Say what you like about virtual world Second Life—it just keeps spinning on. And now it's getting an official enterprise offshoot, which companies can run on their own server for virtual, corporate, uh, fun. There's even going to be an app store.
Second Life Enterprise went live as an open beta version yesterday, after over a year of work and planning that involved IBM's help in creating a secure, firewalled instance of the virtual world. If you're a company with $50,000 to spare, you can buy it on a dedicated server—a sizable sum that indicates how seriously creators Linden Labs and its prospective buyers will be taking this system.
But what on earth would you use that $50,000 purchase for? On its Web site, Linden explains that 2009 is "a breakout year for virtual collaboration," and we can't argue with that—even Microsoft is taking Office into the cloud and Google's Wave is seen as a collaborative tool. Second Life has the advantages of being a simulated reality; graphics add a degree of realism to communications that systems like Wave just can't match. Linden suggests that, "Virtual worlds are the best alternative to face-to-face interaction," which is really the biggest selling point. One imagines a globally distributed company calling virtual world meetings, presentations or even mass townhall-like congregations to deliver big news to its employees.
To that end, the corporate Second Life comes with seven pre-built environments, including an auditorium and conference centers. Early in 2010, there'll also be an app store, the Second Life Work Marketplace, where you'll be able to buy additional virtual constructs and tools.
If you're skeptical about the benefits of a corporate virtual world, then you should know that many companies already have a SL presence in the open version. Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy are interested in the new one—they are pretty serious players. With more and more corporate tools in the cloud, collaborative working through systems like virtual Office or Campfire, and the environmental and cost benefits from a virtual working telecommuting environment becoming more important, it's just possible your future job may involve strolling the corridors of a virtual office building. Let's hope a virtual water cooler and coffee machine come standard.