Sometimes, when a fun toy becomes available, your editor has no alternative
but to go off and play with it. Later on, when LWN deadlines loom, the
next step is obvious: justify all that playing by writing an article. One
of those moments came when Google finally made its Google Earth
application available for Linux under a free-beer license.
Unlike Picasa, Google Earth is a native Linux application, ported to the Qt
widget set. Like Picasa, however, Google Earth is not free software. So
it comes as a large shell script which we, trusting users that we are, are
expected to feed directly to bash. A few clicks later, the application is
installed, and the user can proceed to explore the planet on a Linux
At least, that is how it is supposed to work. Google Earth promptly
crashed on your editor's x86-64 Fedora Development system. Since this is a
proprietary application, there is no way for any of us to fix the problem,
or to even build it properly for this architecture. So, no Google Earth on
this platform. Happily, the i386 Ubuntu system runs it just fine. Or not
so fine; Google Earth is a little shaky there as well. The window is not
always rendered properly, it occasionally decides to randomly roam in a
certain direction until stopped, and it locked up entirely once - while
having grabbed the pointer and rendered the display useless, of course.
All that notwithstanding, Google Earth is a fun toy. Your editor started
at his childhood home, and quickly located the Cirque of the Towers in the
Wind River range - one of the most beautiful places on the planet; the
result was the image shown on the right. Typing in "Venice, Italy"
resulted in a rather ballistic-seeming flight across the ocean, yielding a
gorgeous view of Piazza San Marco. One can almost make out individual
pigeons. The resolution of the available imagery
varies, and there is not always much in the way of additional information,
but there are very few spots on the planet which cannot be viewed at some
scale. It can be difficult to turn it off and get some real work done.
There are those who have already started to complain about the non-free
nature of this application. There is no doubt that a truly free version
of Google Earth would be a great thing - imagine what the community could
do, starting with a base like this. The simple fact is, however, that
Google has not done us any harm by making a non-free Google Earth
available. Those who do not want non-free software on their systems can
simply refuse to install it. The rest of us can have some fun.
For those of us who want a free tool of this nature, one option would
appear to be the WW2D project,
which has posted some interesting screenshots. Unfortunately, your editor
was unable to get enough of the project web site's attention to
successfully download a copy. Also of interest is Earth3d. This application shows some
real potential, though your editor found the navigation to be painful and,
of course, the higher-resolution imagery is not freely available.
Nonetheless, the initial work exists for the creation of a free planet
viewer, if we truly want to create one.
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