Don’t let the date on the announcement fool you: to all appearances, this is not an April Fools’ joke. Linden Labs, the makers and operators of the popular virtual world Second Life, have announced they’re working on a version of Second Life for enterprises that can be deployed as a server product behind corporate firewalls. The effort would create stand-alone, behind-the-firewall versions of Second Life that companies and organizations could completely control—without having to worry about interference from (or reliance on) Second Life’s main grid.
Second Life itself is well-known for its all-encompassing “main grid” that connects all of the world’s thousands of sims—and which sports an in-world economy tied to the real world. Enterprises and some organizations have shied away from holding virtual meetings or setting up virtual environments of their own for education or training because they don’t want their proprietary information (or that of their clients) traversing the Second Life main grid, even to connect to a private sim. Although the fad to create corporate sims in Second Life as promotional vehicles for a company or a brand seems to have faded, Linden Labs (and partners like IBM) have been promoting the use of Second Life as a virtual environment for education and enterprise customers.
The current server product is currently in alpha stages, with Linden Labs saying installations are already up and running at places like IBM, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC), New Media Consortium (NMC), Intel, and Northrop Grumman. The company has not announced any pricing or availability dates for stand-alone versions of Second Life.
Second Life is certainly one of the more-enduring virtual worlds on the market, but it is facing both discontent from many of its longtime proponents, some of whom are frustrated by a slow pace of development and a difficult-to-predict in-world economy. Second Life is also facing competition from OSGrid, a new “metaverse” of Second Life-compatible sims build on the OpenSim simulator—although many details have yet to be hashed out, including transfer of content between grids and Second Life itself.