The product, renamed Google Earth in 2006, is currently available for use on personal computers running Microsoft Windows 2000, XP, or Vista, Mac OS X 10.3.9 and above, Linux (released on June 12, 2006), and FreeBSD. Google Earth is also available as a browser plugin (released on June 2, 2008) for Firefox, IE6, or IE7. In addition to releasing an updated Keyhole based client, Google also added the imagery from the Earth database to their web based mapping software. The release of Google Earth in mid 2006 to the public caused a more than tenfold increase in media coverage on virtual globes between 2006 and 2007, driving public interest in geospatial technologies and applications.
Google Earth displays satellite images of varying resolution of the Earth's surface, allowing users to visually see things like houses and cars from a bird's eye view. The degree of resolution available is based somewhat on the points of interest, but most land (except for some islands) is covered in at least 15 meters of resolution. Melbourne, Australia, Las Vegas, Nevada and Cambridge, Massachusetts include examples of the highest resolution, at 15 cm (6 inches). Google Earth allows users to search for addresses for some countries, enter coordinates, or simply use the mouse to browse to a location.
Google Earth also uses digital elevation model (DEM) data collected by NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM). This means one can view the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest in three dimensions, instead of 2D like other map programs/sites. Since November 2006, the 3D views of many mountains, including Mount Everest, have been improved by the use of supplementary DEM data to fill the gaps in SRTM coverage.
Many people using the applications are adding their own data and making them available through various sources, such as the BBS or blogs mentioned in the link section below. Google Earth is able to show all kinds of images overlaid on the surface of the earth and is also a Web Map Service client. Google Earth supports managing three-dimensional Geospatial data through Keyhole Markup Language (KML).
Google Earth has the capability to show 3D buildings and structures (such as bridges), which consist of users' submissions using SketchUp, a 3D modeling program. In prior versions of Google Earth (before Version 4), 3D buildings were limited to a few cities, and had poorer rendering with no textures. Many buildings and structures from around the world now have detailed 3D structures; including (but not limited to) those in the United States, Canada, Ireland, India, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, Pakistan and the cities, Amsterdam and Alexandria. In August 2007, Hamburg became the first city entirely shown in 3D, including textures such as façades. The Irish town of Westport was added to Google Earth in 3D on January 16, 2008. The 'Westport3D' model was created by 3D imaging firm AM3TD using long-distance laser scanning technology and digital photography and is the first such model of an Irish town to be created. As it was developed initially to aid Local Government in carrying out their town planning functions it includes the highest resolution photo-realistic textures to be found anywhere in Google Earth. Three-dimensional renderings are available for certain buildings and structures around the world via Google's 3D Warehouse and other websites.
Recently, Google added a feature that allow users to monitor traffic speeds at loops located every 200 yards in real-time. In version 4.3 released on April 15, 2008, Google Street View was fully integrated into the program allowing the program to provide an on the street level view in many locations. Google Earth is now also available in 23 languages: Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.
On March 13, 2008 Google made a web-based version of Google Sky available at http://www.google.com/sky/.
Google Street View provides 360° panoramic street-level views and allows users to view parts of selected cities and their surrounding metropolitan areas at ground level. When it was launched on May 25, 2007 for Google Maps, only five cities were included. It has since expanded to more than 40 U.S. cities, and includes the suburbs of many, and in some cases, other nearby cities. A recent update has now implemented Street View in most of the major cities of Australia.
Google Street View, when operated, displays photos that were previously taken by a camera mounted on an automobile, and can be navigated by using the mouse to click on photograph icons displayed on the screen in your direction of travel. Using these devices, the photos can be viewed in different sizes, from any direction, and from a variety of angles.
Google Earth is unlikely to operate on older hardware configurations. The most recent downloads available document these minimum configurations:
The most likely mode of failure is insufficient video RAM: the software is designed to warn the user if their graphics card is not able to support Earth (this often occurs due to insufficient Video RAM or buggy graphics card drivers). The next most likely mode of failure is Internet access speed. Except for the very patient, broadband Internet (Cable, DSL, T1, etc.) is required.
Screenshots and an actual binary of the Mac version had been leaked to the Internet on December 8, 2005. The leaked version was significantly incomplete. Among other things, neither the Help menu nor its "Display License" feature worked, indicating that this version was intended for Google's internal use only. Google released no statement regarding the leak.
Currently, the Mac version runs only under Mac OS X version 10.4 or later. There is no embedded browser and no direct interface to Gmail. There are a few bugs concerning the menu bar when switching between applications and a few bugs concerning annotation balloons and printing.
From version 4.1.7076.4558 (released on May 9, 2007) onward, Mac OS X users can now, among other new features, upgrade to the "Plus" version via an option in the Google Earth menu. Some users reported difficulties with Google Earth crashing in the latest version when zooming in.
Most land areas are covered in satellite imagery with a resolution of about 15 m per pixel. Some population centers are also covered by aircraft imagery (orthophotography) with several pixels per meter. Oceans are covered at a much lower resolution, as are a number of islands; notably, the Isles of Scilly off southwest England, are at a resolution of about 500 m or less. These pictures are provided by Terrametrics.
