The Earth, brought to you by Google

With the purchase of Keyhole (URL is now redirected) a year or so ago, Google picked up an application that lets you literally “fly” from one place to the next. You can zoom and pan, like with most mapping applications, but you could then enter a “destination” address and the software would zoom back, slide over, and then zoom in to your destination — giving the sense of flying.

Today, they released Google Earth, which raises the bar even further. For starters, the base version is free (Keyhole used to be about $30 for the personal version). They have a “Plus” version, which adds GPS support, basic importing, and some drawing tools, all for $20. For $400 (and up), they have Pro and Enterprise options aimed at business uses.

This version has the ability to view layers, such as restaurants, ATM machines, lodging, and so on. They even give you layers for crime statistics, census data, and congressional districts. You can turn on off roads, political boundaries, and terrain. As you’re viewing the imagery, roads and highways are overlayed on top of the images, which makes it easy to get your bearings (much easier than Google Maps’ satellite view).

Streets are displayed above the image No overlay makes it hard to get oriented
Street names overlayed on the aerial imagery make it easier to navigate Where the hell am I?

The interface is very polished (more so than Keyhole was) and all navigation is smoothly animated (via DirectX). You can rotate, zoom, place pushpins (like bookmarks), print, email, and so on. Perhaps most impressive is that you can tilt the perspective so that the view appears to spread out in front of you (and you see the horizon). I also like how the UI tells you the current altitude of the “eye” — that is, the zoom level you’re currently at is translated into ft about the earth’s surface (see below).

Well, well worth a download. Just plan on a productivity hit while you explore.

Google Earth's Navigation UI