Some information in this guide may be outdated; credit for all content below the line goes to the author of the old version. I'll be rewriting it from scratch soon (...maybe) with updated info.
GETTING SET UP (viewer and shit)
- Don't use Exodus, it's discontinued (I think?) and outdated. Use Firestorm if you're just looking for a quick, commonly used, well-maintained suggestion. http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Third_Party_Viewer_Directory Go here if you want to see the options and pick one yourself. Singularity is also good, has some stuff Firestorm doesn't and potentially runs better in some cases, but lacks some QOL features and uses an oldschool interface, which old users are more comfortable with but new users might take issue with.
- Set up your Preferences.
-- In most viewers, on the first page (General), there's an option in the upper-right corner, "Pressing letter keys:". It generally defaults to "Starts local chat", and you'll probably want to set it to "Affects movement (i.e. WASD)" instead. This is 100% less annoying for you and all parties involved.
-- In the Network & Cache page, just crank Maximum Bandwidth all the way up; it's an archaic setting that you'll never have problems with now.
-- In User Interface, you'll probably want to uncheck "Use Pie Menu" unless for some reason you actually like the hideous design abortion that is the radial menu (just rightclick the ground anywhere to see it if you want to check it out before making a decision), but most people would probably prefer a normal modern-style dropdown kinda rightclick menu.
- Other stuff. I don't know, I'll figure it out later. This plus asking questions in the thread/group will get you started.
List of various free shit: http://pastebin.com/DLud7DyM
^ hasn't been checked lately, some of it is very likely outdated, will probably be scrapped for the updated version and replaced with general advice on finding free shit on the MP and in-world (lucky chairs, group gifts/freebies, etc) since that's a lot more useful
#What is there to do on Second Life?
You can just hang around. You can be a griefer (but don't do that on an account you spent money on), visit places, roleplay, go to live concerts, fuck, and lots of stuff I'm forgetting about. If you are skilled in 3D, animation, coding or texturing, you can make money.
#Picking a Viewer
Your Viewer is basically a SL client. Linden provides one, but it is generally thought to be shit. There are dozens of alternative Viewers, you can find a list here: http://www.sluniverse.com/php/vb/alternative-sl-clients/48834-chalices-list-sl-clients.html. I personally use Exodus, it offers more graphic options and a better performance than most Viewers. Most people have Firestorm.
Do NOT use a V1 viewer unless your PC is absolute shit and you run at 2 FPS on the lowest settings (man, you should really buy a new gig). They are outdated as fuck.
#How to look decent for free/cheap:
First of all, stop going to these cheap ass freebie sims. Most of the stuff you'll find here is very outdated and looks like shit. You'll mostly want gifts from stores and hunts (I'll explain that later). Also, if you want anything more than a generic good looking female/futa you may have to be very patient until a related hunt starts or pay. However, if you follow this guide, you can still end up with a unique AV for 5$.
My biggest source for free stuff is a blog, http://fabfree.wordpress.com/. They showcase free articles daily for both genders, though some of the stuff they use is not free, so if something catches your eye, be sure to read the whole article. Don't go too far in date either; many freebies are limited in time, so you may never find them at all. If you roleplay or want a fantasy AV, you can also go to a RP sim; they usually have a few outfits in their hub.
Usually, freebies require you to join a group (usually explained in store), or go to a hunt. Joining a group is easy, just find the big box with the store's name on it that usually says something like "STORE UPDATE GROUP CLICK HERE TO JOIN" and shag the free stuff. Hunting is harder. Hunts are limited-time themed events that make you look in small nooks and crannies in a store for free/cheap stuff; they usually have one hint per store and a group so you can ask for help if you can't find a hunt item.
There is also another way. The Marketplace (https://marketplace.secondlife.com/) has a few free items; many are demos, which means you'll basically be a walking ad if you try to run around with it, but there are some gifts too. To find them, sort by Best Selling, with price 0 to 0.
Also, if your account is brand new, many stores offer gifts for AVs that are less than a month old. You can start with http://fabfree.wordpress.com/fabfree-30-days-list/
Finally, you own all of the starters avatars. They're in your inventory, in the Library folder written in blue. I wouldn't use them fully, unless you want to look like the SL equivalent of a Steve, but using some parts will save you some time.
Some things you can easily get are:
-Hair: for girls, http://fabfree.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/50-free-hairstyles/
-Modern or Gor outfits
-Objects for objectheads
IMO, a shape is something you should make yourself. It's both easy to do and tricky to succeed at. My AV is 2 years old, and I still modify it from time to time. However, no shape looks good if it is not proportional, and SL does not help at all with proportions; in fact, the starter avatars are not proportional at all. If you want a good-looking body, read http://pennycow.blogspot.fr/2011/08/matter-of-proportion.html. For heads? It's basically slider-fu, tinkering about until you find what you like. If you're really lost, pick a celebrity/model and try to imitate their head. NOTE: make your shoe size 0 or shoes will go through your feet.