This week I had my socks knocked off! Which, after being in the industry for over 25 years, is tough to do. I came across a posting on Slashdot about a new mapping application from Google called GoogleEarth. At first my thinking was that this was just another extension of the already cool Google Maps online. But then I discovered that it was a downloadable client application. Humm. So I took the plunge. Then I lost over 4 hours of productivity for that day. (And I will not mention how much since then.) And everyone I showed it to that day ended up gawking and drooling as well.GoogleEarth is a new application that jumps and bounds over what we used to consider to be mapping applications. GoogleEarth takes the geo topology data from the satellites and turns it into a wide wide mapping application. Not just pretty pictures! But true mapping functionality layered on top of the pretty pictures. As these screen shots can attest, the capabilities of this application are amazing! Some of the incredible features of GoogleEarth are: Pushpins can be added to the map with notes about the location.
Once you have several pushpins, you can right click and select "Directions from this ..." then "Directions to this ...", and receive driving directions between the two points. Then, you can have GoogleEarth drive from point A to point B with the "Play Tour" button. Then drool some more as GoogleEarth flies above the entire course.
Layers, Layers, and more Layers! Want to see all the street names? Just turn on the "Roads" checkbox. How about the local grocery store? Just click on the "Grocery Stores" checkbox in the Layers window. Little shopping carts appear on the map. Just a small sample of what's available in the layers is: City Boundaries, Postal Code Boundaries, Railroads, Water, Coffee Houses, Malls, and much more! Want to see some buildings? GoogleEarth allows you to see computer generated buildings with their true form and shape for various major cities. You should see Las Vegas!
Another great jaw dropping feature is the ability to "Tilt" the perspective. You can change your view all the way down to the surface and then pan around in all directions to get the sense of how things look. I could go on for several thousand words about all the features included in GoogleEarth! Oh, and did I mention that it's FREE?
There are several versions of the application but the Free version is the one that will suit the needs of most individuals. But, for just a minor $ 20 cost, you can add support for GPS, spreadsheet importing, path drawing, and annotations. There is also a $ 400 Professional version which provides the ability to import site plans and use the business related features. The ART of Software Development in GoogleEarth is in the innovation that the Google people have introduced in this technology, and making it available to everyone on the internet. Being able to go and visit a location that you've never been to before, can be a great comfort before going on your planned trips. Or you can just do some virtual sight seeing in exotic locations. I spent over an hour just flying around Hong Kong! GoogleEarth has a very easy to use interface. And the streaming data from their servers was a lot faster than I would have expected for the quality of mapping that's being presented. (I am on DSL.) Keep in mind though that GoogleEarth is CPU Intensive! The faster the PC the better. While GoogleEarth might work with dialup, I expect that the data stream would present some long waits for zoomed in details.
Be forewarned! When you download and start using GoogleEarth, be prepared to spend some time exploring. You'll find yourself going back to it every chance you get, just to explore new areas. And be sure to email me if you see any alien spaces ships at Area 51!
GoogleEarth can be found at: http://earth.google.com