More Thoughts on Google Earth 4.3 (beta)

It’s been over 24 hours now, and many thousands of people have had a chance to download the first beta release of Google Earth 4.3. Read GEB’s first impressions for screenshots and see the GEB video demonstration. Here are some more observations about GE 4.3, including other new features, and some problems reported with the new release (some of which GEB readers have pointed out in the comments to earlier posts):

  • Streaming indicator – the old horizontal streaming indicator which showed the progress of images loading for the current view has been replaced with a small circular streaming “clock”-like indicator. The old one actually showed a numerical percentage. The new one does not. While I understand the desire to not waste the screen with too much information, I would rather have the option to use the old indicator, or have an option to at least show the numerical percentage.

  • Imagery dates – When you move your mouse over imagery, Google will show the dates in the lower right – if dates are available. Google says the dates may only be approximate. And, some of the sources of the imagery did not provide date information. Most of the DigitalGlobe satellite imagery have dates, and are more accurate. I’m quite surprised the Spot Image imagery doesn’t have dates though. Perhaps they are blends of several dates like the Landsat imagery?

  • Mac Flash Support – and Bug – Google has added a frequently requested capability to 4.3 to also support Flash applications inside placemarks, as was done for Windows in 4.2. This means you can now view YouTube videos, and other flash apps on the Mac as well. However, there is a bug with YouTube videos on the Mac. Once you start playing a video, you have to double-click to get the buttons to work (like Pause, the slider, etc.). This needs to be fixed!

  • Mac Atmosphere – The new atmosphere on the Mac is too bright, and obscures the view of the Earth. The transparency/brightness needs to be turned down so it looks like the Windows version when viewed on the same screen.

  • 3D Buildings – As I’ve previously said, the performance in 4.3 is much better than with 4.2. However, some people have reported things are slower. I think this has to do with the increase in the number of 3D buildings, or it may be graphics driver issues (make sure to update your graphics drivers). Older graphics cards are going to be slower with more 3D buildings even with the improvements. After testing on several differently aged computers, my tests show 4.3 to be faster in all cases for 3D buildings with comparable numbers of buildings (most of my computers tend to have faster than average 3D cards though). By the way, I would really like to know how Google acquired several complete cities in 3D with photo textures: Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Oakland, Phoenix, Raleigh, San Francisco – and there may be more (anyone find any others?). Some of these buildings even appear in Tokyo. These are not in the 3D Warehouse – if you put your mouse over these 3D buildings they don’t highlight. It appears the cities may have been at least partially automatically generated. Hamburg also has lots of 3D buildings, but these came from an earlier release from the city itself. One last thing, many new cities also have “gray buildings” (without photo textures) in the new release. [UPDATESee Google’s post about the new 3D buildings.]

  • Sunlight – I generally like the sunlight in this version. It’s obviously designed to make things look nicer in Google Earth, as opposed to accurately portraying the sun and lighting accurately. If that’s the intent, then I wish the atmospheric effects would show more orange and reds when at sunsets/sunrises. There have been reports with some people not getting the expected behavior with the new lighting. It appears there are some graphics driver, or video card incompatibilities with this beta release. If you’re having these problems, make sure to report them at the Google Earth Support Forum. Google has been really good at making GE run on a wide variety of platforms and video cards.

  • Placemarks – This release of Google Earth appears to have a complete re-write of the placemark description bubbles (probably required in order to enable Flash support for the Mac). Some people using less common browsers have reported problems when following links that they don’t open in their browser (e.g. Maxthon).

  • Flight Simulator – The Flight Simulator is no longer an “easter egg”. It is now enabled as soon as you install 4.3. Look under the Tools menu for “Enter Flight Simulator…“. Follow GEB’s Flight Simulator tips for how to use it, or read the new Flight Simulator instructions in the GE User Guide. via UsingGoogleEarth blog.

Regarding beta releases: For Google Earth 4.2, Google only released one beta version before releasing the final version. GE 4.0 had several beta releases before the final version. There are several reports now of things needing fixing for this release – I’m sure Google will take all the reports and implement fixes as quickly as possible. If you’ve got a problem not reported elsewhere, report it at the Support Forum.
Over all, I think this release has some very nice new features. There are several things I would still like to see added in a future version of Google Earth, but the one I want most is: a new user interface for the layers (the current interface makes it too hard to find and use good layers). Google Earth has some really great data, but many people don’t realize the data is there. Plus, Google is constantly moving the layers around trying to help, but that means those of us who use it every day have re-learn the locations. Not only that, those of us who blog about layers have to re-edit old posts to point to the new locations – which is a real pain (I still have dozens I’m sure which point to old layer locations).
Stefan at OgleEarth has some thoughts and ruminations about this release. As I stated in my comments to his post, I think Google Earth’s strength is its ability to share useful information, but also be able to produce beautiful views of the Earth as well. The new features in 4.3 focused on making it look good (new atmosphere, sunlight, and better 3D buildings) are just as important in my opinion as functional features like showing dates for the imagery. They all contribute to its popularity, and usefulness for different applications (whether scientific, presentational, or even artistic).

