I took a look today at Google SketchUp, which will export to collada. Collada is the format for files to be imported as mesh into Second Life once that feature becomes available. SketchUp is a tool that was created by Google to make buildings for use in Google Earth. It is a 3D modelling program specifically made to make buildings. You can download version 7 free. There is a SketchUp 7 Pro version at a price of $495 US, but from what I can see this would be of interest only to those involved in building in the real world for it would permit saving floor plans with text and diagrams that would be of interest to real life builders. The free version will be quite satisfactory to build using mesh import for Second Life.
You can download the program at:
The controls and tools are extremely simple, yet give you incredible control. There is a start up page featuring simple video tutorials at:
I watched a couple and saw immediately how much easier and more intuitive it will be to build using SketchUp than it is to build using prims in Second Life. I have heard some builders in Second Life voice worries that when mesh import goes live, it will render them unable to compete because 3D modeling programs are expensive and generally difficult and time intensive to learn. I would encourage these people to look at the SketchUp video tutorials to set their minds at ease. I would go so far as to predict that the introduction of mesh import, the ease of use and short learning curve of the free program Google SketchUp, and the ability to port buildings made in SketchUp to Second Life, will render building with Second Life primitives obsolete and rarely used.
SketchUp does have some limitations. It will not make organic shapes and so will not be the tool of choice to make animals or clothing meshes. However, for hard geometry it is excellent. It can make not only buildings, but furniture as well.
Linden Labs, please give us mesh import soon!! At least take it to open beta to let us learn and play with it!