Work on OpenSim has been slow, but plodding along. Recently I read at Reuters that a lot of banks were moving out from Second Life (due to Linden Lab's banking ban) and joining Central Grid instead.
So I wanted to see how advanced it was. My previous experiments with the many OpenSim-based grids were not so fantastic, but I thought that if people were confident enough to use Central Grid for "alternative banking", it's because it should be working well enough... for what? I didn't know, so I registered and logged in.
Everything worked far better than I thought. Registration was a breeze, and soon I was using SL's regular viewer to drop into the Central Grid — where 500 avatars live on 250 sims. Well, not at the same time, of course. And we're talking registered users... anyway, things work pretty well. The above image shows a few of us intrepid explorers, with our cool 2002 fashionable look. Still, I'm pretty sure you can figure out who I am on this picture :) (the others are Eggy Lippmann and Thaumata Strangelove)
The basic functionality of OpenSim is all there — you can upload textures, sounds, and animations, and entering appearance mode works to change your shape, skin, and clothing, and you're not going to lose any of those. You can build, and even limited scripting functionality is available — you have to create the scripts on your inventory first and drag it to a prim (by default, all prims are called "Primitive", which is a nice touch ;) ), but they work. Attachments are not supported by OpenSim yet (so, no nice hair or shoes — nor Animation Overriders, which I was trying to create), neither are Gestures, nor changing your Profile. But — surprise, surprise! — IMs seem to work across regions, which has to be a recent development.
Cool things are the physics engine (it isn't Havok 5... but hey, it works!), the almost-seemless border crossings (without attachments it's easier to make it work), and the way you can use the WindLight client too. The above picture is not particularly nice since I'm on a way-too-slow computer for WindLight — and don't let the image fool you, there is a lot of content on Central Grid, this was just taken at a "sandbox area" where Eggy was trying to set up the first soccer game on a brand new world.
What doesn't work at all is — money and permissions. So what are all those shops doing there? Why are the banks on Central Grid? Why are people already buying and selling sims on the auctions for as high as US$550? This totally baffled me. You can't transfer inventory between avatars (yet); you can't place things for sale; and even uploading textures costs L$-1, so your starting money (L$1000) will actually increase over time. Which will not make you rich, of course, since you can't spend it anyway.
Speculation besides, Central Grid Inc. are being very clever. They're using a "virtual data center", where CPU, memory, and disk are shared among several dozens/hundreds of servers. No waste of CPU power to render empty sims! It'll be interesting to see how well this scales. But they're doing more: you can either buy a sim (or part of a sim) from them, host your own physical server with them (if you don't trust Windows to be running your beloved OpenSimulator and prefer something more robust; I managed to crash the whole grid today just by crossing sim borders very aggressively...), or, which is fascinating, pay a small reasonably fee to interconnect your own sim with theirs.
Even if Central Grid ultimately fails their promise to bring back libertarianism to the residents (if they become hugely successful, government will go after them, too — just capture "a few million" residents and you'll have exactly the same problems as Linden Lab...), at least they're showcasing a completely new business model. Who knows, someone at Linden Lab should pay close attention to the model — in fact, they should have long adopted the same model themselves.
So many people predicted that 2008 would be "the year of OpenSim" (assuming OpenSim version 1.0 gets released this year), and this might be a stepping stone towards that. At least some people do believe that — Azure Islands has bought a lot of sims on Central Grid, which is fascinating, for a virtual world with one sim per two inhabitants and no money to fuel an economy...