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Google Earth

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Google Earth is a free-of-charge, downloadable virtual globe program. It maps the earth by the superimposition of images obtained from satellite imagery, aerial photography and GIS over a 3D globe.


Formerly known as Earth Viewer, Google Earth was developed by Keyhole, Inc., a company acquired by Google in 2004. The product was renamed Google Earth in 2005 and is currently available for use on personal computers running Microsoft Windows 2000 or XP, Mac OS X 10.3.9 and above, Linux (released on June 12, 2006), and FreeBSD. 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 resolution is high enough in many large cities, such as London, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, that it is possible to clearly discern individual buildings, houses, the color of cars, and even the shadows of people and street signs.

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[1]. 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 the USA, Canada, and Europe only), enter coordinates, or simply use the mouse to browse to a location.

Google Earth also has digital terrain model data collected by NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. This means one can view the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest in three dimensions, instead of 2D like other map programs/sites. Since 23 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[2]. In addition, Google has provided a layer allowing one to see 3D buildings for many major cities in the US and Japan.

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 available in a free version, and in licensed versions for commercial use. See also Keyhole Markup Language (KML).

Using Google Earth

Google Earth has a short tutorial on how to use it and a control panel below the main window.



As well as the control panel, Google Earth can be operated using the mouse and keyboard. Double clicking on a location causes the camera to zoom in on the spot. The mouse roller can also be used for zooming in and out and the plus and minus keys work as well on some versions.


The viewing window can be moved left, right, up, and down as well as diagonal by clicking a location with the mouse and the moving the cursor in the opposite direction to that in which you want to go (intuitively, grabbing hold of the view and dragging it under you). If you drag and release the mouse while the view is moving, the view will continue moving until stopped. A simpler way to move is to click both sides of the mouse at once at any spot on the screen, and (depending on how far you are from the center of the viewpoint) you will move at that certain speed. The arrow keys also allow you to move. The left key moves left, the right key moves right and so on. However, Using the keyboard does not move you as quickly as the mouse does. The final way of moving is to search for a location or post code in the search box in the top left corner or clicking on one of the pre-set locations.


Google earth also allows you to move higher and lower and to rotate the camera. This can be done by clicking and dragging with the right mouse button or using the <, >, pg. up and pg. down keys.


Global search

The box in the top left of the screen allows you to search for any location on earth by typing in a location. Being more specific (with coordinates, city, postal code, etc) will result in greater accuracy.

Local search

Google Earth also allows you to search your local area for something, like a hospital or a restaurant. It may require confirmation of the area you want to search. If so, enter a postcode.


3D buildings

A montage illustrating some of Google Earth's capabilities
A montage illustrating some of Google Earth's capabilities

A feature implemented by Google after its acquisition of Keyhole is a 3D dataset for (as of September 2006) 38 US cities.[2] This data is provided by Sanborn Citysets. This feature is limited to displaying grey overlaying "blocky" buildings. On March 14, 2006, Google acquired @Last Software, makers of SketchUp, who had created a plugin for 3D renderings in Google Earth.

The cities currently included are only from the United States and Japan. [3] The data for the 3D buildings in Japan is from Zenrin. The cities in the United States include: New York City (Manhattan below Central Park and West Brooklyn), Chicago (the Loop, near Magnificent Mile, and residential areas north, south, and just west of those areas along the lake), Los Angeles (downtown, areas along the Miracle Mile, Wilshire Blvd), Honolulu (downtown and along the beach), San Francisco (the northeastern quadrant), Philadelphia (downtown and residential areas to the south and west), Houston (downtown), Washington, Boston, Dallas, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Miami, Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, Detroit (downtown), Arlington, Texas, Baltimore, St. Louis (downtown), Pittsburgh, Cleveland, San Diego, Long Beach, Sacramento, Cincinnati, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Kansas City, New Orleans, Buffalo, Portland, Las Vegas, Jersey City (along the Hudson River), Newark, Memphis, Phoenix, and St. Petersburg, Florida. Also, 3D buildings are available for certain buildings around the world using programs from other websites.

