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Microsoft Dev Community in OpenSim/realXtend

Thu, Jun 12, 2008

Recently, I met Kyle Gomboy, a former aerospace test engineer turned entrepreneur (pictured above working in Project Manhattan OpenSim), at a realXtend open house in Second Life. I quickly realized that this little bot (his avatar in Second Life is a cute energy efficient robot called G2 Proto) was one of the power houses behind a big vision.

Kyle, with partner Robin Gomboy (the G of G2), is now working with Microsoft, OpenSim, realXtend and the community of over 800 TechNet and MSDN/.NET that has already come together in Second Life to establish:

a technology grid for companies to come together with community members to form a high tech silicon valley virtually

The Microsoft connection, of course, really intrigued me! IBMers have been a movers and shakers in OpenSim since the early days. But Microsoft had not to my knowledge shown any interest in joining the immersive 3D party.

But within hours of meeting Kyle I had an interview set up with Zain Naboulsi (C# Writer in Second Life), a Microsoft Developer Evangelist who is the engine on the Microsoft side for this “community effort.”  Zain pointed out to me that despite his title, he is known as “the guy for Virtual World Evangelism” at Microsoft. I asked Zain how many virtual world evangelists there are at Microsoft?

Ha good question! There is probably about four or five of us right now.

Zain described his role in Microsoft and how this relates to this community effort in OpenSim?

I am relatively young in Microsoft I just celebrated my first year anniversary so I can’t talk about what happened several years ago, all I know is what happened over the year that I have been there.

My job description when I started this absolutely didn’t include anything about 3d worlds or anything of the kind. I became interested in 3d worlds and I think it speaks volumes for Microsoft that they said alright fine lets make it your job. And, that’s exactly what they did and likewise with other folks it is on their commitment now. Our strategy is straight forward, if you you can prove that your efforts in the community work then you are given carte blanche. If you can’t prove it then why be given the resources to waste.

My friend Ben Lindquist, of Green Phosphor, who is the only developer I know that develops in all the major open source virtual worlds, sent me a link pointing out that Microsoft has been interested in virtual worlds for some time.  But I asked Zain about this notion I have that Microsoft has been hiding its light under a bushel re the free form 3D immersive space. Zain responded:

I think we want to be careful. I mean just because we didn’t show up to the party doesn’t necessarily mean we didn’t like the party. Like most very large companies we wanted to make sure it was a viable type of thing. I think what you are seeing now is the beginning of the emergence of that experimentation and that is validation of the fact that we are definitely interested in this space.

As both Kyle and Zain were very clear that this is an open source community project, with no expectations of paid Microsoft developers being involved, at least in the short term, I was very interested as to how Kyle and Zain saw the big question of how such community driven Open Source development will reward people for their efforts (also see Second Thoughts for an alternate position to my own Open Source advocacy).

The full transcript of my interview with Kyle and Zain follows here. But, I will highlight one of Kyle’s responses. He is an experienced open source developer and entrepreneur and this is the answer he gave to this billion dollar question.

That’s a great question and since I got involved with communities and Open Source it has been a tough one to figure out. But I came to grips with when I found out that you could create this cool java script and that anyone could open new source and take what you did and that annoyed me. And I remember thinking many many years ago, how am I going to get anywhere if everything unique I make people can just take?

But then I began to thinking I can do that to. I can look at their code and then we can move up the whole technology the whole effort together, we’ll move forward faster and that will benefit us all because we will be able to send twice the product to market that we could have if we all stayed in our own little cubicles.

As far as the Manhattan project goes anything we develop there goes back to open source immediately and once it is embedded and tested it goes right back in cos OpenSim is open source and that is the ideology it was started with and we are not going to interrupt that at all.

Of course turning back code to an open source community is not always a straightforward process as a recent debate about the integration of realXtend code in OpenSim sparked off by Justin Clark-Casey and Dusan Writer indicates. But another good friend – an astute virtual world developer/evangelist, Peter Quirk, made an important point re the idea that realXtend “may not be giving back what it takes.” He noted too this must also be viewed from the perspective of “how hard it is to merge source trees that are changing rapidly without any stable releases.”

As I have heard on the grapevine great efforts are being made by both OpenSim and realXtend to work out an approach to integration. I cannot say much specifically at this point. But as Dusan Writer notes, I am an “OS promoter” and as such I think the fact that OpenSim, at such an early stage in its development, is being faced with the challenge of integrating such large contributions as realXtend’s is not just about “cracks in the open.”  This is just as much a question of how to deal with an abundance of riches in an unstructured and rapidly expanding community. The arrival of another important new community of developers from the Microsoft .NET and TECHNET will of course bring more riches and challenges too.

