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Second Life goes open source

Linden Lab looks to widen its dominance in the world of virtual reality by handing more power to its users
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Linden Lab has continued its push to dominate the rapidly growing area of virtual reality, by releasing some of the source code for Second Life under the General Public Licence.

On Monday afternoon, Linden Lab announced that it is releasing the code of its Viewer application to the open-source software development community. This will allow Second Life users to design new features and improve existing ones, releasing their work to the rest of the Second Life ecosystem.

"Open sourcing is the most important decision we've made in seven years of Second Life development," said Cory Ondrejka, chief technical officer of Linden Lab, in a statement. "While it is clearly a bold step for us to proactively decide to open source our code, it is entirely in keeping with the community-creation approach of Second Life."

Second Life allows people to create a virtual identity, or avatar, and live and interact within a digital, user-modified 3D environment. Around 2.5 million people have signed up, although it's estimated that 250,000 are regular users.

By releasing its end-user code under version 2 of GPL, Linden Lab is relinquishing control of its part of its creation. In exchange, it is increasing the chances that much more virtual content will be created using the Second Life platform, which would make Linden Lab an extremely powerful player in this nascent market.

At this stage, it's unclear how the Second Life community will react to the move. Early indications, though, are that it will be popular. Linden Lab told Fortune magazine that 15 percent of its residents are writing code for Second Life, churning out seven million lines a week.

Second Life has attracted scorn from some quarters, but a number of companies and powerful individuals are taking it seriously. Last week, a member of the US Congress held a press conference in the virtual world, where IBM is planning to open 12 "islands". CNET News.com, sister site to ZDNet UK, has also created a simulacrum of its office space in Second Life, for interviews and forum discussions.

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