Taking Google Earth for another spin

Because my look at Google Earth ran on so long that you could probably complete a trip around the earth before coming to to the end of the blog post, I wrapped things up before addressing two other components of the 3-D mapping software—e-mailing and printing maps. Neither of those capabilities affect my   -rating of Google Earth, but they are important enough that I want to briefly talk about them.

First, the e-mail features. When you want to send someone a Google Earth map, either by clicking the e-mail icon in the navigation area or by hitting Command-E, the application gives you two choices—you can e-mail either the satellite image or the entire location. The former attaches to your e-mail as a JPEG, the latter as a KMZ file that’s accessible only to other Google Earth users. Open that KMZ file, and Google Earth will zoom over to that locale, adding it to your Temporary Places folder. (And what if you try to open a KMZ file without having Google Earth installed? A whole lot of nothing, basically.)

Google Earth’s e-mail features worked just fine for me—once I made a minor modification to the program itself. You see, Google Earth’s default e-mail setting is OS X 10.4’s built-in Mail client, which is fine and dandy—unless, like me, you happen to use an e-mail client other than Mail (Microsoft Entourage, in my case).

Fortunately, we Entourage users don’t have to spend time setting up an e-mail client we never use, just to e-mail cool satellite pictures of our homes to friends and family. Instead, there’s a work-around for getting Google Earth to use Entourage, courtesy of The Entourage User’s WebLog. (To get the tip, click here and scan down the page until you get to the “Hacking Google Earth” header.) I replaced Google Earth’s existing emailplacemark.scpt with one that forces it to use Entourage instead, and I was e-mailing maps to friends in no time.

(And as I was proofing this blog entry, word comes that an update to Google Earth adds a preference setting allowing you to use Entourage. Life moves quickly on the Web.)

As for printing maps, Google Earth gives you a couple of options if you just hit Command-P—a “quick print” screen capture or a “medium,” 1,000-pixel view. Some users, like Macworld reader P.N., reported problems with printing:

I couldn’t get a landscape print even after selecting view/view size/print/8.5x11 landscape (rather than a page setup menu option). And after the program taking a long time to render a print on “medium” resolution, it crashed when I tried Save as PDF from the print dialog box. After waiting for it to be rendered again, I could find no Save as PS option. Then I tried printing to the Adobe PDF printer. Crashed again. Finally, using Print Preview, and its Save As command, I was able to save an electronic copy of the map. Very unorthodox and still buggy.

Google Earth printable view
I tried a couple of different print-outs, and like P.N., experienced a crash when I tried the Save As PDF route; other prints came out as expected. While acknowledging that I wasn’t working with the most sophisticated printer in the world—it’s great for black-and-white documents, but not really intended to produce crisp replications of satellite imagery—I wasn’t all that impressed with the output. And I’m not really sure what you’d use such a printout for, although I’m sure there are some cartographers and graphic artists in the audience that will set me straight.

A printing feature I did find somewhat useful involves Google Earth’s integration with Google’s Web-based maps. Do a search for a city—San Diego, say—and then a search for something within that city—like, the San Diego Zoo. On the left pane, Google Earth offers you a Printable View option; click on it, and your default browser will jump to the appropriate online Google map (as shown on the left). It’s a nice option for printing out a map you can use while driving.

Oh, one other note—while it’s a PowerPC-native application, Google Earth runs just fine on an Intel-based Mac. I gave it a try on one of the 17-inch iMac Core Duo/1.83GHz machines we have around the office, and I was able to use it without a problem—and, more important, without any noticeable lag in performance versus my PowerBook G4.

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