Second Life Opens Its Source Code


Second Life creator Linden Labs on Monday released the source code for its virtual world client under the GNU General Public License (GPL), a move the much-buzzed-about company hopes will entice a flood of developers to help improve its access client.

Second Life is an online virtual world populated by avatars, where "residents" can socialize, network, play and build copyrighted creations like new fashions, artwork and software applications. Akin to realms like World of Warcraft (a MMORPG, or "massively multiplayer online role-playing game," in gamer jargon), Second Life is distinguished by its focus on community-building, not gaming. The realm has a heavily hyped economy with a conversion rate against U.S. dollars and a customer base of 2.4 million registered "residents." (Translating that number to live users is a controversial, dark art. Linden Labs claims 544,000 resident accounts have recorded log-ins within the past month, and outside estimates put daily usage figures somewhere in the five-digit range.)

Linden Labs cast its open-source move as unavoidable for software creators. "We welcome the inevitable with open arms," the San Francisco-based company wrote in its corporate blog.

Linden Labs is adopting a dual license for its Second Life Viewer, using the GPL to promote free modification and redistribution rights and a second, commercial license to cover those who wish to incorporate the Viewer code into proprietary products. The open-source licensing clears the way for ISVs and other outside developers to create new offerings around the Second Life access client.

It also opens up the pool of programmers that Linden Labs can tap, potentially alleviating the strain on the small company's development team. Second Life's executives have hinted for months that an open-source move was imminent. An independent open-source project had already begun work on extending the Second Life "metaverse."

Second Life's open-source move covers only the client that players use to access the virtual world. The company is retaining a proprietary hold on the core of its system, with the world-running infrastructure housed in its own data centers. Though Linden Labs conceded that client source-code availability may make it easier for hackers to infringe on copyrights on creative works created within Second Life, the company maintains that the benefits of the open-sourcing outweigh its risks.

Linden Labs casts Second Life as a platform, emphasizing the world's suitability for creative, profitable development work -- although how much real-world money is being made in the online realm remains in question. Still, some tech companies are rushing into the breach.

IBM CEO Sam Palmisano recently made an avatar cameo at an IBM event in Second Life, and Cisco Systems and Sun Microsystems run virtual campuses there.