Google has resolved many inaccuracies in the vector mapping since the original public release of the software, without requiring an update to the program itself. An example of this was the absence from Google Earth's map boundaries of the Nunavut territory in Canada, a territory that had been created on April 1, 1999; this mistake was corrected by one of the data updates in early 2006. Recent updates have also increased the coverage of detailed aerial photography, particularly in certain areas of western and central Europe, though not including Ireland where imagery remains extremely limited.
The images are not all taken at the same time, but are generally current to within three years. Image sets are sometimes not correctly stitched together. Updates to the photographic database can occasionally be noticed when drastic changes take place in the appearance of the landscape, like for example Google Earth's incomplete updates of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, or when placemarks appear to shift unexpectedly across the Earth's surface. Though the placemarks have not in fact moved, the imagery is composed and stitched differently. Such an update to London's photography in early 2006 created shifts of 15-20 metres in many areas, noticeable because the resolution is so high.
Place name and road detail vary greatly from place to place. They are most accurate in North America and Europe, but regular mapping updates are improving coverage elsewhere.
Errors sometimes occur due to the technology used to measure the height of terrain; for example, tall buildings in Adelaide cause one part of the city to be rendered as a small mountain, when it is in fact flat. The height of the Eiffel Tower creates a similar effect in the rendering of Paris. Also, elevations below sea level are presented as sea level; i.e. Salton City, California; Death Valley; and the Dead Sea are all listed as 0 m when Salton City is −38 m; Death Valley is −86 m; and the Dead Sea is −420 m.
Where no 3 arc second digital elevation data was available, the three dimensional images covering some areas of high relief are not at all accurate, but most mountain areas are now well mapped. The underlying digital elevation model has been placed 3 arc seconds too far north and up to 3 arc seconds too far west. This means that some steep mountain ridges incorrectly appear to have shadows extending over onto their south facing sides. Some high resolution images have also been misplaced, an example is the image covering Annapurna, which is misplaced by about 12 arc seconds. Elevation data was recently updated to 10-meter (1/3-arc-second) resolution for much of the United States from the previous 30-meter (1-arc-second) resolution.
The "Measure" function shows that the length of equator is about 40,030.24 km, giving an error of −0.112% compared with the actual value of 40,075.02 km Earth; for the meridional circumference, it shows a length of about 39,963.13 km, also giving an error of −0.112% compared with the actual value of 40,007.86 km.
On December 16, 2007, most of Antarctica was updated to a 15 m resolution using imagery from the Landsat Image Mosaic of Australia; (1m resolution images of some parts of Antarctica were added in June 2007); however, the Arctic polar ice cap is completely absent from the current version of Google Earth, as are waves in the oceans. The geographic North Pole is found hovering over the Arctic Ocean and the tiling system produces artifacts near the poles as the tiles become 'infinitely' small and rounding errors accumulate.
Cloud cover and shadows can make it difficult or impossible to see details in some land areas, including the shadow side of mountains.
Some citizens may express concerns over aerial information depicting their properties and residences being disseminated freely. As relatively few jurisdictions actually guarantee the individual's right to privacy, as opposed to the state's right to secrecy, this is an evolving, but minor, point. Perhaps aware of these critiques, for a time, Google had Area 51 (which is highly visible and easy to find) in Nevada as a default placemark when Google Earth is first installed.
As a result of pressure from the United States government, the residence of the Vice President at Number One Observatory Circle is obscured through pixelization in Google Earth and Google Maps. The usefulness of this downgrade is questionable, as high-resolution photos and aerial surveys of the property are readily available on the Internet elsewhere. Capitol Hill used to also be pixelized in this way but this was lifted.
Critics have expressed concern over the willingness of Google to cripple their dataset to cater to special interests, believing that intentionally obscuring any land goes against its stated goal of letting the user "point and zoom to any place on the planet that you want to explore".
2008 Olympics Layer A layer under 'Places' has been added to showcase info about the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Features include frequently updated upcoming events and 3D models of venues used for the event. Also included are new images of Beijing released specially for the games.
Roads: Shows the road network for most countries.
Google Street View: Shows placemarks with 360 degree panoramic views of many major intersections and roads in United States cities. Some agreements with countries other than the U.S. have been made to take the feature to an international extent. Countries include the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
Borders and Labels: Contains borders for countries/provinces and shows placemarks for cities, towns and villages.
Traffic: Shows often updated traffic information.
Global Awareness: A collection of services spreading global awareness. The layer was provided by Google Earth Outreach. See Outreach's article for layers contained in the section.
Points of Interest: A collection of business listings provided by many local services.
Version 1.0 of the plug-in supports the following layers:
It also supports 'Sky Mode' and provides the same controls and information bar as the full application.
These used to cost extra, in addition to the $400 fee, but have recently been included in the package. As of January 2008 Google Earth Pro is being updated to have over 400 extra features, the version's cost has been announced to be $1030 USD.
Unlike the free version of Google Earth, the professional version does not work on Linux.
Since Google Earth v4.2, a flight simulator has been included as a hidden feature. Depending on the system, it can be accessed by pressing Control+Alt+A, Control+A, or Command+Option+A. After this feature has been activated at least once it appears under the tools menu. Since v4.3 the option is no longer hidden by default. Currently the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the Cirrus SR-22 are the only aircraft that can be used, in addition to a few airports.
It is also possible to control the simulator with a mouse or joystick, although not all models are currently supported.
The Google Earth flight simulator features the ability to fly to any supported locations of the world. The pilot can choose any location to start a flight or attempt to land a flight in the world.