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. To me, date stamping is the most important new feature. But, the most important thing they took away from me was the use of the Ctrl Up/Down keys to zoom. They swapped the tilt from Page Up / Page Down. As I use a notebook computer, using the keys has been the fastest way to navigate until now. The tilt is a lot less important to me and should have stayed where it was. I wish they’d at least give me an Options menu choice on which keys provide that functionality. Just my two cents.

  2. Ick of the East says

    Perhaps I missed it, but is there some way to keep the day/night divisions of the earth constantly updated to current time? And something that will reset to current time if you have been moving the sun with the slider?
    /yes, I know. The sun doesn’t really move 🙂

  3. Richard, here’s a page describing the new keyboard shortcuts for 4.3 from Google Earth’s User Guide:
    Notice the several different ways to tilt.

  4. I noticed that in Balitmore, the buildings are creditied to “Sanborn” as well as some of the image data also. Anyone know about Sandborn?(besides they used to make fire maps!)
    As far as the Grey Buildings for San Jose are concerned, they have always been in the 3D warehouse, but they were yellow (they are still there if you want to check it out). This was part of the original dataset that the City of San Jose Planning Divisions supplied to Google a couple of years ago. I got a head’s up from the folks at Google that the yellow buildings were going to be incorporated into the “Best of 3D warehouse” and they were looking for shapefiles to convert instead of the SketchUp files that were already in the warehouse. We did not have the shapefiles, so they obviously were able to create the buildings from the existing SketchUp files already there without a problem. I don’t know about the Grey Buildings from the other cities, but Google does have folks contacting variouse agencies looking for any datasets they have.

  5. I have went through the support forums and checked for driver updates, but i still can’t figure out how to get the sun in the atmosphere to work. Like i said, the terrain lightens and darkens, but the sky stays blue and there is no sun. please, someone help. if not can someone email google (i dont have Plus).

  6. Frank – I hope that GE take note of all your constructive comments, though as a Mac user, I don’t quite see the problem with ‘atmosphere’, and the bright horizon looks quite good.
    A new layers interface is the most needed improvement. For example. for some reason I no longer get anything when clicking on the red dots for populated places (a bug?) and they are not in a particularly intuitive place in the layers menu for a check on whether anything has been switched off.
    I have now noticed that, if a starting location with the zoom in is not set, the opening view of the globe progressively lightens from darkness to daylight from west to east, although this is not the natural direction.

  7. Thanks for the insightful comments in your Frank in response to Stefan’s post. I agree with you that 3D buildings add a lot value. The city skyline can provide context and a sense of position and direction. Ultimately Google Earth should attempt to model the real world which is 3D. One feature that you seem to have left out that I really enjoyed is the ability to interact with 3D buildings. Being able to fly to the top of 3D buildings with the right mouse button is particularly compelling.

  8. You’re right concerning the date.
    SPOT imagery are huge, homogenous mosaics, computed with several hundreds of SPOT images. The images composing these mosaics are aquired at different dates, and so the all Mosaic can’t display one date.
    Quickbird data is just a Patchwork of individual images or strips,so each of them has their own date.

  9. GE4.3 is definitely consuming more memory than the prior versions. Significantly more. I guess that is the main reason for the slowdown in performance on some machines. It’s also quite sluggish when loading hierarchical image overlays, whereas the previous GE loads almost immediately.

  10. Hello, Frank,
    regarding athmosphere in GoogleEarth for MacOS:
    with version 4.2 I thought the imagery was too bright or had too little contrast, I always needed to increase the contrast on my MacBook Pro. With the new sunlight feature I don’t need to do this any longer, the sun-related shadows gives the imagery a good contrast.
    As a new mac user I am very happy that there’s flash support for balloons. :)) :))
    Unfortunately there are some things broken… I programmed a network monitoring utility at work and to keep all the placemarks and folders and networklinks usable for my collegues I colored the background of placemarks in the tree with ListStyle and bgColor. This does not work any longer, neither on Win nor on Mac. On GE for Mac I realized, that colored links in balloons aren’t shown as I expect, links are always standard-blue. I also realized a difference in rendering a balloon. I use tables to arrage text and icons and it takes lots of quick resizings of the balloon until it is shown correctly. This is annoying when flying into a placemark location while the balloon is read by the user.

