Second life goes open source

CNN report

NEW YORK (Fortune) — Aiming to take advantage of its already-impressive momentum, San Francisco’s Linden Lab, developer of the Second Life virtual online world, will announce Monday that it is taking the first major step toward opening up its software for the contributions of any interested programmer.

The company will immediately release open source versions of its client software for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. In order to enter and move around the Second Life service, users must download and run this software on their computer desktop. But now, says Linden CEO Philip Rosedale, independent programmers will be able to “modify it, fire it up and sign on with it.” The company gave Fortune exclusive access to executives in advance of the change.

While this initial step will open up what is essentially the user’s window into Second Life for modification, it will leave Linden Lab in control of the proprietary software code for all Second Life’s backend services – the server software that makes the world exist. However, executives say that the company’s eventual intention is to release an open source version of that software as well, once it has improved security and other core functions. They say they have been preparing for the open source move for about three years.

The client, or viewer, software now being open sourced is what enables users to control their avatars, or digital in-world personas, as well as communicate with other users, and buy and sell virtual goods and services.

“We think that if we open source Second Life its product quality will move forward at a pace nobody’s ever seen,” says Rosedale.

The piece goes on to review the numbers claimed for Second Life:

Interest in Second Life – which is free for basic use – has grown dramatically with a quickening pace of press coverage in places like Reuters, Business Week, Time, Wired and The New York Times, as well as consumer publications and Web sites worldwide. New registrants were arriving at a rate of 20,000 per month last January but by October the number had soared to 254,000. But many were apparently thwarted by how difficult the service is to use. Only 40,000 of those October registrants were still using Second Life 30 days after they first joined, according to figures recently provided by Rosedale.

Linden Lab claims 2.5 million “residents,” meaning people who have registered for Second Life. But the service has only around 250,000 active members who still sign in more than 30 days after registering. Nonetheless, that group of active users is currently growing at about 15 percent per month…

Thanks to Tony Hirst for the link.