Google Earth 5 was released on Monday February 2nd. Overall, it appears the reaction globally has been very positive. Lots of excitement over the four major new features: Ocean, Recorded Tours, Historical Imagery, and Mars. Many other significant features have been discovered in the last two days especially for developers.
Here are some notes on initial reactions so far to Google Earth 5:
Installation – There have been some discussions in the past about the Google Earth installation process. When installing Google Earth (and many other Google applications), Google has been installing an application called “Google Updater” which runs on your machine in the background checking periodically for updates. It will automatically notify you when an update is available and give you the choice of installing updates. This applies to both Windows and the Mac versions of Google Earth now. Now, when you first download Google Earth from their web site, it notifies you about the application. Some people would prefer to just download the application itself and install it themselves. Overall, there have been few reports I’ve seen with other installation problems (considering the number of people installing GE).
New User Interface – Google has made some changes to the look compared to GE 5. The most obvious being new buttons at the top, and new sliders for time animation, historical imagery, and record tours. I’ve seen some positive reactions to the more “Mac-like” look on the Mac. There haven’t been any wide-spread complaints to date on the other changes.
Historical Imagery – Probably the strongest general user reaction has been over the historical imagery. People are literally “wowed” by the ability to turn back the clock and look at places over time from an aerial perspective. But, I’ve also heard strong reactions in many other areas. Here are some highlights:
Mars – probably the second-most popular addition is the Mars mode. This new feature seemed to surprise a lot of people. There have been other Mars virtual globes (WorldWind and Celestia). But, the new Google Mars has a lot of nice features and is rich with annotations, imagery, 3D terrain, and photos. I know several people in the space program who are thrilled with this new popular tool for Mars.
Ocean – The most-anticipated new feature has also been very popular. Many people are thrilled to see such a popular application help raise awareness about the world’s oceans and some of the threats to the ocean environment. I hope lots of people will go beyond the 3D bathymetry and explore the new “Ocean” layers which contain very important information about overfishing, rapidly melting ice at the poles, man-made environmental threats, and other issues facing the oceans. See this nice CNN story about the new GE 5’s Ocean data.
Recorded Tours – There are new tours coming out which are beginning to show the power of Recorded Tours. Anyone can make a recorded tour, but developers have new features that enable some amazing ways to demonstrate Google Earth to people. I’m expecting this will end up being the most used new feature in GE 5. Google also had Jimmy Buffet show up at their announcement and they produced a tour showing Jimmy Buffet’s concert tour!
For Google Earth developers, here are a few reactions:
Changes to KML – to enable some of the new features in GE 5, Google had to make extensions to the standard KML. However, some have expressed concerns that Google has done this, saying it will be harder for other companies to adopt the standard if Google changes it. Google has heavily documented the changes, they say they’ve used provisions provided by the KML standard to make changes. And, they’ve updated libkml for the new features. I would expect they would like to see these new extensions become a part of the standard in a future update.
Internal Browser – Google has improved the support of browser features in placemarks. You can now include iFrames, and most other features in placemarks. This means you can have more sophisticated HTML content and user interfaces inside Google Earth. I expect there will be some powerful new ways to interact with Google Earth as developers get a chance to take advantage of this new capability. One example is the new Mars easter egg with Meliza.
Altitude Mode – there have been some concerns expressed about being able to render KML undersea (see discussion in comments to this post). Some files seem to work just fine, but developers are asking questions about the implementation.
Record Tour – Lots of excitement by developers with the new Record Tour. Many of us have been waiting for some type of “scripted” capability to share experiences and show things to people with Google Earth. Many developers have lauded the new features and shown a lot of excitement about the possibilities. I’m sure there will be some initial issues as this is a new feature. But, I’m sure Google will listen and address shortcomings in future updates. Expect to see a lot from developers using this new powerful feature.
Developers should also make sure to check out these posts: (GEB, OgleEarth 1, OgleEarth 2, GoogleGeoDeveloperBlog).