See also Google Earth London under development

Wikipedia and Panoramio mashup

In December 2006 Google Earth added a new layer called "Geographic Web" that includes mashups with Wikipedia and Panoramio. In Wikipedia, entries are scraped for coordinates via the Coor dms series of templates. If the options to show Wikipedia or Panoramia entries are selected, users will be presented with clickable dots in their current Google Earth view. When any of these dots are selected, the user will be shown the Wikipedia or Panoramia entry right in Google Earth. The community-layer from the project Wikipedia-World is better, because more coordinates are used, different types are in the display and different languages are supported. See: *dynamic resp. static layer.


Google Earth comes with atmosphere effects and seabed
Google Earth comes with atmosphere effects and seabed
  • Coordinate System and Projection
    • The internal coordinate system of Google Earth is geographic coordinates (latitude/longitude) on the World Geodetic System of 1984 (WGS84) datum.
    • Google Earth shows the earth as it looks from an elevated platform such as an airplane or orbiting satellite. The projection used to achieve this effect is called the General Perspective. This is similar to the Orthographic projection, except that the point of perspective is a finite (near earth) distance rather than an infinite (deep space) distance. [4]
  • Baseline resolutions
    • U.S.: 15 m
    • Global: Generally 15 m (some areas such as South-American countries are in extremely low resolution).
  • Typical high resolutions
    • U.S.: 1 m, 0.6 m, 0.3 m, 0.15 m (extremely rare; e.g. Cambridge, Ma. and Google Campus)
    • Global:
  • Altitude resolution:
    • Surface:
    • Seabed: Not applicable (a colorscale approximating seafloor depth is "printed" on the spherical surface).
  • Age: Usually less than 3 years old. (For example, the image area around Taipei 101 shows the building before the red construction elevators were removed in 2004 and the new WAPA Path 15 power line is still under construction (also in 2004).)

Google Earth is unlikely to operate on older hardware configurations. The most recent downloads available document these minimum configurations:

  • Pentium 3, 500 MHz
  • 128 MB RAM
  • 400 MB free disk space
  • Network speed: 128 Kbit/sec
  • 3D-capable graphics card with 16 MB of Video RAM
  • 1024x768, "16-bit High Color" screen
  • Windows XP or Windows 2000 (Does not work on Windows ME)

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 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. Again, resolution is not uniform, some towns such as St. Petersburg are only partially available in high-resolution.

In this case, the TerraServer-USA data can identify individual trees but its data is structured in cumbersome tiles. As with much GIS data, the utility of the data is application-dependent for the purpose of determining if resolution is sufficient. Also note that from a usability point of view, TerraServer loses its center point when one zooms in and out where Google Earth browsing is smooth; a clear benefit, but at the price of the somewhat demanding requirements imposed upon the video card.

It is worth noting however, that with some work, images from TerraServer can be integrated as Image Overlays into Google Earth, allowing the user to combine the higher (in some cases) resolution imagery from TerraServer over the smoother Google Earth program.

Mac OS X version

Google Earth icon
Google Earth (Mac OS X)
Google Earth (Mac OS X)

A version for Mac OS X was released on January 10, 2006, and is available for download from the Google Earth website. With a few exceptions noted below, the Mac version appears to be stable and complete, with virtually all the same functionality as the original Windows version.

Screenshots and an actual binary of the Mac version had been leaked to the Internet a month previously, 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 versions 10.4 and 10.3.9. Currently, there are no "Plus" or "Pro" versions for the stable release. 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.

The latest version, 4.0.2694, released on December 15, 2006, is currently available as a beta version and features, among other things, a new user interface and the option for Mac OS X users to upgrade to the "Plus" version. [5]. However many users have reported difficulties with Google Earth crashing in the latest version when zooming in. [6]

Linux version

Google Earth icon

Starting with the version 4 beta, Google Earth functions under Linux, as a native port using the Qt-toolkit.

