What is Google Earth?
The Three Versions of Google Earth
- Free - Intended for home and personal use, this product has many features, including displaying satellite and aerial imagery, a growing set of layers of mappable data, the ability to display third party data, tools for creating new data, and the ability to import GPS data. Schools may use the free version of Google Earth, and Google has created a Geo Education site to provide helpful information on using Google Earth, Maps, Sky, and SketchUp in the K-12 classroom. Higher education institutions may also install the free version for non-commercial use.
- Pro - This version, developed for commercial use, adds movie making, as well as importing ESRI shapefiles and MapInfo tab files, can measure areas of circles and polygons, and can print and save high-resolution images.
- Enterprise - This product makes imagery and other geospatial data available to employees within organizations such as corporations.
Each of these versions of Google Earth can be used to read and create data in KML (Keyhole Markup Language) format, which enables educators, students, and other users to share data. For a comparison of these products, see Which version of Google Earth is right for you?. However, the chart is a bit out of date as it does not mention that the free version can also open GPS files, which is a very useful feature for education.
Google Earth provides search capabilities and the ability to pan, zoom, rotate, and tilt the view of the Earth. It also offers tools for creating new data and a growing set of layers of data, such as volcanoes and terrain, that reside on Google's servers, and can be displayed in the view.
It also uses elevation data primarily from NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) to offer a terrain layer, which can visualize the landscape in 3D. For some locations, such as most of the western portion of the United States, the terrain data is provided at significantly higher resolutions.
Google Earth is not a Geographic Information System (GIS) with the extensive analytical capabilities of ArcGIS or MapInfo, but is much easier to use than these software packages.
It is available for several operating systems, namely:
- Microsoft Windows 2000
- Microsoft Windows XP
- Microsoft Windows Vista
- Mac OS X version 10.3.9 or higher
- Free BSD
There is even a version of Google Earth for the iPhone. This product can display the same imagery that is available on the desktop versions, perform searches, and link to Wikipedia articles about places of interest, but it does not have all the features of the desktop versions of Google Earth.