IBM and Linden Labs are working together on a enterprise version of Second Life, where employees can cross between a private virtual world inside a firewall and outside on the Second Life Web site. The tools under development are based on Second Life Grid. IBM's task is to ensure security for custom-built virtual worlds inside enterprises.
IBM and Linden Labs, creator of the Second Life virtual world, announced Thursday that they are developing tools for enterprise-quality virtual worlds. The goal is to solve a key problem for enterprises that want to use the avatar-based environment: the need to cross back and forth across a corporate firewall.
IBM will test an approach that will allow users to traverse both the public Second Life "mainland" and IBM's custom-built world behind a firewall -- without having to log on and off.
The solutions are based on the Second Life Grid, Linden's platform that allows organizations to create private worlds.
"The goal is to allow IBM employees to access public spaces and private spaces within one Second Life client interface while privatizing and securing portions of the Second Life Grid behind IBM's firewall," IBM said.
Colin Parris, IBM vice president for digital convergence, said the company sees a "need for an enterprise-ready solution that offers the same content-creation capabilities but adds new levels of security and scalability." With security-rich additions, custom virtual environments can become a "viable option for enterprises," he added.
"Deploying regions of the Second Life Grid behind IBM's firewall is a major milestone in the evolution of the Internet and will help accelerate the growth and adoption of all virtual worlds," said Ginsu Yoon, Linden Labs' vice president of business affairs.
Extending Familiar Tools
But is there really a place for the fun and games of virtual worlds in a fast-paced business environment? Definitely, said Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, in an e-mail. Second Life can be a "simple extension of common collaborative tools in use at many companies," he said.
IBM's Lotus suite, for example, supports collaboration features ranging from Facebook-style employee profiles to instant messaging to online meetings to instant-dial VOIP telephony, King said. "The Second Life technology simply takes that a step further, leveraging avatars in these employee interactions but doing so in secure company-controlled environments," he added.
For large companies with employees all over the world, "I think over time Second Life technology could offer employees new ways to engage that are extensions of the Lotus tools they're already using. How it will eventually evolve is a question mark, but its main initial benefit is likely to be its essential familiarity," King said.
As virtual worlds continue to grow in popularity, "government should be aware of virtual worlds and how they are impacting business, education and general society," said Jill Hurst-Wahl, a social-networking consultant, in an e-mail. "With all of that activity, governments should be aware of virtual worlds, understand how they are being used, and then look for ways of interacting with their citizens through those worlds."
IBM said there is strong enterprise interest in the technology, but security concerns have been a roadblock. "We talk to customers all the time who want to use this technology in their companies, but they worry about keeping the conversations and information secure," said Neil Katz, chief technology officer of IBM's digital convergence group.
The effort is just part of the collaboration between IBM and Linden Labs. Last year, the companies announced a project to develop standards for virtual worlds. A key goal is to allow users to cross seamlessly between different worlds.
Second life :Coming Soon to a Mobile Phone Near You
Most of the innovative new features coming to mobile phones are likely to first become available for higher-end devices like smartphones. But most companies say they plan to eventually roll their services out to a broader base of cell phone users, particularly as even basic phones come equipped with more advanced features.
How cool? In the coming months, you'll be able to dictate text messages and surf the Web just by speaking commands -- no tapping or clicking required. If you're trying to figure out where to go to lunch, you'll be able to call up a map marked with local eateries your friends and family recommend. And you'll be able to film movie clips on your cell phone and send them live to somebody else's gadget.
Rapid hardware advances are making all these new offerings possible. Cell phones are morphing into minicomputers, packed with more processing power and bigger screens, and more of them are coming loaded with features like GPS. Faster connections are also driving the changes. Developers can work with tools like streaming video that wouldn't be practical with creaky connections.
Of course, everything isn't going to change overnight. Not all of these applications will work on all devices, and to use some of them, you may have to get a phone with particular features like GPS or a built-in video camera.
Most of the features are likely to first become available for higher-end devices like smart phones. But most companies say they plan to eventually roll their services out to a broader base of cell-phone users, particularly as even basic phones come equipped with more-advanced features.
Here's a sampling of the new applications scheduled to hit the market soon.