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Globetrotting with Google Earth's New Browser Plug-in

Posted by Darren Gladstone | Thursday, May 29, 2008 9:09 AM PT


I've been playing with new browser-based Google Earth API (application programming interface) that was announced at the Google I/O conference and it seems pretty cool so far. The basic idea is that Google Earth (or data) can now be embedded into Web sites similar to how Google Maps are embedded except with Google Earth, you can add some more robust features.

The ability to run a light version of Google Earth in your IE or Firefox browser is pretty cool. But right now it's in the debut phase and no sites that I'm aware of are actually using the Google Earth API. You can download the plug-in here and play around with some cool examples of how the technology could be implemented here.

Taking Browser-Based Google Earth for a Spin

For me, this plug-in is not a replacement to Google Earth mapping software. Navigating the Earth via your browser and Google Earth still lacks the more robust offerings available in Google Earth software such as support for placemarks, layers, and bookmarks - to name a few.


Installing the plug-in takes a bit longer than your standard browser plug-in since Google Earth is a relatively large, graphics-intensive program but once installed, everything ran quickly and smoothly for me. You'll be prompted to install the plug-in the first time you attempt to access an embedded Google Earth application or you can get it over with now by going to the Google Earth API page.

Integration with Google Maps

You'll likely see the Google Earth plug-in being used in concert with embedded Google Maps, as the two can share information. One very basic example can be found here. You'll notice a standard map that now has an "Earth" button in the upper right hand corner, allowing you to toggle between Map mode, Satellite mode, and Earth mode. I can see this being pretty handy when looking for someplace nearby because the Earth mode shows buildings and land marks if you live in or around a big city. You could search for something and, seeing the buildings in your city, say, "Oh, I know where that is. It's over there by Fenway Park."


There isn't a demo of this particular feature yet, but it'd be really cool to harness GPS features so that you could, in a sense, watch from up and behind your car as you drive through whatever city you happen to be in. You'd be able to see the actual building where you're supposed to take a left, for instance.

Google Earth Games


There are also a couple of simple games available as demonstrations. One is a simple time-waster (in a good way) called Geo Whiz, which gives you a city in the world and lets you twist and turn the earth until a stationary box becomes superimposed over the correct location.


Another is called Monster Milktruck, which lets you drive a gigantic milk truck around any location in the entire world. There's no collision detection yet, so you'll pass right through buildings but it's kind of fun to whip around your home town, traffic be damned.

Other Uses

We'll start to see additional clever uses for Google Earth as more and more programmers dig in to the API library. For now all we have now is the Google Earth API Examples page to check out.

Comments (1)

Good review... we've been playing with it for a few days and just starting to learn how to develop with it.

How do you think it compares to Microsoft's Virtual Earth 3D plug-in?

Microsoft has a pretty good head-start in terms of having an integrated control and development environment, although Google seems to have more fans.


June 03, 2008
7:51 AM PT