Linden Lab says it hopes to have a public beta of the Second Life 2.0 viewer in February, presumably targeting an official release in March. Given that the Lab wants to move forward with quarterly planned viewer releases, this means that the current Second Life 1.23 viewer will lose official support at approximately the end of June.
Linden Lab says it has already finalized features and the user-interface at this stage, and is not planning on making any substantive changes between now and release. Any work beyond bug-fixes and stabilization for the viewer is to be deferred to the mid-year 2.1 release.
Linden Lab professes that Viewer 2.0 (called Second Life 2.0 and Viewer 2009 at various times by the Lab) will be the most stable, newbie-friendly, usable and discoverable (that is, you can find out how to do something that you want to do) viewer that it will have ever released.
Linden Lab is sending out invitations to a preview phase where some number of users are invited to participate in a closed beta on the new viewer, presumably to get any lingering installation or operational showstoppers seen to before the public beta. Or maybe the preview phase actually is the public beta. It isn't really clear at this time.
That's all being handled under non-disclosure agreements, and apparently kicks off in the second week of February.
Viewer 2.0 apparently uses a radically different user-interface to any viewer we have seen before, so it's anyone's guess as to what the existing users will make of it. The main improvements in this viewer aren't really targeted at existing users, however. We'll be interested to see both the viewer and the reaction to it.
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