Ever wonder what Google has been up to lately? The owners of the largest web search engine in the world recently released the beta of Google Earth – a 3D fully interactive satellite imaging program. Building on their acquisition of Keyhole, a 3D mapping program, Google brings this advanced program to everyone free for personal use.
Downloading Google Earth was surprisingly quick and easy. Google Earth uses image streaming technology, where image data and photographs would download “on demand”. As such, the entire program was only a little over 10MB to download. After a quick installation and a reboot, I had the power to roam the world in my hands.
With Google Earth, you start off with a large image of the globe. From there, it is possible to zoom into anywhere on the Earth. Specifics lie from a country, state, or even a specific house or building.
It doesn’t end there. There are three possible modes – fly to, Local Search, and Directions. Fly to is pretty much self explanatory – the program will fly you to a location you specified once you provide it with a location. For example, I could be looking at the Statue of Liberty. From there, I could type in the address for the White House (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) and it will “fly me” right there. Go site seeing — take a look at the Eiffel tower, some Egyptian Pyramids, or the Great Wall of China. Discover what Buenos Aires look like. Fly to will get you there with virtually no travel time. You are not limited within the United States – it’s Google Earth.
Once you’ve specified a location, you can use Local Search. Local Search is basically yellow pages with a map. If I specify Houston, Texas, for example, I can search for local computer shops, bowling alleys, barber shops, and others.
What I find most useful in Google Earth is when you are traveling. The driving directions mode, like MapQuest and Google Map, provides step by step directions on how to get from point A to point B. However, what makes Google Earth standout from the others is its customizability. Using either local search or “layers”, you can find local restaurants, lodgings, banks/ATMs, or even golf courses all interactively.
While these modes may be useful, you can use Google Earth to just cruise around the globe. You can change your location by dragging yourself around on the map, you can zoom in and out, you can tilt view up and down, and more. With Google Earth’s 3D mapping, you can tilt the view to see skyscrapers and buildings.
You can also save the images you find on Google Earth easily. The images can be saved in JPEG (*.jpg) format.
Unsurprisingly, most of Google’s higher-resolution images tend to be in the United States. Google Earth will fly to New Delhi, for example, but the image of the city is less than impressive. Here, Google depicts a visual representation of which area have high-resolution shots. According to Google, however, more high-resolution pictures are on the way.
While Google Earth is still in its Beta Release, Google offers three versions of the program. The Vanilla Google Earth is free for personal use and gives you the ability to cruise around, find driving directions, or even go site seeing.
Google Earth Plus adds on several features. The Plus version, which is available for a 20 USD monthly subscription, allows reading and tracking waypoints from your GPS, Global Positioning System as well as map drawing tools. It also features higher resolution pictures than seen in the free version. Google considers it a “must have for mapping enthusiasts”.
Google Earth Professional expands even further by including presentation and planning modes. The Pro version costs a hefty 400 USD subscription per year and is designed for commercial and professional users.
While Google Earth is available to anyone for personal use, the system requirements are rather tight. A Microsoft Windows 2000 or Windows XP Operating System, a 500 Mhz CPU, a 16MB Graphics Card, and 128MB of system memory are part of the demanding system requirement. While the typical email/internet user may not have the computing power to load Google Earth, it is a fascinating for anyone – from mapping enthusiast to the ordinary user. I do caution that this is an addictive program – install the program only if you have time to mess around with it.
In all, Google Earth ranks as one of the most feature-rich freeware ever released. It deserves at least 9.5 out of 10 given that it is still a beta with minor flaws.
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