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Software Review: Google Earth

downtown Portland, Oregon

Um, can you say, "Without a doubt, the most awesome program I've ever seen to date"? Try it, but be creative in doing so. Maybe speak in a german or russian accent. If you succeed in replicating my quote, you will be referring to none other than Google Earth. This is an absolutely incredible map program, making even NASA's equivalent program seem almost like a joke (yeah, I downloaded that one also some time ago, but it doesn't serve me much purpose, so I uninstalled it). As far as I am concerned, this is the ultimate, and all other map sites are totally obsolete. Even for road maps and driving directions, this program is far superior. Of course if you just want a quick map of directions and don't have Google Earth installed, Google Maps will suffice. Just as long as you don't use MapQuest, Yahoo, Expedia, or others that don't even compare to Google Maps, let alone Google Earth. Perhaps the program's only "fault" is that you must have a high speed internet connection because the map data is pulled from a server. I hardly consider this a fault because I don't want (nor can I) terabytes of information on my harddrive. Besides, I was pleased with the relatively fast redraw times and smooth movement on my computer (granted, I have a pretty good computer).

Some of the amazing features Google Earth offers:

  • Extremely high resolution satellite mapping of entire earth with super-detailed images of major metropolitan areas - you can quite easily find your house or apartment! (if you live in a major U.S. city, or several international hotspots)
  • Topographical 3D land: find your favorite mountain or valley and see it precisely as it appears in real life.
  • Select 3D buildings in major cities: This is absolutely incredible! See each and every building in three dimensions and view form any conceivable angle.
  • Outstanding camera angle control: If you have a decent computer with a high speed internet connection you can zoom from a view of the entire planet until just your house fills the screen in just seconds. The selective rendering system has amazing intelligence and prioritizes redrawing the elements you are focused on. The camera can be tilted and rotated so you can literally fly inside a canyon or between buildings downtown.
  • The best road maps anyone has ever seen: As you zoom in closer, street shapes and names are automatically smoothly faded into view with increasing detail. Labels are placed perfectly and easy to read.
  • Driving directions: See every twist and turn from point A to point B. With the perfect satellite imagery and 3D landscape, you can literally trace your path through every familiar landmark, making it fabulously easy to see where you are going.
  • Virtually innumerable useful layers to turn on and off at will, including a vast database of the following:
  1. roads, public transit and railroads: with every detail and visibility than most or all other mapping software out there
  2. dining, coffee houses: restaurants - I was impressed to find an incredible number of restaurants in my local area, not just the ones that pay to advertise, like on some map sites
  3. lodging
  4. banks/ATMs
  5. malls/shopping centers, major retail stores and bars/clubs
  6. grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and movie rentals
  7. golf, parks, stadiums
  8. schools, churches, cemeteries
  9. borders of various kinds
  10. plus a ridiculous number of other layers, enough to make this blog entry WAY too long!
  • The ability to mark places anywhere in the world using unique icons and plot paths between them; when you double click on a place, the program beautifully animates the movement from wherever you started until you are zoomed nicely on your destination
  • Save, print and email screenshots
  • Measure the distance between two points
Manhattan Island, New YorkGrand Canyon in 3D

Google Earth allows paid users to join a network where they can upload places and other information in order to vastly increase the available information. It is a pretty incredible idea, and I suppose is the first step towards having a fully viewable 3D model of the entire planet. It is really trippy to zoom from planet level all the way to walking between skyscrapers!

Note: the screenshots I provided are cool, but they do no justice to scaling, zooming and rotating very smoothly inside a 3D world! Check it out for yourself. For the functionality, the program is a modest 10MB download.

Visit the Google Earth site:

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