Welcome to the Open Grid

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What a difference a year can make. At the end of 2006 and early 2007, it seemed like Second Life was the Second Coming – of the Web, at least. There was no lack of pundits proclaiming it as the New New Thing, the future of computing, maybe even the future of society etc. etc. Today, Second Life is so out of fashion, it's almost unhip to admit to using it.

In a way, that collapsing of the bubble is a boon in disguise, since it means that we can start to move beyond the froth and the hype and start to explore virtual worlds seriously, for example in the enterprise. Against a backdrop of soaring petrol prices and their knock-on effect on travel costs (to say nothing of an increased awareness of the environmental damage caused by jetsetters' carbon emissions), the attractions of arranging business meetings in a virtual world are evident; the question is, How will might all this work in practice?

If, as many have suggested, internal virtual worlds become as common as internal TCP/IP networks, one of the central unsolved problems is how those distinct worlds might be linked together. That's not an issue for corporate intranets, since they employ the same standards as the Internet. Clearly, then, we require something equivalent for virtual worlds, and it's that need that makes Linden Lab's recent release of what it calls the “the intergrid teleport code” such a milestone.

As the announcement explained:

This beta is intended for virtual world developers. The purpose is to establish a base level of interoperability — no inventory, textures, or attachments will transfer upon intergrid teleport. You will appear on the target grid’s simulator as that grid’s default avatar.

Interoperability on its own would be of little value without another key ingredient: openness.

In the first phase of the Beta, we are working with OpenSim developers to allow teleport between the preview grid and a patched version of OpenSim. Zha Ewry of IBM has contributed code to the OpenSim project that implements the Open Grid Protocol.

OpenSim is the open source implementation of Second Life (but using .NET, alas); its existence is what makes the new Open Grid possible. Without the open source behind it, this would simply be a closed approach similar to old-style online services such as AOL or CompuServe. Linden Lab's decision to open up its protocols means that there is a chance to create a virtual world equivalent of the Internet, which anyone can use, and where anyone can contribute.

That still may not happen: it might be, for example, that the underlying metaphor of virtual worlds is not as rich as many hoped, and that its application to business is insufficiently compelling. But at least with the creation of the Open Grid we now have an open laboratory in which to start finding out.

Originally posted at Open... This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence. Please link back to the original post.

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