Disclaimer! I'm not a coder, please remember that as you read this. The limited amount of understanding I have on this subject is based on conversations with others and some online research. What I do have is an imagination and the apparent need to extrapolate from tiny bits of things to create full blown "what if" scenarios. All of the inaccuracies and misunderstandings and sheer foolishness contained herein is mine own and nobody else is to blame.
Mojito Sorbet brought this to my attention - and frankly if it was written in greek I'd have no less chance of understanding it. But she and Gentle Heron spoke long enough to give me glimmers of hope for something I think could have a lot of potential. My attempt to contact Dzonatas Sol was in vain (wildly conflicting schedules), however my scripter friend Cris Lefavre spent some time trying to steer me in the right direction (remember none of them are responsible for my lack of understanding).
At the moment, those with the necessary technical abilities can create a Third Party Viewer with the functionality they feel is missing from the Linden Lab offerings and, assuming they clear some hurdles, make it available to the residents of Second Life. I can remember T Linden talking about V2 and saying that people could create a different version of the viewer for different categories of users (such as builders). I had an image of my desktop with multiple viewers for different tasks and tried to see how flipping between them was going to be a positive experience. I failed miserably.
SnowStorm 375 (as I understand it) is concerned with creating code which hooks into the main viewer and offers functionality that way. There are limits to what can be achieved with this right now - but I think it will be expanded given the creativity of SL residents. Imagine if instead of somebody compiling a new viewer to provide some functionality they created an "app" or "plugin" for your regular viewer. Imagine if hundreds of technical wizards did that and Linden Lab could continue to work on the platform and simply (well nothing's simple but you know what I mean) offered and maintained the "hooks" for your specialized app.
One of the many problems with the demands for tools and functionality in the viewer is that, as important as these requests are to the community with the need, they might not be a high priority for the whole user base. So getting the biggest bang for the buck out of limited resources would require LL to work on those things which improve life for the most of us. This leaves many of those requests, much like orphan diseases, to languish without the attention they deserve. But what if the technical resources in those communities, or technical wizards willing to support those communities, could create solutions for those who needed/wanted them and make them available without having to compile a new viewer?
I doubt that the number of potential "apps" would rise to the level of the iPhone offerings but over the years there could be an extensive range of tools developed and we users could pick and choose the ones we wanted.
There are a lot of inherent security issues with this approach I'm sure. But there again the Apple model might be useful. I can forsee a category in the Marketplace for "Viewer Apps". One which only included those whose developers had submitted them for approval - I'm guessing there would be a way to ensure that non-approved plugins would not be able to function with the main viewer (or maybe I'm just hoping that's true).
So there's my wild-assed vision of the future. One viewer. A stable and powerful viewer with a range of apps available for tools and specialized functionality. I obviously had too much time on my hands this week. :)