What is Opensim?

The term Opensim is a bit confusing at first.  This is partly because it’s come to mean a lot of different things. Let’s break it down and see if we can clear things up.

When people say Opensim, they’re generally talking about one of these four things:

  1. The Opensimulator Project: The free software project at the heart of the Opensim Ecosystem.  The software is what hosts and “simulates” 3D virtual places and allows users to meet and interact. 
  2. The Opensim Ecosystem: The organizations who host Opensim worlds, and who develop supporting software such as Viewers. 
  3. The Community: The users, companies, and organizations who all use and work on growing the virtual worlds of the Opensim Ecosystem.  This ranges from everyday casual users all the way up to large institutions.
  4. A Completely Unrelated Piece of Software with the Same Name: That’s right, there’s another piece of software called Opensimulator out there.  It’s used for simulating the way bones and muscles interact and has nothing to do with the rest of Opensim! Confusing, right?

The Project

The Opensimulator Project is an open-source software project that powers the rest of the Opensim Ecosystem.  The project focuses on creating the server needed to simulate “general purpose virtual worlds”.  These 3D worlds can be used for everything from games to education. The project originally started as a way to create an open-source spin-off of the Second Life virtual world, and in shares a lot in common with it to this day.

Like Second Life, Opensimulator simulates large virtual blocks of land called Regions on servers called Simulators. Users can enter into these Regions, interact with the virtual environment and meet other users. They can also use the built in tools to create everything from clothing, to buildings, to functional vehicles.  Almost everything in the Opensimulator Ecosystem has been created by users rather than by a single company or organization.

Unlike Second Life, Opensimulator is free to use, and open to modify.  It’s not run by a single company, and as a result the Opensim Ecosystem is made up of dozens of different organizations, each using Opensim their own way.

The Simulator has been designed to be modular, paving the way for other developers to extend and add to its functions. Features like the Hypergrid were added in through modules, and anyone with the desire and ability can create their own. The Opensimulator Project also focuses on many of the supporting services the Simulator needs in order to function.  These services mostly allow multiple Simulators to work together as a single seamless world called a Grid.  Understandably, these extra services are called Grid Services.

The Ecosystem

Beyond the Project itself, there is a whole network of other organizations filling critical roles.  Many are Grid hosts, who acts community hubs and provide core services.  Some allow users to connect their own regions, while others will happily host a Opensim region for a monthly fee. Some even will do both!

Another crucial member of the Ecosystem are the developers who make Opensim-compatible Viewers.  This software is what makes it possible for users to connect to Opensim worlds and interact with them.  Because of the similarities between Second Life and Opensim, most of these Viewer projects focus primarily on Second Life and include Opensim support as a side feature.

The Community

One of the elements which makes Opensim special is the fact that nearly everything has been created and maintained by the community of users.  People use Opensim for a wide range of reasons.  Some use it as a place to meet and hang out with friends.  Others use it to create educational resources and training simulations.  There are dance clubs, museums, theme parks, shops, roleplaying sets, and more.  While Opensim has historically attracted creative “do it yourself” folks, pretty much anyone can use it.

A large amount of Opensim worlds are connected together through the Hypergrid, which allows users from one world to easily travel to other worlds.  However, because it’s completely possible to run Opensim without connecting to the Hypergrid, there are plenty of parts of the community which have their own private worlds.  The US Army even used Opensim for a while because they could run a private world for training.

What Next?

If you’d like to try to dip your toes into Opensim, check out the Quick Start Guide. Still have questions? Great! More content will be coming soon, but until then ask away in the comment section below.