Google Earth version 4 beta is now available for download from Google’s Web site, in Mac OS X, Linux and Windows versions. Google Earth is free for personal, non-commercial use. Plus and Pro versions cost $20 to register and $400 per year, respectively.
Google describes Google Earth as “a 3D interface to the planet.” Combining 3D rendering technology with broadband connectivity, topographical maps and satellite imagery, Google Earth lets you explore the planet from far away in outer space, zooming right down to individual streets and highways. You can plot locations of interest, fly or drive along routes, find specific businesses or places that other people have plotted, and much more.
Of greatest import to Mac users, the new beta 4 release is a Universal Binary that runs natively on both Intel and PowerPC-based Macs. But regardless of platform, the new release also touts many new features. Those features include a new user interface that Google says is simpler, easier to find layers and turn them on and off. The navigation panel has been removed and the navigation tools themselves have been relocated.
Textured 3D buildings are now supported, and Google Earth now supports textured 3D models created with
Google SketchUp. KML, the file format that Google Earth uses to add and share geographic information between users, has also been improved. The result is faster performance when using large data sets, according to the developers.
Other improvements in beta 4 include localized French, Italian, German and Spanish releases and improvements to the terrain to make peaks and valleys more realistic.
Minimum system requirements call for Mac OS X v10.3.9 or later, G3/500MHz or faster, 256MB RAM, 400MB hard disk space, 128Kb/s network speed, 16MB VRAM and OpenGL-compliant graphics.
Please note that Google Earth’s recommended system specs are considerably higher: Mac OS X v10.4.5 or later, G4/1.2GHz or higher, 512MB RAM, 2GB hard disk space, 768 Kb/s network connection and 32MB VRAM.