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It seemed as if just about everyone in my workplace was talking about a new Internet application called GoogleEarth, and so not wanting to feel left out I decided to give it a try for myself. Since downloading Internet programs at my workplace is forbidden this was done on my home PC.
For those of you who have not yet heard of GoogleEarth then I will begin by saying that it a website where you can view an image of any location in the world from a satellite picture. This basically means that you can look at an aerial view of your house or neighbourhood or take a look at what the Statue of Liberty or the Grand Canyon looks like from above. Since it is possible to zoom right into your chosen option you can even dream that you are in a Helicopter flying over these famous landmarks that you have always longed to visit.
The first thing that that you have to do when you visit the GoogleEarth website which is located at http://earth.google.com is download a 400MB program to your hard drive. This caused me a little bit of concern since I cannot get Broadband where I live and therefore only have a basic dial up connection, but in actual fact it only took about 15-20 minutes to download itself.
The program that I downloaded was the free version but there are two other versions available. These are GoogleEarthPlus available at a cost of $20 or GoogleEarthPro at a cost of $400. GoogleEarthPlus provides you with images that are updated on a regular basic and better printing options whilst the Pro version is designed for commercial use and offers many advanced options.
There are a few basic requirements that your PC will need to meet to enable you to successfully download the program and these are clearly set out on the homepage. These include the following:
Minimum Processor speed of 600 MHz Minimum RAM of 128 MB Minimum Screen Resolution of 1024x768 (32 bit colour) Minimum Internet connection speed of 128 Kbps
It also advises you that if you are on a Dial Up connection then it is unlikely to work. However I have experienced only a few problems and I have looked at this site at my friends house on a Broadband connection and I have not noticed any difference, maybe this is because my PC is less than six months old.
EXPLORING THE WORLD
Once you have successfully downloaded the installation and opened it the first thing that you see on the screen is a three dimension picture of the Earth, as you imagine it from Space with the Continents and Oceans clearly visible.
At the left hand side of this image there is search box where you type the name of the location where you want to visit. A good place to start is by taking a look at the place where you live and this is done easiest by simply typing in your Postcode, if you live in the UK, or Zip Code if you are a US resident. From here you click the search button or hit the return key on your keyboard, depending on what you prefer.
From here the program begins in a way that when you see it for the first time, I guarantee you will be amazed. The first thing that happens is that the globe of the Earth begins to rotate, taking you on a bird's view across America, the Atlantic Ocean and finally to above the UK, if you live in the UK like myself and have entered a UK Postcode, that is. Then the image begins to zoom in and you can sit back and imagine that you are slowly descending to your home town like a parachutist that has just jumped out of an Aeroplane.
Depending on the speed of your Computer you may have to wait a short while for the image to be fully downloaded. This generally takes about 30 seconds but will be faster depending on your Internet connection speed.
Viewing the image of my House for the first time was a truly amazing experience. I live in the centre of Sheffield which is a very built up Urban area and as the camera image zoomed in onto my apartment block I could clearly see all of the other buildings and well known landmarks within the city centre around it.
Almost all of the photographs on GoogleEarth have been taken on a clear sunny day but obviously these images have been taken over a period of time. Upgrading to the Plus and Pro versions of GoogelEarth will provide you with up to date images as and when they become available, but for the moment I am enjoying hours of fun with my free version trying to work out exactly when various photographs of the places that feature in my life were actually taken. From a little detective work I have worked out from the Cars in the Car Park of the place that I work and from the vehicles on the street where my parents live that these two images must have been taken during the Summer of 2004. Whilst the photo of my House is much more recent and was only taken last year.
LIMITATIONS OF THE SITE
The GoogleEarth site has currently only been launched in Beta mode, which basically means that it has not been fully tested and it is now in the hands of the general public using it to report any problems or flaws that they may find. Playing around on the site it quickly becomes obvious that the images of the built up Urban areas of the world are of excellent quality, but images of more rural areas have generally not been as well mapped and these images do appear a lit bit blurry, obviously as more and more images are added to the GoogleEarth database this will undoubtedly improve.
I had a look at the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty in New York and was amazed by the quality of these images which you can even view from different angles. Likewise the Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon and the Sydney Opera House were similarly impressive. However I then decided to take a look a look at Ayers Rock, thinking that its isolated location would lend itself to being viewed from every different angle possible, however the search for Ayers Rock produced no matches. I checked the spelling and tried again but still no matches were found. I scratched my head and then entered the aboriginal name "Ururu" and suddenly, hey presto my image of Ayers Rock was found.
I would recommend the free version of this site to anybody but I am unable to comment on the other versions available. It is both great fun and educational, and it obviously has huge commercial potential too.