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All that silence, then a sudden bundle of Big Surprise Announcements out of the Lab. Well, at least they’re from Frank Ambrose, whose communiqués are pretty much always welcome.

First up is groups, which everyone’s been talking about for a a couple of days now.

Linden Lab has made the group-limits freely configurable instead of specifically coded to a set limit. This means that the Lab can increase or decrease the group limit to any number at just about any time, and you can enjoy that new setting immediately so long as you have a compatible viewer, which limits you to just about two viewers today, I believe; Viewer 2, and Phoenix. [Apparently most current viewers are happy with the change. Thanks, El Firecaster for pointing that out.]

I was actually planning to write this one up today as one of a series of missed-deadlines, because though Ambrose says “In October, we committed to increase group limits from the current 25 up to 40 in the first quarter of 2011” it is in Ambrose’s October post that the feature was promised for the fourth quarter of 2010, specifically by December 31; a common deadline for a number of announced projects.

It is not clear if Linden Lab intends to hold to its commitment to reduce group limits again if the new, higher limits slow down the Second Life service.

Next up are simulator crossings. Back in the first quarter of 2006, a rework of simulator crossings to make them more reliable pushed crossing latency up from approximately 250ms to 750ms – which unfortunately made crossing between simulators fairly disruptive. Judging by the data that we’re given today, that latency has been increasing substantially since then, apparently having reached more on the order of 1800ms (for the arithmetic-impaired, 250ms is one quarter second, 750ms is three-quarters of a second, and 1800ms is nearly 2 seconds).

The new performance improvement for simulator crossings compresses data before handing it between servers, and reduces the latency for simulator crossings back to somewhere around 750ms, from eyeballing the graph. So, we’re talking faster than it has been for the last couple of years, but still three times slower than it was in 2005.

Third there’s group chat, which was refurbished in late 2005 and hasn’t really worked reliably since that time. While there have been a number of options put forward by users (with a Jabber architecture at the top of the list), the Lab said that Jabber and other proffered solutions would slow the grid down and not be able to scale to the sort of usage that Second Life experiences. Nevertheless, there is some new system coming. It’s unlikely to be Jabber, given that the Lab has spent the last five years arguing why the Jabber protocol wouldn’t work, but a release is promised this quarter.

A beta for viewer 2.5 is apparently upcoming which incorporates the latest version of the Web-based user profiles for the first time.

For myself, what I’d most like to see this quarter is for the Display Names feature to actually work reliably, rather than having most people load as ‘??? ???’. If someone could fix that, at least I’d know who I was talking to most of the time.

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