"Once it's on your platform, behind your walls, it has the same security as any other intranet application," says Steven Russell, a research scientist at Siemens Corporate Research. Siemens employees study product prototypes using OpenSim, an open-source platform that simulates the user interface, content and scripting functionality of Second Life.
According to Candemir Toklu, program manager for knowledge and decision systems at Siemens Corporate Research, when employees represented as avatars are in a common location with the virtual model of a product, they can more easily discuss its appearance, functionality and relationship to its environment-all without incurring travel costs or investing in Star Trek-like hologram technology.
While adoption of virtual environments hasn't taken off yet, Gartner expects secure, business-friendly enterprise platforms will gain in popularity over time. "At some point, I would expect it would be just as natural to pop into a virtual environment as it would be to go on a call or into a conference room," says analyst Carol Rozwell.
Another company that moved from Second Life to OpenSim is Preferred Family Healthcare, a Missouri-based nonprofit substance-abuse-treatment organization with 29 locations serving 12,000 people a year throughout the Midwest. Last year, it received an $865,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services for a substance-abuse project on a private world running OpenSim. "We liked the immersiveness of Second Life, but we didn't like the public nature of it," says Dick Dillon, senior vice president for planning and development. With OpenSim, "no outsiders have access," he says, ensuring the company is compliant with confidentiality regulations.