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Top 5 tools to explore the 3D virtual globe – our Earth

Posted by Charles | May 25, 2007 .

 Location matters. Geo matters. So born the new hipper and trendy term, geoweb. We’ve been bookmarking web URL since the day one, actually that’s where yahoo came from. But really just recent year ordinary people start browsing our planet, the Earth, as a 3D globe. Here are the 5 major 3D free map applications that allow you play with Earth in 3D globe:

image031 Top 5 tools to explore the 3D virtual globe   our Earth Google Earth – Google bought Keyhole, a desktop 3D mapping application and turn it free. You can download it here. It’s fun play ground with open markup language, KML, allows you add your own data layers. Along with Google’s 3D authoring tool, Google SketchUp, you can added more 3D objects on it. There are serious efforts out there to create realistic 3D cities. Google is pushing Google Earth to enterprise now. It could become painful problem to some GIS companies, even though what Google does is far far simpler from GIS point of view. Google’s agenda is always trying to index the world’s data/information. It’s interesting to see how it plays in the geo space. Google calls it geoweb.

 

image030 Top 5 tools to explore the 3D virtual globe   our EarthArcExplorer – ArcExployer is from ESRI, the largest GIS company. Download it from here. ESRI also has Adobe Flex based ArcWeb Service Explorer, similar technology used by Yahoo Map (yahoo doesn’t have 3D map so it’s not here.) Even with similar tools and features, obviously ESRI is not trying to compete at the consumer geoweb space. They are focusing on geoprocessing and geo data. Most people don’t actually know that larger part of this world’s serious geo computing are using ESRI products. Of cause, lately all the geo thunders go to Google and Microsoft.

 

image027 Top 5 tools to explore the 3D virtual globe   our Earth Microsoft Virtual Earth – The only one can afford compete with Google at consumer geoweb space is Microsoft and that’s what they are doing. The released 3D Virtual Earth after Google Earth. It’s a plugin installed to browser, both Firefox and IE will do. Install plugin here. As software company, Microsoft is more serious about it’s product and it certainly like to integrate Virtual Earth into enterprise space. The just announced that the next version of SQL Server will have spatial data management capability. I believe very soon they will integrate Virtual Earth into their enterprise product suite.

 

image025 Top 5 tools to explore the 3D virtual globe   our EarthNASA World Wind – This is open source 3D globe viewer with all the stuffs such as API etc seen from above products. Not sure why NASA keep doing this while all others are free. But go ahead download .Net version and download new Java version here.

 

image026 Top 5 tools to explore the 3D virtual globe   our EarthTerraExplorer – From Skyline, a small but aggressive 3D visualization company. I found the TerraExplorer is very fun to play even for the basic browsing feature. I like the flying airplane as view point type of approach. It’s hard to explain the 3D effect thing. You have to go play it. But first download it from here.

While visualization technologies getting mature and commoditized, we might see more and more geoweb company popping up. Eventually software itself really won’t worth much. From the youtube.com type of effects we can tell, in the near future, really counts are the data and data distribution channels. Who controls those wins.

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