Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We've Come A Long Way

A few clicks and a new Kitely
world is made.
"I've just upgraded to the newest version of OpenSim using Diva's Distribution, which makes all of the following pretty much obsolete. I'm just keeping the old steps below so I can look back some day and appreciate how far it's all come." I'm quoting myself from two years ago, when I started messing with virtual worlds, and it's come time to take that look and appreciate where we are.
Sim-on-a-stick is starting up a new
region after running one batch file!
Two years ago the drama teacher in my school wanted to explore having his students act with avatars. After looking into Second Life and There it was clear to me that a private OpenSimulator sim was the only option for our small experiment. The learning curve was steep for me and the consequences of deploying alpha software (v 0.6.3!) in an environment where we depended on it working with students ready to go was tough. We started our little acting project with few props, inventory we thought was lost that really wasn't because of DB connection timeouts, awkward kludges with FreeSWITCH, and a host of other issues.
The release of the Diva Distribution in the fall of 2009 was a major advance for me, with the helpful readme files and update and configure utilities. Despite this fantastic advance in OpenSimulator's ease of use, you still had to be a brave enough educator to install a MySQL database and mess with .ini files. These basic procedures have been prohibitive enough to keep the educators I've shown to keep their feet out of the virtual water.
A new me in seconds on Kitely
Well, that is all changing because of Kitely and sim-on-a-stick. I'd been hearing about these options over the last month or so, longer for sim-on-a-stick, but only had time to try them out a few days ago. I'm still buzzing from how easy both of these options are. With either one, you are up and running a sim in a few minutes with no back-end messing required. Each option has certain limitations compared to, say, paying for more full service sim hosting or running your own public grid from the ground up rather than on a stick.
In the case of Kitely, you don't have access to the back end at all but you can upload an OAR file at the time you create a new world. Pricing is extremely affordable and the team is very responsive to new feature requests and working hard to give users what they want.
Sim-on-a-stick (you'll find the relevant credits here) is an amazing new development that packages everything you need to run a sim on a USB drive. Having gone through the agony of making countless mistakes setting up this and that service and database and version of .NET and hunting down the meanings of various error messages I watch the pretty windows scroll by and things happening on their own after running ONLY ONE BATCH FILE and I'm just speechless at the magic of it.
Being the innovation enthusiast and teacher support person I am, I always think of how it will look to the first time non-geek teacher. I think the command lines of sim-on-a-stick, pretty as they are, will freak some people out, which may make Kitely, which hides all that scary-looking business, behind a clean and simple web front-end. But one thing that's beautiful about sim-on-a-stick is you can just say don't touch your computer until it's time to log in. And then there will be some adventurous people who will enjoy getting under the hood and, say, looking up their local IP, adding that to the bin\config-include\MyWorld.ini and bin\Regions\RegionConfig.ini files in place of so that students on other computers in their LAN can direct their own Imprudence viewer to that IP and log in to the same sim-on-a-stick on your computer (the sim has to run on a PC for now, by the way, but the clients can be on Macs). I tried this today on a hunch and it rocked! Wired connections are best, of course. Then you have a collaborative environment and not just a single user operation. Before you do this, of course, you have to run the Diva Wifi service on the stick and create the new users for the students. Or even have the students create their own accounts by having their viewers directed to
Anyway, all of this signals good times ahead for learning in virtual worlds! 

1 comment :

iliveisl said...

how did i miss this post! very nicely written and a wonderful reflection on your trials and tribulations =)

the batch file is nice for SoaS and is all DreamWalker (whom i dearly love and has been with me for 4 years)

your use of OpenSim at school is wonderful and fills my heat with joy. this type of activity goes a long way in encouraging girls to study science =)