I am sure you have seen all these presentations with screenshots of Second Life and have wondered as to why anyone in their right senses could possibly want to spend time in a world which looks like as if it is made out of very bad quality cardboard! The reason is very simple: For the most part novices do not know how to figure out their preferences or simply do not care to spend the few minutes that it takes to fix this very basic issue.
So, before you even login for the very first time, look on the top left hand corner of the viewer where you will see a small menu. Click on Edit and then preferences.
I will start out with what I think are the most important ones, which are your graphics settings, and then further down I will also show you some other ones which you may need as well.
True, the level of your graphics settings will depend upon you hardware, more specifically your graphics card. However, if your machine is less than 3 years old you should be able to get a decent display. The very first thing to do is to set your native screen resolution to as high as it will go - as an example, mine is 1920 x 1080. Once you have taken care of this, go back to the viewer, to Edit and Preferences and then Graphics and check the Advanced options box which you will see there. Then follow the instructions on the lower image above as closely as you can. What you should not sacrifice above all else are the shaders. Make sure that all 4 are checked.
Where you can compromise are the draw distance number and the particle count and the non-imposters. The water reflections should ideally show "all avatars and objects" but if that proves to be too much you can also select all static objects from the pulldown menu. Enabling the shaders is what will make the world three dimensional as nothing else will. I will talk more about the atmospheric shaders later but in addition to the 3D feeling these will also give you different skies, lights and atmospheric conditions and "mood". In short, the graphics settings are the difference between a flat drab world and one that holds light!
And a word of advice from wonderful Snoopy Pfeffer, our valiant service provider: If your machine is older than 3 years make sure that your hardware is up to the task of displaying everything in the way in which I have described above. A good way of figuring out if you are doing OK is by occasionally checking out what the Statistics Bar (found under the View menu - please look at screenshot here >>>) is telling you through your framerate. Ideally this value should not go below 30 fps, and 15 fps is the absolute lowest acceptable minimum. So, if you are falling below that you may yet need to compromise with the above values. :-\
And now, onto the other ones:
The General tab is fairly self explanatory. The only thing to be mindful of with this one is to keep the GoAway/AFK box unchecked so that your avatar can always stay in-world fully alert.
The important thing to know about the network tab is the Clear Disk Cache button, which you may need to press on occasion and then log off and relog so that your cache can get cleared. This will improve performance and stability.
With the Audio tab, please remember to check the wind generator box. This will create an ambient sound effect which is similar to wind. Research in this area gives substantial evidence that what immerses us in virtual environments is sound. Not music - but simply a sound which simulates the spatial sound of the physical world. So, having this active will indeed make you feel more "there" in the world in which you are immersed. Another thing is to set the interface sounds as low as you can get them to be, without sacrificing message alerts, since the click clack sounds of the interface are very loud and annoying indeed.
On the camera tab it is important to check the two boxes which disable camera constraints. And then the camera angle you can experiment with to move closer in or out of the back of the avatar and also to decide upon transition time and smoothing. I tend to keep both of these last two very low since heightened values tend to make me somewhat seasick. But if this doesn't affect you the higher values will actually give you rather nice motion effects.
And finally skins: Given that the world itself is already very colorful I prefer skins which do not add to the color but stick to the dark, grayscale ones. But obviously this is a matter of preference. So, I am putting this shot in here just to let you know that you do have the choice. (Note: I am noticing that in the newest release of Imprudence they are back to the two basic skins, which are top ones - so currently you do not have these extra choices - ouch!. I am still keeping this image however, since you never know, and they could easily go back to more choices in upcoming releases ;-)