The Absolute Basics: Beginners – Preferences

The Absolute Basics: Beginners – Preferences

This is the second in my series of Second Life Basics for Absolute Beginners. In this post we’re going to examine some of the preferences in the official Second Life viewer (which I’ll shorten hereafter to ‘viewer’ or ‘V2’ – as this is known as ‘Viewer 2’). Please note that, for this tutorial, I was using version 2.6.3 of the official viewer. This viewer is, as I write this, still undergoing a lot of changes, so some of the menu items may change around, but hopefully you should be able to find them relatively easily in any future V2-based viewers.

Please note, also, that this post should not be taken as gospel. Behind the cut I’m just going to explain to you some important settings you need to be aware of, go through some of the things you do need to know (as a newbie) and what you don’t need to have enabled just yet, and explain what some of the settings do. The longer that you’re in Second Life, the more you’re going to want to do with it, so that will be the time to explore the menus again and see what stuff does: when you’re less afraid of breaking things!

Hop behind the cut, because we’re going to get started before we even log in :)

First things first. This goes for brand newbies as well as oldbies who have recently updated to the newest viewers: check which mode you’re in!

Second Life recently introduced a new viewer option which is set by default: Basic Mode. In Basic Mode you have very limited access to things like your inventory. It’s really just a glorified chatroom with a few options, which is great for people who just want a taster of what SL can offer. However, once you’re ready to dive into the fully-immersive world of SL, you’ll need to haul yourself out of Basic and into Advanced. Don’t be scared of going into Advanced Mode! It might make you think you need to do all kinds of scary, developer/programmer things, but it doesn’t: it’s just the mode that everyone started out with before this new viewer came out.

OK, so once you’ve launched your viewer, look at the bottom, by the login button. You should see this:

Click the little arrow beside ‘Basic’ and change it to ‘Advanced’, like this:

Now you need to close the viewer and re-start it. Once you’ve done that, we’re going to set your Preferences. Note: you can only access this Preferences menu in Advanced Mode, so even without checking near the login button you’ll know whether you’re in Basic or not.

OK, click Me > Preferences:

A new window will open up with lots of tabs. You won’t be able to change all of your preferences while logged out. For some of them you need to log in first of all. Maturity ratings, for example: the viewer won’t know whether you’re allowed to access Mature or Adult content until it knows which avatar has logged in, and whether it’s been age-verified in some way.

The ‘General’ Tab

Here is the first tab, called General:

Show start location on login – This will give you a dropdown option on the login page of your viewer, allowing you to either start at your Home location, your Last Location (the place your avatar was when you last logged out) or the <Region Name> option (which will let you type in the name of any region in Second Life – you’ll arrive in the very centre point of that region).

Name Tags – As a newbie, have these on. They’re on by default, but it’s always wise to double-check that you have ‘Usernames‘ checked. Everyone in Second Life has a username, which will be something like jennifer123 or bob.newbie. This is their main identifier and the name they use to log into Second Life. When you search for them, or buy something made by them, it’s this name you need to use. But, as well as the username (sometimes known as the ‘unique username’) Second Life also allows you to have a Display Name (that’s also checked by default on this tab). You can change your Display Name once per week (at present), and it’s a nice thing that allows for things like couples who have been partnered in SL to change their names to match each other (as well as many other reasons).

Enable viewer UI Hints – This option (which is checked by default) will give you little helptul tooltips when hovering your cursor over the viewer options. Very handy, whether you’re a newbie or an oldbie who’s trying to get used to this new viewer!

Away timeout – Always a good idea to change this to ‘Never’, or you’ll be logged out of Second Life if you go away from the computer for the specified length of time.

The ‘Graphics’ Tab

The second tab is dedicated to your graphics settings. Please note: I was screencapping this tutorial on a low-powered laptop, so I can’t check all of the graphics preferences here! The more powerful your computer is, the more settings you can enable.

At first, all you’ll see is the little slider option at the top, so check the Advanced button at the bottom of this tab to enable the full menu:

How you set your graphics options depends entirely on how powerful your computer is. Perhaps the most important setting on this tab is the Draw Distance setting. The lower that is, the less of the world around you that your viewer has to render, and the faster your experience will be. You’ll find that, the higher this is set, the slower and more laggy your experience will be (unless you have a kickass gaming computer and high bandwidth!). 64m is perfectly good if you’re at home, or looking around a small store etc. 128m is a good average for exploring larger areas and want to find that location that you can’t see from where you land, and if you’re taking detailed, widescreen snapshots then that is the time you should crank it out to 512m.

