Private Alternatives to Second Life
If prototyping a new product in Second Life seems a bit too unpredictable for your taste, there is a tamer alternative: hosting a private corner of cyberspace on your own secure servers. A small but growing number of technology companies help you do just that. Craig Roth, a vice-president at Salt Lake City technology research and consulting firm Burton Group, thinks small businesses may soon even have the option of private browser-based virtual worlds that would be easier to navigate than Second Life.
The most established virtual world alternative comes from Forterra Systems, based in San Mateo, Calif. Businesses buy their own virtual worlds from Forterra, then host them either on their own servers or Forterra's. The out-of-the box world comes complete with cyber buildings and offices and a host of avatars to choose from. You can design your own avatar by using a digital photo of yourself.
Rather than provide modeling tools such as those available in Second Life, Forterra supports 3D tools such as Autodesk 3ds Max, Autodesk Maya, and Google SketchUp, allowing models made in the real world to be imported into the Forterra world.
One drawback is cost. Forterra is known for catering to government agencies and larger companies and is priced accordingly—$30,000 to license the software. But the company is working on a monthly subscription program, which Chris Badger, vice-president of marketing for Forterra, says could run from $2,000 to $4,000 a month.
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