Google Earth 4(beta) Running on Ubuntu 6.06
Google Earth 4(beta) Running on Ubuntu 6.06

Minimum System Requirements [7] :

  • Kernel: 2.4 or later
  • CPU: Pentium 3, 500 MHz
  • System Memory (RAM): 128 MB
  • Hard Disk: 400 MB free space
  • Network Speed: 128 kbit/s
  • Screen: 1024x768, 16 bit color
  • Tested and works on the following OSs:
    • Ubuntu 5.10/6.06/6.10
    • SUSE 10.1
    • Fedora Core 4/5/6
    • Linspire 5.1
    • Gentoo 2006.0
    • Debian 3.1
    • Red Hat 9
    • Slackware 10.2
    • FreeBSD 6.1/7.0 with Linux Emulation
    • Arch Linux 0.7.2 Gimmick
    • Xandros 3.0.3 Business Edition
    • Mandriva 2007

Level of accuracy

The Isles of Scilly, showing the very low resolution of some islands. The islands (green area) are about 10 km across.
The Isles of Scilly, showing the very low resolution of some islands. The islands (green area) are about 10 km across.
The west side of Gibraltar, tilted view showing the sea rising up Gibraltar Rock - claimed height of the sea just off the beach at Elliots Memorial, 252 m.
The west side of Gibraltar, tilted view showing the sea rising up Gibraltar Rock - claimed height of the sea just off the beach at Elliots Memorial, 252 m.

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; most notably, Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, and the Isles of Scilly off southwest England, are at a resolution of about 500 m or less.

Place name and road detail vary greatly from place to place. They are most accurate in the USA and Europe, but regular mapping updates are improving coverage elsewhere.

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 western Europe.

Cloud cover and shadows can make it difficult or impossible to see details in some land areas, including the shadow side of mountains.

The stars in the background are not random. Google Earth uses a real star map to render the background. [citation needed]


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.

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 "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.


US bias

Some information in this article or section has not been verified and may not be reliable.
Please check for inaccuracies, and modify and cite sources as needed.

The software, in particular the search engine, is criticised for its US-bias; for example, entering in a search for "St. Petersburg" brings up the US city of that name, as opposed to the older and larger St. Petersburg, Russia. However in Google Earth 4 (beta), more major cities can be found without typing in the country name (eg: Melbourne, Singapore, Shanghai, Cairo, Cape Town, Köln, Lima, and Jerusalem). Still, some places outside of the US cannot be found with the search function unless the country name is added and written out in full (except for "UK" and "MX"), while you can simply abbreviate states for US locations.

The default setting is to U.S. customary units, despite metric units being the international standard. Critics assert that while the units can be changed, they should be set to metric by default, as well as pointing out that the 3D buildings feature is also limited at present to major US and Japanese cities. Others counter that, as an American creation by a predominantly US-based corporation, they could make separate US and international versions, but it is Google's right to give preference to their home country. Additionally, Google Earth has recently had their largest update of earth imagery, making at least 33% of land covered by satellite images.

Google has also admitted problems with the software on systems using non-ASCII characters, for example, Chinese or Japanese.[8]