Basic shaders and Atmospheric Shaders will give you those lovely sparkling seas and moving clouds, and allow you to use all kinds of Windlight presets to change the mood of your world, but you’ll only be able to access them if your graphics card is able to render them.

The ‘Sound & Media’ Tab

The next tab down will let you set your sound and media preferences:

I suggest that the main thing you do here is uncheck the ‘Allow Media to auto-play‘ setting. If you make sure that Streaming Music is checked, you’ll still be able to access the controls that allow you to listen to the music that other people have set to play on their land, but sometimes you don’t want to automatically hear someone else’s thrash metal when you’re exploring that great, grungy sim ;)

See later in this post for more info on the Voice options in this tab.

The ‘Chat’ Tab

Here is where you set your text chat preferences:

If that funny keyboard-tapping animation that your avatar does when you’re typing bugs you, this is where you disable it, by unchecking the Play typing animation when chatting option. Bubble chat is fun, but can get a bit confusing in crowded settings, so don’t have that checked for now.

Show IMs in… is initially enabled for Separate Windows. My suggestion is to check the Tabs option instead, as it’s more like classic IM client behaviour when you have tabbed windows set. Also, you don’t need to worry about figuring out which window you need to have open: they’re all in one single, tabbed window :)

The ‘Move & View’ Tab

Here is where you set your preferences for movement and camera in-world:

The main thing that I suggest here, for newbies, is to uncheck the Tap-tap-hold to run option. Sometimes it can be confusing to find yourself running when you want to be walking, so until you’re familiar with all the keyboard controls, you might want to uncheck that. Once you are used to them, though, it’s a good feature to have checked!

We’re going to skip the next two tabs until you’re logged-in, so moving on to the next one…

The ‘Setup’ Tab

This is where you set things like browser preferences and bandwidth allowance:

Personally, I like to Use my browser rather than the one built into the viewer, so I have that option checked. I also (and this is a personal preference) don’t have Accept cookies checked (because I’m not using the built-in browser and I’m never happy with cookies that don’t serve a purpose for me – such as retaining login information for websites that I visit).

Since I was on a slow laptop and a wireless connection, my Bandwidth was set to just 500kbps. Again, this depends on your own internet connection. Don’t set it to use all of your bandwidth, though, or you won’t be able to do anything else (such as a quick email check) while you’re logged into SL, without waiting for aeons for the page to load! A good rule of thumb is, once you’re logged-in, enable the Lag Meter (more on that later in this post) and keep an eye on the Network tab. If it keeps going red or yellow, you’ll need to dial down how much bandwidth you’ve allocated in this tab.

The ‘Advanced’ Tab

This is the last tab we’ll have a look at before logging in:

Allow Multiple Viewers is great for roleplayers who want more than one character logged-in. It’s also good if you need to log an alt (a second, alternate account) to pass them something, or quickly check permissions on an item you’ve made).

Show Grid Selection at login allows you to see the different Second Life grids available on the login page. While you’ll mainly be logging into Agni (the main, ‘live’ SL grid) there may be times when you need to log into Aditi (the Beta grid). Note: the Aditi grid is only ‘refreshed’ so many times per year, so if your account was created after the last refresh then technically you don’t exist to that grid, so you won’t be able to access it. Also, items uploaded on that grid are not accessible on the main grid.

Show Advanced Menu is something you need checked. We’ll get into the why’s and wherefore’s a bit later in this post :)

Uncheck Show script errors because, as a newbie, that’s not something you need to be alarmed by!

OK, now we’re going to log in and go back to these settings to enable a few more things!

The ‘General’ Tab – logged-in

Now that you’re logged-in you can set what content rating you’d like to access. Before log-in you’re only allowed to access PG-rated content, but afterwards you can access Mature and (if you’re age-verified or have a premium account) you can also access Adult-rated content.

The ‘Sound & Media’ Tab – logged-in

You can set these options while logged-out, but it was too much extra text to fit onto one screencap!

If you’re going to use the Voice Chat options, then here is where you set them up. I don’t have them checked, because I rarely use Voice (and I’m on the crappy old lappy here, which probably couldn’t handle it anyway!) but make sure that Voice Chat is checked. Move avatar lips when speaking is rather funny to watch. It’s not 100% accurate, but it’s a bit more realistic than being tight-lipped when you’re nattering away!