Interview with Zain Naboulsi (MIcrosoft) and Kyle Gomboy (G2)

Tish: Are you going to get involved with the OpenSim community?

Kyle: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been trying to catch Adam [Frisby]. He’s been chatting with me through Facebook. The first thing we want to do is start working with him and Microsoft’s Zain has offered to get support going for some of the packet handling issues that Adam was talking about that might be limiting how many people could be in OpenSim. So Adam was looking to run some code by Microsoft, and Zain was saying that he definitely had some volunteers to help out. We definitely plan to get involved.

Tish: I was interested to know how deep you were going to get in terms of OpenSim development?

Zain: Kyle you want to start and then I’ll take it?

Kyle: I had thrown out to Tish that I had already started discussion with Adam, and first thing he mentioned was some issues with performance that he was hoping if Microsoft got involved they could contribute. Zain had already asked to start working with codeplex and getting some of the files up on there so we could swarm in the .net community and possibly some Microsoft help as we get them more educated on the OpenSim movement.

Zain: Absolutely. You asked how far we’re going to go with this? We’re going to go as far as it lets us go. We honestly believe we’re forging the future here so it needs to go as far as people want to take it.

Tish: Have you thought about where you want to be interoperable with other Microsoft projects, XBox even eventually, Virtual Earth? Have you gone that far or are you just going a step at a time at the minute?

Zain: That’s a great question. Honestly we haven’t thought beyond seeing if people are really interested in this concept and from what Kyle tells me a lot of uptake. And, I know we’ve started some basic experiments, nothing really major, to see. But certainly it’s not inconceivable. I think what it is though, you mentioned the Windows aspect of it, that’s great. But we’ve already proven, if you just look around here, it doesn’t really matter to us that much what the platform is. I think the main reason we’re going to OpenSim is not so much because it all runs on Microsoft stuff which is just a nice bonus, but because I really feel like (and I just love the Lindens by the way so let me get that out!), but I really feel like we’re kind of restricted here [in Second Life]. I think that we can have a lot more flexibility by going the OpenSim route, and working with folks like Adam who I haven’t met personally but Kyle tells me he’s just phenomenal. And everybody Kyle’s met has been cool and talking about all these great things we can do with OpenSim that I don’t think Second Life’s going to give us the ability to do this anytime soon.

Tish: I know some groups are involved in the OpenSim core, are you aiming to be that involved or are you just not sure yet?

Zain: Honestly, this is the very early stages now. [Project] Manhattan is the first real test to see if first of all people respond, secondly if it’s something we want to stay involved in. All indicators are right now that it’s phenomenal. Third, I think the big thing is will this resonate with the community? The main reason we’re in this game right now is about the community. That’s why we built everything you see around you, and that’s why we want to do what we want to do with OpenSim. Then if it benefits the commmunity and the community responds to it, then we’ll stay with it. If the community doesn’t like it, doesn’t think it’s a good idea, then obviously we’ll get out. But from what Kyle has been telling me the community has just had phenominal response to the Manhattan project.

Kyle; Yes, I am pretty much lost to OpenSim at the moment because of all the options and the flexibility and the code familiarity. And everyone I’ve talked to who has gotten their own sim set up, every single person who is getting their ports configured to hook up to our grid agrees, and it doesn’t seem to be a contest even with the quirks here and there, and the lack of some features. There is so much ability – the scripting the c#sharping is everything that we had been talking about needing in SL and the desk top sharing that realXtend is doing. It is exactly the work we want to get involved in. I don’t see myself developing in Second Life, I see myself attaching the work I do in Second Life to OpenSim and everyone else is joining in so far too.

Zain: Let me clarify though too. While OpenSim will be the R&D and experimentation side of what we do, by no stretch of the imagination are we even considering abandoning our Second Life presence. So this sim [Microsoft sim in second Life] isn’t going anywhere. Community is what drives us so now we will have the community folks come here for some things and go there [OpenSim] for other things.

Tish: Just to be absolutely clear, when you say community, you mean your .net and C# developers community right?

Zain: Yes, and the technet folks, all of them, any of the community that wants to come here. But obviously the Microsoft focus people in general, so yes .Net and TechNet.

Kyle: yes we have almost 800 total in Second Life. And Zain is right noone’s leaving Second Life. But this is a community based thing and the biggest number is our c# developers. And what c# developers want to do is get into something and tinker and the top community leaders dove right into OpenSim and have seen past the quirks. So I think it will turn into a socializing place here on the islands [project Manhattan] but I think in the next year you will see a lot of .net innovation coming out of the group that was just meeting here in Second Life.