Naming disputes

  • Some South Korean users have been angered by the fact that Google Earth and Google Maps use Japanese names for bays along the southeastern coast of the Korean Peninsula [9]. Examples include bays near Busan (labelled Nakutogu Po and Kanrai ho), Masan (labelled Masan Ko, Kisan-ko, and Unchen Wan), and Goseong (labelled Kojo-wan, Toto wan, Nan Wan, and Toei kawan).
  • The software was criticized by Taiwanese users because the island was labelled as a province of mainland China. This has since been changed, but yet the Mainland Chinese residents are also upset over the change and are demanding Google to show Taiwan as a province again.
  • Google Earth came under heavy fire from the Indian Media when it showed the disputed region of Kashmir to be a province of Pakistan.
  • Google Earth confuses towns in Poland and Germany: Jelenia Gora in Poland is incorrectly referred to as Hirschberg.
  • Google Earth, under "alternate place names," includes "Jerusalem" and "Yerushalayim" but does not include the Arabic name for the city, "Al Quds".
  • Google Earth uses pre World War II names for towns and villages in Vojvodina, Serbia.
  • Google Earth usually uses Chinese Pinyin to name towns in Hong Kong. Chinese Pinyin is not exercised in the Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong.
  • Argentine media criticized Google Earth since the border between Argentina and Brazil was inaccurately marked putting a major part of the Iguazú Falls on the Brazilian side while the border is the Iguazú River and the falls are shared by both countries.

National security and privacy issues

The U.S. Vice President's residence as seen through Google Maps.   lat=38.9230383271, lon=-77.0668979384
The U.S. Vice President's residence as seen through Google Maps. lat=38.9230383271, lon=-77.0668979384

The software has been criticized by a number of groups, including national officials, as being an invasion of privacy and even posing a threat to national security. The typical argument is that the software provides information about military or other critical installations that could be used by terrorists. The following is a selection of such concerns:

  • The Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam has expressed concern over the availability of high-resolution pictures of sensitive locations in India [10].
  • Indian Space Research Organization Says, Google Earth Poses Security Threat to India Seeks Dialogue with Google Officials [11].
  • The South Korean government has expressed concern that the software offers images of the presidential palace and various military installations that could possibly be used by their hostile neighbor North Korea [12].
  • In 2006, one user spotted a large topographical replica in a remote region of China. The model is purportedly a small-scale (1/500) version of the Karakoram Mountain Range, currently under the control of India. When later confirmed as a replica of this region, spectators began entertaining sinister military implications. [13] [14]
  • Operators of the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney, Australia asked Google to censor high resolution pictures of the facility [15]. However, they later withdrew the request [16].
Blurred out image of the Royal Stables in The Hague, Netherlands.
Blurred out image of the Royal Stables in The Hague, Netherlands.

Some citizens may express concerns over aerial information depicting their properties and residences being diseminated 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. [17] Capitol Hill used to also be pixelised in this way but this was lifted.

Whereas some critics have accused the software of revealing too much detail regarding properties, others have expressed concern over the willingness of Google to cripple their dataset to cater to special interests, believing that intentionally obscuring any land diminishes the accuracy of the application, and goes against its stated goal of letting the user "point and zoom to anyplace on the planet that you want to explore". [18]

Google Earth Community

The Google Earth Community is an online forum [19] which is dedicated to produce placemarks of interesting or educational perspectives. It may be found on the Google Earth webpage or under the Help section on the program itself. After downloading a placemark, it will automatically run Google Earth (if not opened), and fly to the area specified by the person who placed it. Once there, you can add it to your "My Places" by right clicking on the icon and selecting "Save to My Places". Additionally, anyone can post a placemark for others to download; as long as you have an account.


Currently, many consider that every Google Earth image is a copyrighted map. It is made with copyrighted code and data which may not be used as part of another work. However, the output of Google Earth is very similar to that of programs such as Microsoft Flight Simulator and The Sims, which are also made from copyrighted code and data. Such images are considered freely available for use in another project, or as an original work. By contrast, many articles use images created with NASA's globe software World Wind using Blue Marble, Landsat or USGS layer, each of which is in public domain. Such images are understood to be in the public domain because they are screenshots. Lotus Development corporation had sued Mosaic Software and Paperback software because their command structure and screen output was similar to 1-2-3, however the successful judgements in favor of Lotus were overturned when a judge ruled in favor of Borland's Quattro that only the underlying code was protected by copyright.

