Google has unveiled a major upgrade to Google Earth, its 3D earth visualization and education product. New features allow users to explore under the surface of the ocean, look back through time, and even visit Mars, so we had to take it for a spin.
Google announced a new version of Google Earth today with features that focus on what is under our ocean, in our past, and above our heads. Ars Technica did some vicarious adventuring to check out the new features.
Google Earth 5.0 (beta) is available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux users, though we should note that Google has become even more aggressive with the installation of its software update mechanism. Instead of covertly installing the software like it has in the past or offering the option to disable said updater like it should, Google now presents a dialog that forces the user to agree to the software license and installation of a phantom software update tool that cannot be uninstalled if the user wants to run Google Earth. But let's not dwell on the negatives, because there is a lot to love about this new version.
Initial gripes aside, Google Earth 5.0 exhibits yet more UI refinements and polish that bring it more in line with Google's other desktop software. One of the most interesting features of this release is the introduction of an interactive ocean. While Google Earth has featured large blue bodies of water for some time and basic, 2D topological details, version 5.0 allows users to dive below the surface and explore a 3D, bathymetric map of much of the ocean's floor. Users can simply keep zooming into the world's oceans and many large seas, and wherever depth details begin appearing, continue to zoom in past the ocean surface and orient one's view to start swimming.
The third major feature in this release brings Google's choice of keeping the "Google Earth" name into question, as users can now blast off and explore Mars. Thanks to a collaboration with NASA, users can now select "Mars" from a new planetary menu in Google Earth's toolbar to visit the red planet.
Not a lot of great terrain data is available for Mars, but Google did manage to add a number of content layers such as key places and landmarks, featured satellite imagery, daytime/nighttime infrared shots, and even "A Traveler's Guide to Mars" that includes excerpts from the book of the same name.
Make a movie
The last major notable feature of this release is a new "Touring" feature that allows users to record a trip through Google Earth. Toggle a simple recording tool on, and you can begin clicking previous locations, typing in new ones, and manually adjusting your view to create a 3D recount of a road trip or a prospective honeymoon. A voice recording option allows you to narrate the trip while you create it, but everything needs to be done in real time and in one single take; there is no pause button while recording nor is there a way to string together multiple tours.
There is also no way to export a tour to some kind of video file for sharing, and they cannot be uploaded to something like Picasa Web Albums. Tours, as far as we can tell, live entirely inside one's local copy of Google Earth. The feature is still fun and useful, but we would love to see this sharing drawback resolved soon. To get a grasp of these features in action, check out Google's video demo of Google Earth 5.0's highlights embedded below.
Overall this is a very welcome upgrade to what is already a wonderful piece of software. Google Earth now offers an engaging and useful view of what is on, below, and beyond our world. We can't wait to see more planets, more water, and more ways to share these virtual experiences.
Source: ars technica