Who it is developed by?
Firestorm viewer is developed by Phoenix Firestorm Project Inc. They are a not for profit organization. It is made up of about 80 volunteers. They have developed Firestorm as open source. It is in continual development but is available to use by the public. Firestorm is the successor to the retired Phoenix viewer.
What functionality it provides?
It has all the built in features to effectively utilize the virtual worlds. It can be used on Windows, MacOS and Linux to connect to the virtual worlds. Firestorm allows the user to modify the viewer to a layout that they prefer. All the basic functions like chat, group chat, viewing and modifying inventory and building can be done from in the viewer. This is managed through a series of popup boxes that have all the controls in them.
It also allows advanced controls that can be toggled on by the user. This enables more way the user can interact with the world.
How easy is it to use and impressions of it?
From my experience with Firestorm I found that it was easy to use, after I had a basic understanding. First time starting Firestorm on a computer takes time but after that it becomes much faster. I liked the login screen as when you switched between Second Life and other sims the background changed to suit the world you were accessing. It loaded quickly into the world, or as quickly as the connection would allow.
Once in there are a lot of buttons, controls and options available to the user. But used correctly and the user experience can be enjoyable. The quality settings can be adjusted to allow either more detail or better performance in game. I found this very important as there were different location that required either one to best enjoy it.
There are plenty of shortcut keys that bring up different features and they make sense, like ctrl+b brings up the build menu and ctrl+i brings up the inventory. This, I found, makes the game play smoother and more enjoyable. These can be changed in the preferences though.
Creating, modifying Prims and Scripting can also be done in Firestorm. Double clicking on a script brings up the code and it is modifiable and can be tested almost live.
One thing I didn’t enjoy was how quickly the screen became cluttered. I ended up spend a lot of time resizing and moving around the popup boxes so I could see what I was doing. It has to be noted that the developer can do very little about this.
Having a look at the Firestorm wiki I also found the documentation a little all over the place and the color choice did make it a little hard to read.
How it compares to others?
When comparing it to Second Life’s stock viewer I found it was a little slower logging me in but when I was in it was just as fast or faster at completing tasks and loading GUI item times were quicker
I have found the GUI design way smoother than some other viewers. All the controls are easier to access. Also I found that resolution and quality that it auto set after I started it the first time was better than Second Life Viewer.
It comes stock with more options the interact with Second Life than most other viewers. This allowed better interaction with the world. Like I said this can be a little daunting at the start though.
Note these were tested across one machine so performance of different computers can be ruled out.