Linden Blog as well as The Arch have covered the soon to be released sky simulator in Second Life currently known as Windlight. In a press release Linden Labs, the makers of Second Life, state that they have acquired WindLight®, an advanced atmospheric rendering technology; Nimble™, a realistic 3D cloud simulator; and associated intellectual property and interests. Following this acquisition, Linden Lab will open source Windward Mark's leading graphics technology and integrate it into the Second Life Viewer software, bringing striking visual realism to Second Life.
The movie below demonstrates an early beta release:
Windward Mark Interactive was founded in 2003 by five Harvard University students looking for a better way to create real-time worlds. Working with professors at Harvard and MIT, the team developed revolutionary rendering algorithms that paved the way for its current technology.
The integration of a more advanced atmosphere simulator should be welcomed in Second Life as one of the hold ups in using it in a professional capacity is often how the render engines looks when demoing work at conference or in the office environment.
People are used to high end 3D Max renders or console quality graphics in towards urban visualisation world. Second Life has made a move in the right direction, hopefully the lighting will move to the actual objects in the world as a next step.
The introduction of real-time shadowing, not unlike those in Oblivion, would make a lot more architecture and visualisation companies sit up and take notice. At the moment Second Life is seen by some as a bit of a gimmick - whereas it has the capacity to be a genuinely useful tool.