Google Earth Plus

Google Earth can be upgraded to a "Plus" edition for a $20 annual subscription fee. Google Earth Plus is an individual-oriented paid subscription upgrade to Google Earth and adds the following features:

  • GPS integration – read tracks and waypoints from a GPS device. 3rd party applications have been created which provide this functionality using the basic version of Google Earth by generating KML files based on user-specified waypoints [20]. However, these tools only work with specific GPS devices whereas Google Earth Plus provides support for the Magellan and Garmin product lines, who together hold a large share of the GPS market.
  • Higher resolution printing.
  • Customer support via email.
  • Data importer – read address points from CSV files.

A feature allowing path and polygon annotations, which can be exported to KML, was formerly only available to Plus users, but was made free in version 4.0.2416.

Google Earth Pro

For a $400 annual subscription fee, Google Earth Pro is a business-oriented upgrade to Google Earth that has more features than the "Plus" version. The Pro version includes add-on software such as movie making, GIS data importer and advanced printing modules. These used to cost extra in addition to the $400 fee but have recently been included free in the package. [21]


  1. ^ Google Earth High Resolution Imagery Coverage (USA)[1]: "As of August 9, 2005. While Google Earth does cover the entire globe with satellite imagery at 15m"
  2. ^ Google Earth Community

See also

  • List of Google services and tools
  • EarthSat
  • Google Maps
  • Google Moon and Google Mars
  • NASA World Wind
  • TerraServer-USA
  • Pictometry
  • ViewGL - current aerial imagery feed
  • Virtual Earth
  • WikiMapia
  • Yinchuan - subject to an Internet phenomenon originating on Google Earth forum.
  • Geody - the World's search engine
  • Google Earth War - a war game which use Google Earth for the visual aspects, with a large community!

External links

  • Official Google Earth Website - Download software from here
  • Official Google Earth User blog - Learn tips and tricks

Community and placemarks

  • Google Earth Community - A place for sharing placemarks
  • Virtual Globetrotting - More than 25 000 placemarks
  • SkipperGuide - wiki based crusing guide with Google Earth integration
  • Wikipaddle - Canoeing and kayaking wiki guide with google earth intergration
  • German Google Earth Community - Deutsche Google Earth Community
  • Paste a Place - Share places with friends.
  • Roll'N'Zoom- Another place-sharing community.
  • Google Sightseeing Showcase site of interesting views
  • EarthSpots Directory Of Interesting Places with links to open in Google Earth.
  • AliensviewDatabase for GoogleEarth placemarks
  • Google Earth Cool PlacesCollection of selected popular placemarks
  • Geonames in GoogleEarth Over 142,000 cities from (with geotags for wikipedia)
  • - A large collection of placemarks for Google Earth
  • Topographic Map Archive - A growing collection of historic map overlays for Google Earth
  • Google Earth explorer - old good-known community.
  • Google Earth Hacks Many placemarks, image overlays, etc.
  • A file with coordinates from more than 48000 Wikipedia articles.

Unofficial guides and tips

  • Google Earth Blog - Featuring Google Earth news, features, tips, and technology
  • Ogle Earth - A blog about Google Earth
  • Google Earth Education Community
  • Google Earth - Guide of the Traveller


  • Google Earth Game An online game via armchair travel.
  • GEwar: Stragetic, Visual, financial and very popular wargame/community using Google Earth
  • GE Chess: A multiplayer 3D Interactive Chess Game
  • Global Earth Games A collection of games utilizing the Network Link system.


  • Scene Express KML authoring tools for 3D Nature's Visual Nature Studio and World Construction Set
  • Arc2Earth Brian Flood's extension for ArcGIS
  • Google Earth Tools Google Earth Developer Tools and References
  • Batch Geocoder Generate a KML file from an address list, works with any tabular data source.
  • RoboGEO Display geocoded photos and GPS tracklogs in Google Earth
  • KaMeLwriter Use hierarchical maps (Mind maps) to create and manage KML files and link in Excel data.
  • Matlab2GoogleEarth Toolbox A set of matlab plotting/drawing functions with KML output.


  • Comparison with NASA World Wind
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