movement arrows I never use; but the camera joystick has now been subdivided into four separate items, which you must choose from to use with buttons below the control itself.  Not good for fast fine-tuning of your viewpoint.  (On the other hand, I like the ability to flip the camera around to front view of your avatar with one single click of a button.)

And now, a major problem, although it can be worked around:  the camera itself.  I normally set my camera in Viewer 1 to custom, 3000 px width, constrained proportions.  It took some experimentation to discover that I need to leave the constraint checkbox unchecked in Viewer 2 to get a full screen.  Otherwise, you’ll get everything, but it’s relegated to the lower left corner of the screen, and the rest is black.  It makes for a much smaller picture when you crop out all that black.  I’d much rather have a huge file that I can reduce with IrfanView to proper size for publication than this, and they should keep the control properties consistent in their function.  I’ve left feedback on the Forum to this point.

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All in all, the new viewer is not an unalloyed success.  But then, no new software is.  Still, though I think I’ll be switching my activities to this faster viewer until some major problem shows up, there are some things that need to be addressed.  I hope Linden Lab is paying true attention to the comments, and taking the simple gripes for what they are — griping and gassing.  This isn’t a bad piece of software.  But it does need polishing, as well as a few definite repairs.

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