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Earth Map App 'War of the Worlds'
Google Earth and NASA World Wind: two successful programs for exploring our planet
Roberto Spiezio (seong)     Print Article 
Published 2005-11-20 16:55 (KST)   
American Dennis Tito, a former NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist and a well-known billionaire joined the Russian spaceship Soyuz TM-32 on April 28, 2001, spending seven days, 22 hours and four minutes in orbit.

Tito became famous for having been the first space tourist in the history. He paid US$20 million for his journey.

Even if you can't afford Tito's journey, there are other ways to take a look at our planet from space.

Software technology delivered by NASA and Google and the Internet have reached a small miracle: Bringing users "where very few men have gone before."

Rome's Colosseum as seen in Google Earth
©2005 Google
Google Earth is one of the most popular and recent products by Google: a piece of software that allows people to use the power of the Internet to explore our planet in impressive detail.

The free version is suitable for home and occasional users, but if there are different needs other versions are available, such as Plus for GPS support.

If users want to make a professional and commercial use of the program, they could choose pro version, which is enriched with more features like imagery and 3D data of the entire planet surface and high resolution pictures of the world's major cities.

After installing and running the program, users will access the main interface, showing the terrestrial globe in the main frame, several buttons to control the map movements and a series of informational boxes: the search box, where people can search for cities and locations, particular streets or places in the selected locations and also trace routes from one point on the globe to another one;

Google Earth System Requirements

These are the requirements to run Google Earth, as reported on the official Web site:

Minimum Configuration

- Microsoft Windows 2000 or XP
- Pentium 3, 500Mhz
- 128M RAM
- 400MB disk space
- Network speed: 128Kbits/sec
- 3D-capable video card with 16Mbytes of VRAM
- 1024x768, "16-bit High Color" screen

Recommended Configuration

- Microsoft Windows XP
- Pentium 4 2.4GHz+ or AMD 2400xp+
- 512M RAM
- 2 GB of free disk space
- Network speed: 768 Kbits/sec or better (DSL/Cable)
- 3D-capable video card with 32 MB of VRAM or greater
- 1280x1024, "32-bit True Color" screen

DirectX /OpenGL Libraries required.
The bookmark box "Places" is where favorite locations can be saved for future reference, and the "Layer" box is where users can choose the number and quality of the information to see on the map, such as roads, parks, dining, lodging, and even the crime stats in the United States.

Particularly interesting is the "tilt" feature, that allows to have a 3D view of the area, which is really amazing when exploring mountain areas.

The level of detail provided in the maps is good, allowing a precise look at even the rooftops of buildings in the streets of the major areas, especially within the United States but also in several other places.

For some American cities there is also the chance of seeing the buildings in 3D, which allows users to "fly" among them, like on a helicopter.

But what makes the experience really unique and enriching is the large amount of additional information about world locations posted by the users' community and made available in the maps loaded by the program.

By clicking on a blue capital "I" appearing on the map, a pop-up balloon will appear and the user will be able to read other users' posts about a certain place and - maybe find out things that they didn't know.

A built-in browser is used for this feature: On the bottom of the main window, a view of the related Web page will appear.

The test was performed with the "recommended" computer configuration [See Box], but the impression is that more RAM and video memory are necessary to ensure the fluidity of the map movements.

Needless to say, the faster the Internet connection is, the better. This won't increase the detail level of the pictures, but it will allow a better general performance of the program, which is indeed based on the map retrieval from the Internet.

Europe as seen in World Wind
©2005 NASA
While Google Earth Free edition is intended for a general typology of user, NASA's World Wind seems to be dedicated to a more specialized audience.

World Wind, also known as WW, is a free open-source program made available by NASA and dedicated to the exploration of planet earth and its satellite, the moon.

The file is quite "heavy," since it takes nearly 54 megabytes to run against 11 megabytes of Google Earth.

Once installed, the interface is a bit cleaner than GE's, and it vaguely reminds Mac OS in buttons' displacement.

The program is not only a collection of maps that can be displayed and explored, but it's a gateway to a great deal of technical data, from Landsat satellite imagery to Shuttle Radar Topography Mission data, to United States Geological Survey data in shape of topography maps, to the extremely interesting "Rapid Fire MODIS" feature, that keeps track of events occurring in the world, such as floods and earthquakes, and allows you to see satellite imagery of them in nearly real-time.

Similar to Google Earth, World Wind also downloads maps from the Internet, so a fast connection is required.

World Wind also has the "tilt" feature, to watch in a 3D perspective the explored areas.

The level of detail provided is comparable to GE's speaking of North American territories. Outside of it, GE wins the competition, especially about the cities.

World Wind System Requirements

These are the recommended requirements to run World Wind, as reported on the official Web site :

Windows 2000, or XP
Intel Pentium 3, 1 GHz, or AMD Athlon or higher
256 MB of RAM
3D Graphics Card (There are video card compatibility problems)
DSL / Cable connection or faster
2 GB of disk space

DirectX libraries and .NET runtime required
From the program Web site it's possible to download add-ons and new maps, to add new features and reach a greater level of detail, but this process is quite "expensive" in terms of disk space required: up to 1.4 Gigabyte for a single file.

Another point to consider is that World Wind is more resource-demanding than GE, which means that it should be run on more powerful computers. [See Box]

Tested on the same computer as GE, NASA's software has some more problems in terms of fluidity of map movements and scrolling, but it's still acceptable, provided the user has a fast Internet connection.

These programs are different, designed for different purposes and intended to different kind of people.

If you are home-users and don't need to deal with the large amount of data that World Wind offers, then Google Earth is the program you need. It's undeniable that its interface is more appealing and easier to control than World Wind's.

If you are students, teachers, earth science enthusiasts or experts, then NASA's software should be your choice. Compared with World Wind, Google Earth will just seem like an entertaining toy to you.

Obviously, nobody can prevent you from keeping them both on your computers.

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A ' Celestial ' Journey Through the Universe

©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Roberto Spiezio

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