Goodbye Old Friend: Implicit Deprecation of the Earth Plug-in

This is a long winded guest post by me, Sean Maday, a guy who spends quality time thinking about maps and pondering about geospatial visualization.

Houston, we have a problem! The technology that brought mainstream 3D geospatial visualization to the web browser is rendering on borrowed time.

It appears that the Google Earth Plug-in is on the brink of deprecation.

Google has not made any official announcements about deprecating the Earth Plug-in, but the Google Chrome team has continued to push forward with their advancement of web standards.

In the Chrome team’s drive for modernization, they have announced that in September of this year Chrome will no longer support legacy plug-ins. As if to leave no doubt, they specifically mentioned our beloved Earth Plug-in.

The world has certainly changed since that day in October of 2008 when the Earth Plug-in was first released to the world. Back then there were no iPads, and Android releases weren’t yet named after desserts. In the time since, mobile has become pervasive and the web has been optimized for small screens; legacy browser plug-ins have become an anachronism.

I am personally still in denial about this harsh reality. I spent many hours of my life developing with the Earth Plug-in and showing off nifty 3D browser-based demos. It is hard to believe that those glory days of visualization are fading to memory.

As I march toward acceptance of this prolific deprecation, I am starting to date 3D technologies  again. I have played with Cesium, but she is rough around the edges and has the usability of an old handheld GPS unit. I have thought about licensing something from a traditional GIS vendor, but can’t justify the expense. In a moment of desperation, I even gave World Wind another, albeit fleeting, look.

None of those options are bad, they are just different, and won’t work for my 3D geo visualization needs.

My sincerest hope is that Google will announce an API for their WebGL instance of the “new Google Maps”. Although, even if a new 3D API is announced soon, I assume it won’t have feature parity with the Earth Plug-in, and won’t support the same instantiation and interaction methods.

That is to say, whatever 3D greatness Google releases next won’t be a plug-and-play replacement for the Earth Plug-in, and will require website administrators to refactor their code and redevelop their current offerings.

In summary, as I reflect back on all of the panning and zooming I have done in the Earth Plug-in, I am comforted knowing that I am a better neogeographer today for having crossed paths with this nifty piece of technology. On a personal level, I really hope that the Earth Plug-in enjoys her retirement.

Afterthought: It is unclear what a one year deprecation policy actually means when an entire class of technology is overcome by external events.

Update: It is important to note that Firefox has also started to distance themselves from NPAPI plug-ins like the Google Earth Plug-in: https://blog.mozilla.org/security/2014/02/28/update-on-plugin-activation/

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.



Comments

  1. ” It is unclear what a one year deprecation policy actually means” … you said it, and in plain English “deprecate” means expressing disapproval, and in an IT context means best avoided or not recommended, so the core premise of this post is not entirely clear.

    Nevertheless, although the plug-in came as part of the last GE update package, browsers now seem wary of plug-ins generally (malware issues?) and use on regular websites seems to have declined, but can any GEB reader point to continuing key applications of the GE plug-in.

  2. Hi, Chris. I think you did a great job summarizing the premise of this post. In spite of the Earth Plug-in continuing to be used, major browsers are quickly deprecating plug-in technology. Chrome is leading the way with the impending release of Chrome 37. With that release, there won’t be a clear solution for providing embedded 3D visualization.

    This is a more complete explanation of the term deprecation as it relates to software:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deprecation

  3. I got tired of this and switched to Firefox last week. It may not help with this problem, but Google kept disabling things I use, and generally annoying me with just about every update for the last year.

  4. Thanks. I felt this coming a long time ago. End of the line for Planetinaction.com I suppose. I am going to have to remove all the plugin stuff.

    Working with the cloud is definitely like building on a swamp. Nothing ever stays the same. Meaning no app will keep working for more then a few years at best.

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