NASA World Wind Java Edition

Everybody knows about Google Earth, but not as many people seem to know about NASA World Wind.

World Wind is a totally free, open-source project sponsored by NASA that has quite a bit in common with Google Earth. They are intended for different audiences, however, and have a number of differences worth noting (from World Wind Central):

  • NASA World Wind is totally free of charge and open source. Google Earth has a free version and more advanced versions and add-ons that cost money, and it’s a proprietary product.
  • World Wind is an educational tool designed to view the Earth, Moon, and current data and events through WMS and MODIS. Google Earth does have an education aspect, but it’s primarily a money-making tool and is more of a geographic search tool than an educational piece.
  • Google Earth Free is licensed for Home/Personal use, but not in a work environment, or at home where the results are work related (surprise - are you in violation of the EULA?). Google Earth has been banned in several government agencies because of the terms of use. NASA World Wind is free to use by anyone, anytime, for any reason.
  • While Google Earth can be made to work with GPS devices in a limited fashion through plug-ins that cost varying amounts of money and are somewhat limited by KML, World Wind has several free plug-ins for GPS devices.
Now for a swift kick in the pants - the proprietary Google Earth runs on Macs, Linux, and Windows. The open-source World Wind, however, was written in .NET, and only runs on Windows.

That will change in the near future. Now that Java has been released under the GNU GPL, NASA is making a cross-platform JAVA edition of World Wind that should be released in the next couple of months.

I have World Wind installed on Windows, and it’s a pretty cool piece of software with some functionality you won’t find in Google Earth (and vice versa - Google Earth is fantastic as well). It is worth a download if you haven’t used it (16MB), though you might want to wait for the Java version.