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. [UPDATE – See 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).