Google Earth 5 – Initial Reactions

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).

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.


  1. gary greenwald says:

    there was a link to ‘just’ the google earth 4 program itself without the hidden apps installing themselves, but is there a link to ‘just’ google earth 5 for windows?
    without any windows open i have 14 processes running, just the core components of xp itself, and im going to keep my systems that way, all runs just too flawlessly that way, so i cant have all the google hidden apps running 24/7 for no reason…
    if someone finds google earth 5 installer only, please post to help those of us who love having a smooth system that never hiccups nor crashes….thanks

  2. I work in a school and use google earth for teaching, however I can’t get the update as we only pass traffic through port 8080 so can not connect to the update server (port 80)?! I managed to get around it with the standalone redistibutable for v.4.3 but the lack of standalone has prevented me from showing loads of pupils the new updates.
    Come on google, release a standalone and stop overcomplicating matters.

  3. My link, above, might mislead you. The correct link for the full install package is shown near the bottom of the conversation. You have to click on a link to see all of the posts. Here’s the install file:

  4. “But, I’ve also heard strong reactions in many other areas. Here are some highlights:” Where? 🙂

  5. I keep finding small bugs in various places, sometimes very small (so small that they’re mere oddities). For example, you can switch between Earth, Mars and Sky via the button in the toolbar, but Mars has no such option in the regular drop-down menu (under “View”), where it still says just “Switch to Sky” like in version 4. They obviously forgot to put a “Mars” menu entry there. It’s a rushed, unfinished, undertested, cobbled-together software product.
    The changes to the KML -so I presume- broke a lot of third-party network links. Plenty of them now seem to have trouble loading and showing their respective custom placemark. Elsewhere I mentioned the broken USGS “realtime quakes” icons, other icons too now can’t load properly and make GE use the standard pushpin as a fallback.
    I’m not exactly thrilled about the impression that such issues leave, and really hope they fix that rather sooner than later. As cool as the new features like Ocean and Mars and all that are, I honestly expect a major player like Google to perform much better than this.

  6. I installed GE 5 on three Macs, two PowerPC and one Intel. While all of the installations went smoothly both of the PowerPC machines failed to display any of my (and most other) overlays (pixelated and moire patterned) and they seemed to get hung up displaying Mars (could never get a full view of Mars over layered onto the Earth globe, but the landscape would show up when zoomed in). I downgraded both machines back to GE 4.3 from backup.
    Would recommend to Apple PowerPC folks to wait before upgrading to GE 5 Beta until these issues are resolved.

  7. Google are doing their reputation no favours by imposing the updater by stealth. Far better to give an up front and complete explanation, allow the user to give informed consent, or to opt out.
    If a full explanation can demonstrate that it is as useful as they state very briefly late in the installation process, take up would be high. Otherwise the suspicion remains that the app is monitoring (spying on?) more than the need to update software.
    There seems to be no way to get rid of it except by uninstalling all Google software.

  8. HISTORICAL IMAGERY – Google Lat Long blog anticipates further historical images becoming available across the globe, which is great, but does not explain if and how this will be publicised. Is there any information on this anywhere? Or may be readers of GEB will be posting discoveries of new historic imagery in future – could become quite a pastime.

  9. For what it’s worth, I have quad-core G5 (powerPC), and haven’t noticed any issues in any of the modes of GE5, except for weird draw issues with polygons created in GE4.3.
    I wonder if the issues EMoeller has may relate to the graphics cards instead of the PowerPC chips.

  10. Does anybody know if the ‘water’ can be turned off in the Ocean feature? That is, I’d like to be able to see large-scale topographic/bathymetric features in perspective view but when you tilt the view, the ‘water’ gets shimmerey — which is neat and all, but then you can’t see the sea floor.
    Essentially, I’d like to be able to completely remove the ‘water’. Any thoughts?

  11. Turning off the water
    Brian – Frank explained in his video on Ocean posted on GEB on 2 Feb that you can go to View and turn off ‘water surface’ – although this might not count as “permanent removal” – it’s well worth a look for other features too.

  12. in ref to not being able to turn of the the GE updater. rename C:\Program Files\Google\Update to C:\Program Files\Google\_Update. the underscore is a quick and dirty fix since you break the path for the service, or use regedit and delete all instances of the GE update service.

  13. in ref to not being able to turn of the the GE updater. rename C:\Program Files\Google\Update to C:\Program Files\Google\_Update. the underscore is a quick and dirty fix since you break the path for the service, or use regedit and delete all instances of the GE update service.

  14. Can the Google Updater be disabled by deleting its entry in Schedule Tasks (in Control Panel)? I read that tip somewhere else.
    I really wish Google would just give us the installer without the Updater…

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