[UPDATED 2-Nov at 1610]
Google has just released a new Google Earth 4 beta with several new features. On Windows the new version number is 4.0.2416. The Mac version is 4.0.2413. I’ve got a few details on what’s new here, I’ll add more as I learn what else is there. The biggest news is that two features formerly only available in the GE Plus version (which costs $20/year) are now available in the free version. You can now draw paths and polygons with the new free GE 4. Other new features include: new icons for placemarks, faster loading 3D models, improved lighting for 3D models (much better), and printing of driving directions and folders. See Google’s new page about the update.
The time feature implemented in the last version has been refined. You can now slow things down better, you can restrict the time slider to the current folder, and you can now choose “Bounce” for the animation instead of just “Wrap” or “Once”.
The screenshot on the right shows the new icons. The interface provides options to store custom icons for easy later selection. Also, placemark icons that are close together will move apart (with a slick animation) when clicked on allowing you to easily select the one you want.
A very important new feature is that image overlays can now have altitude. This means weather satellite photos and other weather images can be placed above the ground. When you zoom in, the overlay will disappear allowing you to view the ground photos without interference. I really love the “Global Clouds” when you add altitude to it (edit the properties for the Global Cloud image overlay, select “Altitude” and move it up towards space). Very cool!
Google is apparently re-evaluating the line-up of features for all the versions. Last month they added new capabilities to the GE Pro version at no charge. Those of you with GE Plus can probably expect new features in the next release of that version (according to my sources).
This new release makes some important refinements bringing the GE 4 beta closer to readiness for official release. I suspect GE 4 will go out of beta before the end of the year if all goes well with this beta. If you haven’t already downloaded GE 4, you should definitely download it now. Google’s download page doesn’t even encourage downloading the old GE 3 version any more.
[UPDATED 2-Nov at 1610]