Earlier this week, Linden Lab announced on their blog the release of a new feature for the Second Life viewer: "Bakes on Mesh."
In short, Bakes On Mesh is a feature that allows you to apply a server baked texture to a mesh attachment, similar to the way that standard system avatars currently work. Using this feature, you’ll be able to apply several texture layers to customize skin, tattoos, clothing, etc on your mesh object as a single server baked texture without the need for multiple transparent layers.
The major features of Bakes on Mesh were described as:
Any face of a mesh object can be textured using any of the server baked textures.
The corresponding region of the system avatar is hidden if any attached mesh is using a baked texture.
New texture bake channels have been introduced to give more control over how meshes get textured.
A new “universal wearable” is now provided with support for the new texture channels.
The potential benefits of Bakes on Mesh are avoiding the need for appliers, avoiding the need for different layers and therefore needing fewer meshes and fewer textures to display, and allowing the customization of any mesh set to the system by "simply equipping the appropriate wearables, without needing to modify the mesh itself."
There's a new "Bakes on Mesh" channel of threads in the official forums, where people can ask questions, or get some answered. Inara Pey has written an introduction and overview of the new feature. The Slink avatar brand has a FAQ page about "BOM," as some are starting to call it. They have also announced they've been updating their avatars for it as well.
The Slink body parts system has undergone a MAJOR update for Bakes on Mesh. We have gone back to the drawing board on many features and redesigned the whole thing from the ground up. We have streamlined the geometry and texture usage, and removed as much unnecessary overhead as possible. This includes extra onion skin layers that were no longer necessary, and the script system and HUD have been completely redesigned to take full advantage of this opportunity. The end result is that the user experience is easier, cleaner and lower avatar rendering cost, especially in the body bundle packages.
Also the Black Dragon Viewer (and presumably Firestorm) are making BOM updates. Hamlet Au quoted Black Dragon creator NiranV as saying BOM was a much needed feature that would help greatly with avatar complexity and the lag that goes with it, an issue he previously talked about as some avatars have been getting very resource-demanding, "Bakes on Mesh idea is nice and it's a much needed thing, especially with onion layers. This could potentially reduce texture memory usage by up to 75%, and polygon counts too."
But just how fast and how much residents will demand Bakes on Mesh enabled products, and how many and how fast avatar designers update remains to be seen. On older viewers that don't have the feature, what is seen is basically a mess of textures that don't make any sense. As Niran stated bluntly, "BOM doesn't mean jack ... if the creators don't swap for it since the user can't, because all the ... human (avatar) trash content is no-mod."
Sources: Linden Blog, Slink, Modem World, New World Notes