I got to thinking about this today in light of a number of different blogs I've been reading about the new Second Life Terms of Service and Third Party Viewer policy. One of those was Rob Lamphier's (aka Rob Linden) who wrote a piece about dual licensing and contributor agreements which I THINK was obliquely referencing Linden Lab's approach to the issue.
I won't pretend to be an expert on Open Source since I'm really just a user of the end results. However, I have an appreciation for what goes into the development process since I do a little scripting myself and am a connoisseur of third party viewers. Here's the punchline:
Linden Lab completely misses the point about the Viewer and where the value lies.
The Second Life Viewer (in any form) is ONLY a means to access content. It's like a browser. The real value is on the Linden Lab servers! It's the content. The financial system. The uploads that cost you money. The SIMs they rent. The XStreet SL commissions. The virtual land they sell.
I would argue that ANYTHING the Lab can do to make it better, easier or more convenient for the end user (Resident) to access all this and fork over money to them should be a good thing. It's a win-win for the customer and the Lab. If Emerald or Hippo Viewer make my SL experience better, then why should the Lab really care much beyond ensuring that nothing malicious is going on? The Viewer is simply a means to an end.
Yet, every move the Lab has made over the last two years says to me that they think the Viewer has some sort of intrinsic financial value. The TOS & TPV seem designed to stifle new development and push it into the Lab. Numerous bug fixes have been offered up by the 3rd party developers but never incorporated (Nicholaz for example). New features have been developed but never used (multiple attachment points, breast physics, better chat, etc. -- Emerald). Inventory backup that respects permissions (Emerald & SL Inventory). Most of these are features and fixes that users love and want. JIRAs go unresponded to for years.
Yet the Lab continues in its own narrow path developing a "new user experience" in Viewer 2 that has almost universally been panned with the exception of a few cool features. And I don't believe for a second it's because they really want to address copybotting or griefing -- hell the new TOS says they're not responsible for anything that happens at any time or any place.
The question is why? Why spend all those resources on something that really has no value? Why make it harder and harder for 3rd parties to add value? Maybe they think someday the Viewer is something they can sell? They look at MySQL and think, hmmm, that's the model we could use and make millions. Or maybe they think the code has value if the company is sold?
Whatever strange view the Lab holds, it's wrong. The Viewer should be a commodity. Free. Open. And easier, not harder to develop for. After all, it's the end user that's important and the server-side that makes the money.