Now that SecondLife has taken on a life of its own ( pun intended ..) and does not need an army of enthusiasts to explain why it is so important to the world in the 21st century .. it is time to speculate on how it will evolve in the future.
The parallel that I would like to draw at the moment is that SL is today where AOL was in 1993-94. There was a proprietory AOL client software that would connect over dialup lines ( low bandwidth SLIP/PPP protocols ) to the AOL servers and these servers would provide the 'space' for merchants and service providers to set up their commerce or 'fun' applications.
What happened next ? The AOL servers were replaced by http based webservers and anyone could set up a website, not just AOL. Secondly the browser ( the universal client ) could connect to any web server and then it became a matter individual transactions between the server owner ( the www website ) and the client software through which it was accessed. AOL dropped out of the picture completely.
Today, the situation is identical with Second Life.
Linden Labs has set up a set of proprietory servers -- referred to as regions or islands -- on which merchants and other service providers can set up their applications. Proprietory client software ( the SL client ) has to be used to access these LL servers ( regions/islands ) to access these services.
Going forward, it is very likely that open-source, or otherwise non-proprietory, servers would be developed that are functionally equivalent to the Linden Lab servers. And access to these servers would be through open-source or commercial ( but non Linden Lab provided) client software. Moreover these non LL clients would have the ability to access any LL-equivalent server set up and managed by any commercial entity.
Does this mean that LindenLabs and SecondLife will go the way that AOL did ? An important, but now irrelevent milestone, in mankinds quest for connectivity ?
I am sure that I am not the first person to think about this ... and in fact I am pretty sure that Linden Labs themselves must thinking about it ... but can they do anything about it ? After all creating such software -- either for the server or for the client -- is hardly rocket science. Linden Labs idea is of course revolutionary, but so was AOL's idea. But once an idea is out of the bag, there is no way one can keep it bottled up. There will always be someone who can build a better mousetrap ... and the world will beat a path to his door.
At best one can delay the inevitable by throwing in legal and IPR related issues ... and is that why Linden Labs has updated its terms of service particularly the section that deals with how non LL software connects to SL servers ?