  11. Don’t know if it has been mentioned before in the updates but you can view Munich, Germany in 3D now too.

  12. there is a (new?) feature when you right click on a building (3D Warehouse) you are able to hide the building, which can be useful in some occasions….but how you get it back? Unchecking the 3D Buildings layer and checking it again doesn’t work, only if you close GE and start it again, then the building is there.

  13. Has anyone noticed, and been annoyed by the way that when you zoom out, you get progressivly worse image quality, even though the high quality has been loaded? This didn’t happen before 4.3, and when you have zoomed out a ways, then the images aren’t sharp at all, looks like really low quality jpegs.
    Is there a way to get back old behaviour?

  14. Help — absolutely no html links in placemark balloons/popups will work! When clicked, absolutely nothing happens, whether they’re things that should open in an external browser or right in Google Earth. I’m using WinXP SP2 and IE6. Is IE 7 required for links to work? Can anyone who still has IE 6 try and let me know? I’m loving 4.3, but this makes it unusable! Any ideas?

  15. Figured out what was causing the problem with links in placemarks: Full-screen! Upon exiting fullscreen, it works fine. Even if I then re-enter fullscreen it still works. It’s just a problem when starting up the program in fullscreen initially. Weird bug.

  16. I might be missing something—if I happen to be looking at an area that doesn’t have 3D building information and that has relatively flat terrain, is there still something to be gained with the “Automatically tilt while zooming” option?

  17. Links from placemarks – I posted earlier that I no longer get any response to clicking on populated places (red dots) despite checking all the settings in layers. This is using the Mac version of GE and was an issue before 4.3, but seems to be the only one of its kind. Any explanations and/or tips would be welcome.
    Street view has been buggy – at one point [exit photp’ was shutting down GE entirely, but there seem to have been some fixes.
    Is there any way of raising issues directly with the people at GE? Nothing obvious in the user guide.

  18. Populated places – I posted earlier about the disappearance of information pop ups, but now have the answer after about 30 minutes on the GE help group. GE actually turned off the information in January or earlier because of sourcing problems.
    Maybe I missed the news, but higher profile news items from GE about the changes in layers, including new layers, would be very helpful.

  19. Alistair Roe says

    1. The flight sim “start at current position” doesn’t work – always starts at a height of 25000 feet no matter what.
    2. Quality is terrible – absolutely terrible. Everything is set on highest – even the terrain quality etc. It looks reaaally bad all the time.
    3. It is really slow. I have a fast system (E6850, NV 8800GTS with latest drivers, 2Gb 800Mhz RAM) but the buildings and general terrain are sluggish. (oh and I have 21mbps cable (actual, not theoretical)).
    4. Not stable. It crashes a lot – the old one never used to do that.
    5. Thats it actually, but 5 sounds good.
    So yeah I don’t like it at all and am going to switch back to the old version. There is nothing new for Australian folks.

  20. Alistair, I also discoverd the “Current Position” error in GE 4.3 beta. I’ve been told this will be fixed before 4.3 is finalized.
    I also hope they remove the new “feature” where they turn off the 3D buildings when you turn on Flight Simulator mode.

  21. I found good/bad with the placemark list.
    Good: I can finally click a placemark that I want to move, drag to top/bottom of the list, and the list will scroll. I’ve complained about this forever. Now it works like all other tree lists in Windows.
    Bad: when I create a new placemark, it goes to the bottom of the placemark list. Before, it would go to the top of the list. I suppose this is a matter of taste, and with scrolling now possible, not so bad. But different.

  22. when i download version 4.3 beta on my laptop then click on to the icon the globe appears but a red square with a cross in it appears top left hand corner , has anybody any ideas as to what it is or how to get rid of it please ////

  23. Lindsay Warton says

    Error in directions for a route. Right turn (travelling approx N-W) from New Line Rd into Jenner Rd, Dural, NSW, Australia not possible – have to turn at lights into James Henty Dr.

  24. When I open Google Earth, an update window pops up immediately followed by a Tips window. These freeze my computer and I can’t get rid of them and I have to force quit Google Earth.
    t happens every time, rendering Google Earth Useless.
    How do I get rid of the popups?

  25. OK I want a red balloon to appear above my business address with the name of my business there. How do I go about it. Please help – and if possible give me information in simple easy sentences – I am crap at anything more complicated than basic surfing the net, Word and Excel.
    Thank you

  26. I bought the google earth plus and i don’t understand how to download it. The download does not ask for my username or License Key…Also when I looked at my house, it is not current at all. We have had a pond for several years and its not showing that. Please help…………. I am trying to get an upto date pic of our hunting area. I live in Southeast Georgia.

  27. How do I get rid of the different colored squares that show up until you zoom in please help me it is driving me crazy. thanks

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.