Using OpenSim for K-12

I was asked my opinion about OpenSimulator for high school educational use.  The parties were considering alternatives to the Second Life teen grid because of costs and the need for background checks and so on for the adults. OpenSimulator (OpenSim) is the same game engine used to run Second life. Or at least it was. SL has developed their platform well beyond anything OpenSim has done, but OpenSim does have advantages. You can run your own sim on your own computer; you can link that to others through services like OpenGrid; or you can rent space on someone else’s server. Here was my reply:

I have not tried to establish an OpenSim server myself. I haven’t really had the need to have an offline development space and I don’t see much point to it otherwise unless one is planning to connect it to OpenGrid or something. Anyway, I honestly don’t know what it takes to set up an OpenSim server, especially one that is accessible by others. My impression is that it’s not that hard to implement out of the box, but keeping up with updates and managing the configurations can be a challenge. I don’t think I’d recommend it without having someone knowledgeable to maintain it.

You might want to check out ReactionGrid. It’s a PG grid, open to anyone. It’s very affordable, especially if you buy multiple sims. Some people I know got 4 sims and they pay something like $75 or $100 a month total. Don’t remember exactly. Each sim supports 45K prims (total 180K!) and there are a lot of interesting things you can do there that you can’t do on SL. (Create megaprims up to 256 meters, link distant objects, etc.) It’s small enough that you can get pretty good personalized service.

I met someone there who was a middle school teacher and her kids were coming in to build things there. I think they’re not allowed off their island, though there is nothing to stop them, as far as I know. She uses login credentials for each student that are all registered to her account. It seems a safe environment, and anyone not adhering to PG can be reported and swift action would be taken.

HOWEVER: The advantage to a hosted sim is, of course, that they take care of the tech details so you can be concerned with actually using it. That’s a huge plus. The disadvantage to any of the OpenSim grids is that they do not perform at a level anything like what you are used to in SL. For me, it’s very much like starting over 4 years ago. I uses the old physics engine, it crashes a lot (not just your viewer, but the sim itself), it’s unbelievably laggy even on an empty sim. I find it incredibly frustrating to do work in that environment, but I know others who are thriving and spend most of their creative time there.

OpenSim Scripting Language (OSL) is very similar to LSL, but there are a few key differences that mean a lot of LSL scripts just don’t work there or need to be tweaked. OSL is a stricter language, so syntax is less forgiving. Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive resource for you to find out how to use it correctly. The documentation, frankly, sucks. However OSL also has some interesting features that LSL lacks, including programming in C+. I don’t know anything much about that, but it does present opportunities for advanced programmers to do interesting things.

So bottom line is, definitely check out ReactionGrid. Talk to the people there. They seem friendly and helpful. You would certainly have more flexibility at less cost than SL. If you don’t need the social and educational opportunities of a wider social grid like SL, it could be a good solution.

2 comments to Using OpenSim for K-12

  • There are over a dozen different OpenSim hosting providers — but ReactionGrid is definitely in the lead when it comes to the educational sector.

    Other hosting providers: http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/opensim-hosting-providers/

    Prices start at around $25 per region (compared to $300 per region on Second Life) and the only age restrictions are those you set yourself.

    If you want a free version to run on your own servers, I recommend the Diva Distro. http://www.metaverseink.com/blog/?p=21

    However, ReactionGrid also offers pre-configured versions of the software that you can run on your own servers, but they’ll help you manage them and configure them.

    One correction: OpenSim is a completely separate project from SecondLife and, though you can use the same browsers to access both, on the inside OpenSim is completely different, and uses different physics engines and backend infrastructure.

    As a result, OpenSim is moving to a different direction than Second Life itself. For example, you can integrate OpenSim with your corporate employee or school student directories, or change the physics so that you are, say, working in Mars gravity. You can also change the size of regions — the Diva Distro, for example, has mega regions which are four times the size of a standard region (no border crossing!).

    You can also save an entire region as an OAR file to use later, to have as a backup, to keep track of the progress of your build in case you need to go back — or just to share with other people. And you can teleport from one virtual world to another, and retain access to your inventory and avatar shape and attachment as you move from grid to grid.

    Second Life doesn’t offer any of these features. But Second Life does offer a much larger user community (important if you’re using virtual worlds for retail or marketing), and it offers media-on-a-prim, which can be very useful for educators. OpenSim is expected to roll out media on a prim later on this year, as they’re dedicated to maintain support for all standard Second Life browser features.

    More info on hypergrid travel: http://www.hyperica.com/how-to-travel/

    More info on educators in OpenSim: http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2010/04/educators-save-money-switching-to-opensim/

    – Maria Korolov
    Editor, Hypergrid Business
    http://www.hypergridbusiness.com

  • admin

    Thanks very much for your comments, Maria. Very useful information.

    I would only say that OS is not “completely different” from SL, though it’s true that they are being developed independently and diverging more as they go along their respective paths. But their origins are the same. For the casual user there is almost no obvious difference. The interface is the same (or was before SL’s viewer 2) and navigation and basic skills are very much the same. For a developer there are a lot of important differences, though.

    Certainly OS is a viable and affordable alternative for those who don’t need a broad public presence. As SL goes through its changes, I think there are opportunities for alternative grids to be competitive.

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