Zain: Yes I really agree with that. This is a playground now for them but I think it will evolve into something more than that.

Tish: Your focus is really on your developer community isn’t it?

Zain: Yes and I think that we may be the only project from a large company that is hundred percent community driven. I don’t go to outside folks and ask them to build this stuff. The community does it, the community decides on it, the community drives it. That’s the biggest deal. I am here to help the community in any way I can.

Tish: When you say that, it’s not just about people who are interested in Immersive 3D development, it’s people who are working many Microsoft areas right?

Zain: Absolutely. My job as Evangalist is fairly broad in nature. Today I just got done doing a webcast on new features in AJAX. I cover a very broad spectrum of things, but without a doubt an enormous amount of my time is spent with virtual world evangelism. As you aptly pointed out people are getting more and more interested in this stuff so I find more and more of my time is spent there.

Tish: I suppose future directions depend on what the developers pick up on in OpenSim doesn’t it to some degree? Do you have people who have started doing any projects in OpenSim yet?

Zain: I don’t focus internally, yes, Microsoft folks are doing stuff in OpenSim a variety of projects. But my main goal is to get out and encourage the community to get involved in OpenSim. If we can’t get the community engaged and involved in this then ultimately we’re doomed to fail because the community has to want this. The community has to pick this up as early adopters or we’ll never get to the point of mainstream acceptance.

Tish: I know Kyle is interested in something I’m really interested in which is seeing OpenSim as something much more than a 3d virtual world. Some people see OpenSim as something potentially more like a next generation operating system with really far reaching potential for dynamic, interactive data visualization and virtual operations centers and applications like that. I know Kyle you’re interested so perhaps I can ask you about that?

Kyle: I’m one hundred per cent interested in that. You might be able to send an engineer a drawing and then pop in a little active-X control and they can read about the drawing and then just click and have a view of OpenSim and move the camera around and inspect it in 3d. I see more as another output device like an excel graph or something like that.

Zain: I’ve got to agree with Kyle. I think in the short term the only way you’re going to initially get adoption is, to use a metaphor, if we think of the client as the next generation of the web browser. I think by going that path you’re going to get a lot more folks to want to try it. But ultimately certainly it’s entirely possible it becomes the shell or something like it becomes a shell. It might become, not the entire desktop which is probably unlikely, but a major component of the desktop integrated with it just like you get pieces like IM and things like that today. I don’t know if you’ve seen TouchWall yet. One of the technologies we’ve come out with. It’s like surface except it’s a big wall you can use with your interface. And, I can see TouchWall combined with the client we have today, and doing some pretty cool things especially if we can do what Kyle’s talking about – bring in some Exel spreadsheets – basically bringing in the ability to do office type activities into these clients.

Kyle: I don’t mean to say that I rule that out as a possibility, I do think that’s a possibility. I just look at what can I do in the next one or two years with this because whatever I start now that’s about as far as I can really look because the whole game will be changed in three years.

Zain: I totally agree with Kyle on that.

Tish: As far as I can see Intel might have a key part to play now, because I think that the graphics cards are a limiting factor here, particularly for the applications you are talking about Kyle?

Kyle: Yes. The video requirement is pretty steep and not only that I need probably 4 times the resolution that OpenSim has now maybe a thousand by a thousand grid before I can do any real high resolution data visualization. There needs to definitely be some expansion but if you pick the right project and the right application, it’s perfect for a lot of things right now. The other thing that Adam [Frisby] mentioned was some of the threading issues. That would help with concurrency where we can have more than 30 people or so. Even though I’ve read some hidden blogs here and there that someone’s working on a mod that lets you do over a hundred people in a sim. That would help a lot. But you’re right Intel getting involved could mean some help with some of the threading issues.

Tish: I’m really interested when you even start to mention taking this technology into other user interfaces. There’s just something wrong with being stuck in a little 2d window when you have all this 3d power. Anything that gets you away from pushing around a little mouse in a tiny window, that’s where it begins to rock.

Zain: I was in this game place where they had video arcade games and there was this one where they had these motion detectors and you play this karate style game. and you kick and the avatar does what you do. And in the end that’s where all this technology’s headed. You won’t have bulky crap attached to your hands and body like we see now, but you’ll have motion detectors that are finely tuned so that you can move and manipulate things in the virtual world.

I think Phase 1, if we’re really going to get wide adoption of OpenSim, is to treat OpenSim like the conference call center of the future. For the big events that’s where you start getting the budget and interest from internal Microsoft. I think that naturally leads to whole lot of Microsoft folks becoming much more heavily involved.

