Google Earth Goes Browser

Microsoft’s Virtual Earth did it. NASA’s World Wind Java did it first. Now Google Earth is doing it too. Google has released a browser plug-in for Google Earth along with a Javascript API. You can download it here, and O’Reilly Radar has an in-depth review.

While plunking a 3D globe on a web page is pretty cool, the Javascript API is the big thing here. With it you can integrate your 3D map with Google Maps, load KML files and 3D models, drape images over terrain, etc., all in a fairly familiar environment if you’ve used the Google Maps API before. It adds more viewer functionality to a web-based mapping solution than you can get via simple HTML/Javascript.

I’ve played around with it a bit, and I have some nits to pick:

  • The plugin is a memory hog. It will eat 100MB RAM when firing up, and playing with some of the demos made it jump to 300MB. Not a problem on my 4GB laptop, but if you’re rocking an old Packard Bell, forget it.
  • It’s also processor intensive. The fan in my laptop is buzzing so fast right now it is nearing escape velocity.
  • It’s Windows-only at the moment, which really kills the deal. Linux and Mac versions are supposed to be on the way though, giving it a one-up on Virtual Earth, which will probably never release for a non-Windows platform (shakes fist at Microsoft).
Still, this would have to go down as a pretty big deal. If you’re on a Windows box, head over to Google and grab the browser plugin. All of Google Earth’s 4.3 features are there, including photo-realistic city models, sunlight feature, and even Google Sky.

*On a separate note, despite Google only listing Firefox 2.x as supported, Firefox 3.0 RC1 not only works, due to the faster Javascript engine in FF 3 it runs pretty darn quickly.