The 3D virtual online community of Second Life is teaming up with the real-world open-source software development community. Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, has announced that it's releasing the source code for its end-user viewer application to bring in new ideas and thinking.

Open-source developers will be able to modify and improve the viewer code and contribute any changes back to the project. The code release is being done under the GPL Version 2.0 licence.

Second Life is a simulated community that allows participants to create virtual lives for themselves and other 'people' using avatars. Registration is free, but users can pay for additional features and more elaborate virtual activities.

Second Life has users in more than 100 countries, according to the company. It uses a development platform called Second Life Grid, which was created by Linden Lab.

Part video game, part real online community, Second Life is also getting attention from real-world companies that are beginning to stake out their own turf in Second Life communities. One US House member, George Miller, last week even joined the Second Life community to brief a group of invitees on the top priorities of the new majority party in Congress.

"We feel we have a responsibility to improve and to grow Second Life as rapidly as possible," said Philip Rosedale, chief executive officer and founder of Linden Lab. "We were the first virtual world to enable content creators to own the rights to the intellectual property they create. That sparked exponential growth in the richness of the Second Life environment. Now, we're placing the viewer's development into the hands of residents and developers as well."

The source code will be available from Second Life's website. The initial open-source efforts are expected to include bug fixes, hardware compatibility improvements and user interface changes.

Linden Lab decided to move the viewer client to open source because Second Life users are very creative and the move will allow developers to add their own creativity, said Cory Ondrejka, chief technology officer at Linden Lab. "We've said before that Second Life makes sense as a fully open-source project. It's somewhere in the future."