Tish: I’m assuming at the moment, your OpenSim community just has separate islands. You haven’t gridded them, they’re not related in any way right?

Kyle: That’s right. I’ve only really had the sim up a little over a week now. The initial Manhattan sim. I’m just setting up some different group meeting places within that sim. For example, we’re working on Live-ID integration so you can login with your LiveID and a few other live services integration projects. So I have a designated area, and at that area we have a colored ball that’s a certain color that you know is a wiki for that area or API for that area. You click it and open up the services for that API. Also the inworld scripting area has a link to the approved LSL commands for OpenSim. So the first sim is resources for anything and everything to do with developing in Second Life and OpenSim because we will really be developing for both. I’ve got five or six sims from community members up and running and they are just waiting on me to fire up my grid server. We’ll even try and organize our grid according to different disciplines. There’ll be a .NET developers area with a bunch of islands having to do with .NET work. And then you’ll be able to fly to the TechNet area where there’ll be a windows server and SQL server. So there’s going to be a community grid but it’s going to be organized around the developer community.

Tish: Are you hosting sims for the community for free?

Kyle: Yeah, I’m going to have a few sims up for community experiments and things like that. In addition, since most of the community has at least a broadband connection at home, and a spare computer. Everybody’s been reformatting that old 3 gigahertz single processor computer in the closet and opening up ports, so I’m going to have a grid half made up of hightech companies that want to do their own experiments and the other section of the grid will be community members that just pop in with their own simulator.

Tish: Very nice. So you’re basically showing people how to do a very quick community grid aren’t you?

Kyle: Absolutely. And then any company that has some sort of experiment going on can connect to the grid too. I’m hoping that if Intel develops a grid that they’ll at least teleport link to us or something like that so that we can start out as a community and expand out to Silicon Valley or something like that where we have gateways to all kinds of different experiments. So I’ll let Second Life be the social networking thing and then I’ll have all the Star Trek type of projects going on in OpenSim.

Tish: I love your approach – building a grid based on developer communities – people do need to be very geeky to handle OpenSim development at this level at the minute.

Kyle: Exactly. And you happen to be talking to two developers. Our job is to try and match the technology with the problem. Right now the people most likely to embrace virtual worlds and use it is the technical crowd. That’s just the way the internet came to be and all that. So put it in their hands first, get all the really hyper geeky stuff going, and let it evolve from there down to the regular person. One of the things that is in Manhattan sim now is a meeting place for a standards committee. I want to start right away setting up common standards for how navigation and walkways are done, even making accessibility possible for blind people one day where we use sound to guide you along. And we make sure like on web sites we have the proper alt. text in so audio readers can translate what’s going on. The first step is testing it, putting some standards in so anybody can go into any type of sim and can know how to get around. The we’ll really be able to bring this to the common person who can just pop in there like they can a web page now.

Tish: A question for Zain. I have this notion that Microsoft has a reputation for not liking the free form 3D immersive model?

Zain: I think we want to be careful. I mean just because we didn’t show up to the party doesn’t necessarily mean we didn’t like the party. Like most very large companies we wanted to make sure it was a viable type of thing. I think what you are seeing now is the beginning of the emergence of that experimentation and that is validation of the fact that we are definitely interested in this space.

Tish: A big question for many people looking at OpenSource development is how will people be rewarded for their efforts. You see this as a community development project – how will the members of the community be rewarded. This is a question for Kyle I think!

Kyle: That’s a great question and since I got involved with communities and Open Source it has been a tough one to figure out. But I came to grips with when I found out that you could create this cool java script and that anyone could open new source and take what you did and that annoyed me. And I remember thinking many many years ago, how am I going to get anywhere if everything unique I make people can just take? But then I began to thinking I can do that to. I can look at their code and then we can move up the whole technology the whole effort together, we’ll move forward faster and that will benefit us all because we will be able to send twice the product to market that we could have if we all stayed in our own little cubicles. As far as the Manhattan project goes anything we develop there goes back to open source immediately and once it is embedded and tested it goes right back in cos OpenSim is open source and that is the ideology it was started with and we are not going to interrupt that at all.

Tish: Are you going to become involved with the interoperability efforts like the one launched by Linden Lab – The Architecture Working Group that is making efforts re: the interoperability of OpenSim and Second Life, in particular?