Toggle speak on/off when I press… (select a key) is a good one to have checked, as it only sends your voice in-world when you want it to be heard. You’ll soon find out who doesn’t have this option checked when you hear people munching their dinner with babies crying in the background, if you have Voice Chat enabled! O_o

Input/Output devices is where you configure your microphone and headphones. This is, again, dependent on your individual setup. You can use a separate mic and speakers or heaphones, or a headset that includes both. You’ll get more reliable audio if you plug the mic/headphone jacks into the soundcard ports (on the back of your PC) rather than into any others you may have, such as on the front. You may also need to re-start your viewer after changing these settings, to make them ‘stick’. These settings can be tricky for people to get right, but just persevere and fiddle around and you’ll eventually get there!

The ‘Chat’ Tab – logged-in

OK, this is an important one!

It’s always a good idea to check the Email me IMs when I’m offline option. This will send any instant messages (which includes inventory offers and group notices) to the email address that you signed up with. Very handy when someone needs to get hold of you in a hurry and you’re not logged-in!

Enable plain text IM and chat history – Check this while you’re a newbie. It’s just easier to read than having the little avatar images beside each name in chat!

The ‘Notifications’ Tab – logged-in

This is where you can set the various popups you’ll see in-world:

While you’re still very new, keep all of these in the top window. After a while, though, you’ll know what you’re doing a bit more, and you can send some of those really annoying popups down to the bottom window, where they won’t bug you again!

The ‘Colors’ Tab – logged-in

Here is where you can change the colours of various texts and other effects:

It’s a good idea to leave most of these to default, because if someone is trying to help you (let’s say) find out something that’s spamming you in chat, they may ask you what colour text it’s in, and whether it’s yellow or green can be very important in tracking it down! The My effects (selection beam) option will change the colour of the particle beam that leaves your hand whenever you’re building something or buying something, etc, in-world. I haven’t changed this in the new viewer to check it, but in the old viewer this colour persisted across all accounts logged in using that viewer. I’ll double-check this as soon as I can using this viewer, but for now, just bear that in mind. Set a hot pink selection beam for your main account and it may also give away your alt!

The ‘Privacy’ Tab – logged-in

Several images here, because this is an important tab:

Show me in search will allow people to do just that: search for your name and find your profile. Please note: if you take part in any ‘Picks Rewards’ things in-world (place a store’s location in your Picks, then return a day or so later, click the board again, and receive a gift from that store) then you will need this option enabled, as the scripts that control Picks Rewards need to be able to find you in search and check you do actually have them in your Picks!

Show my Favourite Landmarks at login will popup a new window, like this:

The reason for this is the Show my Favourite Landmarks at login will place anything you drag to your Favourites Bar when logged-in directly onto the viewer’s login page. This means that someone only has to launch the viewer, and not even log in, to see the places where you like to go. It’s a fabby option to have, but be aware that anyone with access to your computer will be able to see your favourite locations.

Back to the main pic above that extra one!

Only friends and groups know I’m online – This is slightly deceptive, as some third party viewers will show your ‘true online status’ on your profile, and there are scripts and ‘online status’ HUDs available in-world (all perfectly legally) that will allow people to see if you’re logged-in. Privacy in Second Life isn’t 100% guaranteed.

Chat Logs are a good thing to enable, especially if you want to remember the conversations you had with people, and places you went to. Be aware that anyone can log chats, not just you! It’s against Second Life’s ToS to post chat logs anywhere on any official Second Life website, but that doesn’t cover off-world sites. Behave like an ass in-world and you may just find your assholeish behaviour splattered all over someone’s personal blog for the world to see ;)

It’s a good idea to create a new folder, maybe in My Documents, to hold your chat logs. When you need to update your viewer you’ll find that if you kept them in the default folders they’ll be deleted. Set them to a new ‘Second Life Chat Logs’ folder in My Documents, and they’ll stay safe and unchanged whenever you need to update your viewer.

Now we’re going to move onto just a few of the many menu settings!

The ‘Advanced’ Menu

Don’t be scared of this menu. While there’s a heck of a lot of techy-looking stuff here, there are also some important things in it that are pretty easy to get to grips with, and which will help you enjoy Second Life a bit more.

