NEW YORK — The virtual world of Second Life is going open source.
Linden Lab, the company behind the game, said it is making the software blueprint of its PC program available to developers to modify for their personal use and to share with others. It's the same model that's used to build the Linux operating system and the Firefox Web browser.
Philip Rosedale, Linden Lab's co-founder and chief executive officer, said he hopes the developer community will help his relatively small staff — 50 programmers or so — fix bugs in the code and optimize the software for use on older computers. He also expects some cool tools to emerge.
"There are lots of handicapped people using Second Life. It's one of the really inspiring things about it," Rosedale said. "There are a lot of ways of connecting people to their computers, not just mice and keyboards but gaze detection and neuromuscular stuff" that Linden Lab doesn't have the manpower to address, but he hopes outside programmers will.
Someone also could "hook up an exercise bike and fly around Second Life while exercising," he said, or write a program for accessing the world from a smart phone.
"All that becomes extremely easy to do," said Rosedale, who will speak tomorrow at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Second Life users create avatars of themselves and move about the virtual world, chatting with others, buying land, building homes and businesses. It has its own currency that's tied to the U.S. dollar. Numerous real-world businesses, including Circuit City Stores Inc. and American Apparel Inc., are setting up shop in the virtual space.
The code will be available under the GNU Public License, a widely used agreement among open-source developers that allows them to legally modify and share software. Linden Lab will review and test some add-ons, modifications and bug fixes, and incorporate them into the official version of the viewer, which can be downloaded for free.
Monday's announcement doesn't cover all the software behind Second Life. The program that controls the underlying infrastructure will remain proprietary, though Rosedale said open-source "is absolutely our direction."
The shift toward open source isn't expected to hurt the company's business model, which relies on charging residents for their use of land — also known as server space on one of Linden Lab's computers.
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