Kyle: It is projects like the LIveID integration that we are working on and many people are interested in OpenID. There may be a lot of third party type of log ins that handle authentication. So you may see that even Linden Lab uses multiple methods for people to authenticate into their grid. And I think that this new group that they have started [AWG] is just proof that they know that they must open up and embrace these other grids and get ahead of the game so that they can work with these other grids right away.

Zain: And as far as standards go i think we have a ways to go before we start getting down to the hard core standards path. First we have to establish that this medium is going to be viable to the market in general. And then start bringing it together much like we did with the web. The web took off and there was a governing body that evolved into the world wide web consortium and I think that eventually you will see that with this who knows maybe even W3C will take over aspects of standards for this medium.

Tish: A question for Zain – how do you describe the community development in OpenSim and how does this differ or follow on from other Microsoft involvement in OpenSource communities? Oh and how do you describe your roles what you do for Microsoft and how this relates to this community effort in OpenSim?

Zain: From my personal experience, I am relatively young in Microsoft I just celebrated my first year anniversary so I can’t talk about what happened several years ago, all I know is what happened over the year that I have been there. But without a doubt I think our approach is simple straight forward and elegant. And as a developer evangelist I am hired to interact with the community. My job description when i started this absolutely didn’t include anything about 3d worlds or anything of the kind. I became interested in 3d worlds and I think it speaks volumes for Microsoft that they said alright fine lets make it your job. And, that’s exactly what did they did and likewise with other folks it is on their commitment now. Our strategy is straight forward if you you can prove that your efforts in the community work then you are given carte blanche. If you can’t prove it then why be given the resources to waste.

Tish: So you actually have the title Metaverse Evangelist?

Zain: No I am still a Developer Evangelist but I am the guy for Virtual World Evangelism which is what we call it internally at Microsoft and I guess externally as well. It is known as Virtual World Evangelism.

Tish: So how many Virtual World Evangelists are there at Microsoft?

Zain: Ha good question! There is probably about four or five of us right now.

Tish: So have I missed asking you any important questions!

Zain: No I think you have hit the big points! If nothing else the one key point I would walk away with from this is the emphasis in my virtual worlds evangelism on the community. That’s really what we are about and that is why we are embracing folks like Adam [Frisby] and the realXtend guys because we want to come in and get more community involvement and get people excited about this. We are not interested in anything but really fostering a good environment for making this stuff happen.

categories: free software, interoperability of virtual worlds, Linden Lab, Metaverse, open metaverse, open source, Second Life, Uncategorized, virtual world standards, Virtual Worlds, Web 2.0, Web 3D, Web3.D, World 2.0
tags: , , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments For This Post

  1. Justin Clark-Casey Says:

    Hi Tish. First of all, nice blog! I always find the interviews you conduct very informative.

    Regarding realXtend and Peter’s comment, I would say that what we are looking for is not the merging of whole source trees. As I wrote in my blog post, this was tried before and simply doesn’t work. Rather, we’re looking for small, contained fixes that can be patched in to our source tree. Certainly our code does change rapidly, but not so rapidly that it isn’t possible to extract changes from code based even on quite old OpenSim revisions – particularly if the person doing the extracting is the original programmer. I, for one, would really like to see realXtend make more of an effort here – one participates in the OpenSim conversation through code contributions and open community participation.

    What Zain and Kyle have to say is promising. I know that we have seen a couple of patches from them to fix deficiencies in our MSSQL support. As in with realXtend, I would encourage them to come on our IRC channels at #opensim and #opensim-dev on freenode and interact with the community at large (assuming that they haven’t already started).

  2. Justin Clark-Casey Says:

    What Zain and Kyle have to say is promising. I know that we have seen a couple of patches from them to fix deficiencies in our MSSQL support. As with realXtend, I would encourage them to come on our IRC channels at #opensim and #opensim-dev on freenode and interact with the community at large (assuming that they haven’t already started to do so).

    [Corrections to last paragraph - I reread it once but I'm way too sleep deprived :) ]

  3. Prokofy Neva Says:

    So again, the Open Source movement is about reverse-engineering the code of smaller companies, and pushing those companies into open-sourcing their code, so that big companies can take it.

    Glad we cleared that up.

  4. Ener Hax Says:

    gee Prok, you are such an erudite wannabe! and frankly, seem (imo) you simply love being contrary. although, this may not have been you, the comment was very short! =p

    now that a year and a half has passed since your comment, what is your view on sl versus reaction grid?

    you know of me – 12 sims – blah blah blah and now i am in reaction grid and think highly of it so far

    hope you see this and add to the convo and not just tear me down as usual (ener <– very resilient and always stands back up) =)

    w00t! Ener hax has a love fest going for Reaction Grid

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