First of all, the Lag Meter:

Enabling the Lag Meter will let you keep an eye on anything that might be giving you problems. You can have it open wide, as on the right here, where it will give you suggestions as to what might be causing an issue (such as your bandwidth setting being too high, or textures are loading). Once you know what the general problems can be, you can dock the Lag Meter (middle image) and just use the colours as a guide.

Client means issues with the viewer. Have two viewers open with full bandwidth allocated to each and you may see this turn red. Just lower your allocated bandwidth! Or it may turn red when you have two clients logged (or your system doesn’t have much RAM) and you need to either close one client or restart the viewer to gain your RAM back. (Pro tip: if RAM is an issue for you, find a freeware RAM-reclaimer, such as Memboost, and set it to reclaim RAM when you close a program.)

Network is usually a problem with your connection. Either your bandwidth settings in the viewer are too high (so this is the ‘dot’ you need to monitor for that, and it’s a fluid thing; you may find yourself changing your settings during your login session) or maybe another program is using some of your bandwidth (for instance, a file-sharing client, or Twitter client, or something else that’s checking for/downloading updates, such as your antivirus program).

Server indicates the issue lies within Second Life. Possibly there are a lot of avatars in the region you’re currently in, and the region’s server is struggling a wee bit.

More Advanced Menu settings:

Uncheck Limit Select Distance because that will then allow you to select items that are much further away from you.

Check Disable Camera Constraints because when it’s not checked this setting will limit how far out you can send your camera view, generally only as far as you have Draw Distance set. Check High-Res Snapshots to get mugh higher-resolution pictures, and also check Quiet Snapshots to Disk to stop that annoying camera shutter sound whenever you save a picture.

Still in the Advanced Menu we’re now going to change just one Debug Setting:

Click Show Debug Settings and a new window will popup:

Start to type rendervolumeLODfactor (it’ll auto-complete) and change the setting manually to 4.000, then click the little ‘x’ to close the window. What does this do? Well, that specific setting helps your viewer to render things like very tiny prims (such as those used in jewellery) and sculpted prims (used for many things in-world) much more accurately. ‘LOD’ stands for ‘Level of Detail’, so that tells you why it’s important! Note: if you ever set your general Graphics preferences to either Low or Mid, you’ll have to re-do this setting again!


Right-click on the lower toolbar and you can enable lots of useful little quick-access buttons there:

You have lots of options. I don’t use gestures, so I’ve removed that button, but I do like to have the Mini-Map open (handy for seeing who is around me when I land in a new place, so I don’t bump into people if I start to walk before the world’s fully-rezzed around me!). I also have Build, Search, and Map enabled. As well as those, another important one is View – which will put the Camera Controls onto your screen.

Chat Bar

If the chat bar is too small for you (and it really is a bit small) then you can drag it wider. Just grab the little line to the right of it, and drag it to the right:

World > Sun

This is a great, fun setting! It enables you to change how the world looks to you. Note: this only affects your experience. Making it midnight won’t suddenly plunge everyone else in that region into darkness ;) It’s a useful one to know, because Second Life has its own day/night cycle (four ‘SL days/nights’ to one real life day/night: the days are five hours long, the nights are one hour long) and if you want to go shopping when it’s night it can be hard to see. Simply enable Midday and you can see better!

To set it back to how it was, just click Estate Time. We’ll get into more fun stuff, like the Environment Editor in the next post in this series :)



3 thoughts on “The Absolute Basics: Beginners – Preferences

  1. Ugh, found out that my feed browser bar hasn’t been updating your blog for me. Anyway, I use Phoenix, and I wanted to share something. I had to do a clean install the other day which lost all my settings. Sometimes a clean install (installing a viewer after getting rid of all traces of the previous viewer) is necessary. After I went through and adjusted all my settings, I made a copy of a file called settings_phoenix.xml. Now if I have to do a clean install in the future (of Phoenix anyway) I can pop that backed up file in the folder and all my settings will be in the viewer. I am wondering if there is a similar file for V2 that could be backed up.

    1. Great idea, AK! I’ll have to dig around in the V2 folders to see where that file will be.

      I ended up using my old lappy for V2 because I got so sick of my cache being cleared every time I switched from my 1.23-based viewer to the V2 viewer and back again on the powerful desktop, so it’s a bit awkward lugging files back and forth from one computer to another. I’d network them, but the lappy’s running XP and the desktop’s running Windows 7, and apparently neither the twain shall meet, stubborn sods that they are. Thank god for flash drives!

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