Random Access   chris, kp & rob
In The Lab
Global Domination... Using Maps
by chris
Pinky and the Brain

Pinky: What are we going to do tomorrow night, Brain?
Brain: The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world! (Bwaa Ha, Ha, Ha...)

Pinky and the Brain© are Warner Brothers® cartoon characters
There are currently three big players in global viewing, and all have the additional benefit of being able to do it on a budget, a.k.a. "free." The ones I explored are Google Earth 4 (Beta), Microsoft's Live Local (and their Virtual Earth 3D Beta), and NASA's World Wind (1.3). Each of these web-intensive viewers allows you to examine most earthly locations with map and satellite photo views, and in the case of NASA, some other-worldly ones.

Let me start with some web links, and then you can come back to read more. (Read slowly, downloading may take some time, even with broadband Internet access...) In addition to the application itself, these applications continually download map and image detail as you move around or change the point of view.

  • Google Earth can be found at http://earth.google.com/ Download to install = 14.1 MB. (Google is the only one of the three with a Macintosh version.)
  • Microsoft Live Local can be found at http://local.live.com/ (You will find the link to download and install Virtual Earth 3D, or can use the interactive map/aerial/hybrid views in the browser window.) Download to install = 508 KB.
  • NASA World Wind can be found at http://worldwind.arc.nasa.gov/ Download to install = 58.8 MB. Some map detail files can be downloaded and installed to provide much of the general image data. The rest of the detail is acquired as you browse the globes or zoom in. The Configuration includes a restriction on how much hard drive space to use for data, the default on my system was set to a maximum of 10 GB.
Google Earth
Google Earth
LocalLive Earth
Microsoft Local Live
NASA Earth
NASA World Wind
Moon Mars Jupiter
Google Earth, Microsoft Local Live Virtual Earth, and NASA World Wind allow you to explore planet Earth. World Wind also installs virtual 3D tools for exploration of the Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and portions of the celestial sphere with Sloan Digital Sky.

All three applications have lookup features that allow the user to locate a particular landmark, point of interest, or street address. What makes these more interesting than a simple map or route-finder product is that they offer aerial or satellite photographic views of locations, or a combined map with the photo overlay. By taking advantage of your video card's 3D graphical capabilities, they also allow you to alter your relative position to view many landscape features with 3D perspective. Microsoft Local Live Virtual Earth will often look like something out of their Flight Simulator game when you explore many of the larger US cities (as they frequently suggest, this is "by design" and is probably based on some of the same technology).

Google Pyramids Local Live Pyramids NASA Pyramids
Each of the three can display photographic views of terrestrial landmarks such as the Egyptian pyramids. In this example, Google Earth reveals the most detail of the three. Cities in the US are much better covered (higher level of detail) from the aerial photo standpoint as seen in the following views of the Las Vegas Luxor Pyramid. From left to right: Google Earth, Microsoft Local Live, and NASA World Wind.
Google Luxor Pyramid Local Live Luxor Pyramid NASA Luxor Pyramid

Local Live Virtual Earth 3D
Switching to a 3D view with Local Live Virtual Earth generates a 3D perspective of many Las Vega Landmarks looking like a snapshot from Microsoft Flight Simulator. Notice the floating product advertisement "billboard" in the far background; similar 3D banner ads will appear in other city views.

Some additional features available in these applications incorporate real-time data to allow you to view such things as current construction or traffic delays (Live Local) or cloud cover (World Wind). Google and Live Local have the ability to locate specific address locations and provide travel routing to your destination. In fact, the Local Live street maps look very much like Microsoft's Streets & Trips or MapPoint products.

The Local Live US map has much the same look and detail as Microsoft Streets & Trips or MapPoint.

Now, if you want something to take with you, several products are available -- although they may lack the fancy rendered buildings and recent satellite photos. Microsoft Streets & Trips is available with a bundled GPS device, or you can use your own with one of the software-only versions mentioned above. Both Streets & Trips and MapPoint allow you to export map details to a Windows mobile PDA or Smartphone, including places and landmark detail. Well known for topographic maps and street guides, Delorme Topo USA products provide some of the same features, although their aerial images must be downloaded. For 3D topography, check out National Geographic's 3D Globe.

Watch your install options; like many other "free" applications, the setup utilities want to make a few Internet browser changes as well. Google Earth wants to install the Google Toolbar and make Google your default search engine, and Virtual Earth wants to make Live Local your Home Page and your default search page.

System Requirements

Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D

  • Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack2, Microsoft Windows Server2003, or the Windows Vista operating system
  • Windows Internet Explorer version6 or 7, with security settings set to enable or prompt Microsoft ActiveX controls
  • A video card with 32MB or greater video memory that is compatible with Microsoft DirectX9
  • Hardware acceleration must be set to Full


  • Broadband connectivity

Google Earth (free version)

PC System requirements:

  • Operating System: Windows 2000 or Windows XP
  • CPU: Pentium 3, 500Mhz
  • System Memory (RAM): 128MB
  • Hard Disk: 400MB free space
  • Network Speed: 128 Kbits/sec
  • Graphics Card: 3D-capable with 16MB of VRAM
  • Screen: 1024x768, "16-bit High Color"

PC Recommended:

  • Operating System: Windows XP
  • CPU: Pentium 4 2.4GHz+ or AMD 2400xp+
  • System Memory (RAM): 512MB
  • Hard Disk: 2GB free space
  • Network Speed: 768 Kbits/sec
  • Graphics Card: 3D-capable with 32MB of VRAM
  • Screen: 1280x1024, "32-bit True Color"

Mac System requirements:

  • Operating System: Mac OS X 10.3.9
  • CPU: G3 500Mhz
  • System Memory (RAM): 256MB
  • Hard Disk: 400MB free space
  • Network Speed: 128 Kbits/sec
  • Graphics Card: 3D-capable with 16MB of VRAM
  • Screen: 1024x768, "Thousands of Colors"

Mac Recommended:

  • Operating System: Mac OS X 10.4.5
  • CPU: G4 1.2Ghz
  • System Memory (RAM): 512MB
  • Hard Disk: 2GB free space
  • Network Speed: 768 Kbits/sec
  • Graphics Card: 3D-capable with 32MB of VRAM
  • Screen: 1280x1024, "Millions of Colors"

NASA World Wind 1.3

Shop Online:
Microsoft Streets & Trips
Microsoft MapPoint
Delorme Topo USA
National Geographic's 3D Globe

Google Earth
NASA World Wind
Microsoft Local Live

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