This is a bombshell to me, although it wasn’t covered as such in this story on Second Life. The Second Life servers are basically not going to be open sourced, at least not anytime in the near future. Last year they were hinting that they would open source the server after they did open source the Second Life viewer client.
But don’t expect to see the SL Grid server source code released any time soon. “There are a number of things about the architecture of our current server infrastructure that inhibit a source code release. There are a lot of cases of monolithic design and improper trust relationships between components that would need to be addressed.” [Rob Lanphier of Linden Labs]
That’s a very good and perfectly justifiable reason for not open sourcing the servers, but it still means Linden Labs is going to keep control over all of Second Life, and you’ll never be able to for example run your own private or shared Second Life server. That pretty much writes off Second Life as a viable long-term option for educational development in my opinion. Or at the very least you have to be more cautious when developing for proprietary platforms like Facebook, Flash (Adobe is now adding DRM controls), and Google Apps. Plenty of educators and schools have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building worlds in Second Life though, and even the theme of the AECT conference this year is Second Life, and AERA has a new virtual environments SIG centered around Second Life. People may have already forgotten about ActiveWorlds, which was another popular yet proprietary 3D multiuser world created prior to the emergence of Second Life. It’s still around, but taking a back seat to Second Life. That leaves Croquet and Project Darkstar as the main two open source alternatives to Second Life, although they are not user-friendly applications like Second Life. You can’t start them up and instantly meet up with others online. Rather they are development platforms for creating your own custom online 3D worlds.