Google Earth 5.0

September 24, 2009 at 3:33 am Leave a comment

With the latest update of its virtual exploration app, Google now lets virtual tourists dive into the ocean, zoom over to Mars, and even travel back in time. The company unveiled Google Earth 5.0 at a recent launch event, which included appearances by Jimmy Buffet and former VP Al Gore, who presented some chilling climate-change imagery that really showed off the ever-growing power of Googles great tool.

Google Earth still lags behind Microsofts LiveSearch Maps when it comes to local search capabilities. I had no problem searching for exact locations with Google Earth, but LiveSearch Maps did a better job of finding locations by keywords, such as a persons name, business, or landmark. I also think that LiveSearchs Virtual Earth 3D provides better 3D renderings of cities than Google Earths comparable 3D Buildings layer. However, Google Earth provides far deeper, richer environments to explore. Its just more fun to use, and the latest version of Googles offering only propels it further ahead of the competition.

Google Earth maps both the ocean surface and the seafloor. Navigation works in much the same way as it does when youre exploring on land, but when you zoom close enough on a body of water youre hovering over, you dip under the surface. At that point, you see a topographical view of the underwater terrain. I found that the interesting areas to explore underwater tended to be coastal areas. In the deeper ocean, I often found myself staring into an endless expanse of blue water. For a really exciting test dive, zoom over to the deepest point in the ocean, the Mariana Trench. You can find the trench off the coast of Guam. If you have the Borders and Labels layer checked, you see the entire length of the trench surrounded by a white border. Or you can simply plug in its latitude and longitude coordinates (11.35,142.2) into Google Earths Fly to field.

Note that your computer needs a fairly robust graphics system to take full advantage of the ocean view. I had no trouble when I used a desktop from the PCMag.com Labs with an ATI Radeon x300 graphics card. But my underwater excursion didnt go as well—and sometimes not at all—when I was piloting the older machine in my cube or my three-year-old MacBook at home.

Google Earth 5.0 offers 21 new layers dedicated to ocean exploration. So, for example, click on Explore the Ocean and you can view articles, images, and video for specific regions. The National Geographics layer lets you put your knowledge to the test by taking a geography quiz. Other layers include Jacques Cousteau, which takes you on a video tour of areas the famous explorer covered, and the cool Animal Tracking, which combines Google Earths ocean exploration with a new touring feature. The amalgam lets you swim along with tagged, satellite-tracked sea animals on their underwater journey. Clicking on an icon of a great white shark off the coast of California let me view the predators movements from its watery perspective as it cruised the Pacific.

The touring feature lets you record and narrate your actions in Google Earth, then save them as a KML file so that you can share your multimedia journey with others. Recording a tour is simple: Click on a small camera icon on the top toolbar, and youll get a control bar from which you can record (as well as play and, of course, stop playing or recording).

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