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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Google Earth Inside the Browser

A screenshot of the live plug-in

Google released a Google Earth plug-in and API. This means you can now view Google Earth-based applications – with functionality defined by the developer of a site – in your (Windows) browser. It’s a bit of a bridge between the Google Maps browser-only application and the existing Google Earth desktop-only installation. I’ve tried this with Firefox and it works nice, though the download, as well as subsequent loading of applications once the plug-in is installed, were rather slow.

Naturally, creating sites that require any type of plug-in – unless it’s really, really well-deployed like Flash – puts up a serious stumbling block for your users. This kind of functionality seems best to only be implemented for special sites when the spinning globe and fluent 3D power is really needed; otherwise, the Google Maps API, among other solutions, may be the way to go.

Browsing some of the examples provided by Google, you can see: two globes side-by-side showing, for any given location, the location on the other side of earth you’d reach by drilling a hole; a geography game where you need to pinpoint locations; another game where you can drive a milk truck over the earth surface, and more.

From a developer perspective, what you need to include the 3D earth into your site is a bit of knowledge of JavaScript. Using the API, Google says, “you can draw markers and lines, drape images over the terrain, add 3D models, or load KML files” to build map applications. After grabbing a Maps API key, you can continue to browse the developer guide.

Microsoft, by the way, also offers a 3D plug-in called Virtual Earth 3D as part of their Live Maps website.

[Thanks Hebbet and TomHTML!]


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