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Googling the Planet
To download Google Earth, click on the button below. It's fast, safe and free. Google Pack offers several programs. You can select which programs you want (I don't recommend installing them all - See more info below.)



Most people know “Google” as a tool for looking up information on the Internet.  There is also an amazing 3D virtual planet visualization program called Google Earth.  It stitches together satellite and aerial photographs taken during the past three or four years, combines them with Geographic Information System (GIS) data, and then overlays it all on the globe. Download the free program onto your computer, and you can fly to and seamlessly zoom in on an address anywhere in the world. It’s kind of like looking out an airplane window, except you go faster and can see the names of the roads.

Google Earth, which has been described as “equal parts valuable resource and fun time waster,” contains a staggering amount of information. For example, you can see city boundaries, some parks and golf courses, “crop circles” (created by rotating irrigation systems, not aliens), groundwater levels and USGS stream flow data, the history and path of Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to the Antarctic, and the locations of avian flu outbreaks.  Its contents are being supplemented daily by millions of users around the world. 

Google Earth is evolving into a useful tool to research, teach, display and track things like pollution and encroachment into natural areas.  "I think that this has the potential not only to raise people's environmental consciousness but to raise their consciousness of humanity," says Google's Rebecca Moore. "I see it as making the world a smaller place in a good way; giving everyone a greater intimacy with the Earth and the rest of the people and the plants and animals that share it with us." 

You can view and print out a color picture of land use around your own house.  In areas like Cambridge MA where the resolution is high, you can easily make out the color of every car on the street.  I zoomed in on a neighborhood where I spent part of my childhood.  I wanted to see what had become of the dairy farm behind our house, where I first smelled a cow’s breath and watched a calf being born.  Now I can count the condominiums where the cows used to be.  A tilt-slider gives you a 3D view of the terrain.  The drumlins (hills created by glaciers) in our area don’t show up very well, but 3D views of the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest are stunning.

Google Earth is not the only tool out there to explore the planet, but it’s probably the most popular.  There are still some glitches, errors and ads. And like any tool, it can be misused.  Critics are concerned about invasion of privacy and potential threats to national security. Others argue that the information is readily available from many other sources.
Google Earth is free for personal use.  Upgrades such as Google Earth Plus ($20/year for personal use) and Google Earth Pro (a business-oriented version for $400/year) offer capabilities such as importing GIS data, printing high resolution pictures suitable for large formats, faster performance and movie making. To download and run Google Earth, go to http://earth.google.com/download-earth.html) or click on the button below.  You will need a newer computer with 400 MB of free storage space. You’ll also need a broadband (cable or DSL) Internet connection – dial-up is too slow.   The website describes other requirements.

Google Pack: For programs already installed on a computer, Google Updater checks whether the latest version is running. If not, Google Updater will install the latest version.

Every program included in the Google Pack is free. It runs on Windows XP, and supports Firefox 1.0 and higher and Internet Explorer 6.0 and higher. The programs you can choose to download are listed below. I only downloaded the ones that are in bold.
  • Google Earth - 3D Earth browser Zoom from space to street level - see article above.
  • Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer - Search toolbar. Search from any web page and autofill forms. Block annoying pop-ups. I think this downloads IE 7, which is not ready for prime time yet in my opinion.
  • Mozilla Firefox with Google Toolbar - Web browser Mozilla Corporation. Browse the web quickly and securely. Switch between pages quickly with tabbed browsing. I like FireFox a lot.
  • Norton AntiVirus 2005 Special Edition - Antivirus utility Symantec. Protect your PC from viruses, worms and Trojan horses. Includes 6-month subscription to protection updates. If you already have antivirus software, you don't need this.
  • Ad-Aware SE Personal - Antispyware utility Lavasoft. Safely detect and remove spyware. Protect your privacy with powerful features. This gets rid of cookies sites sneak onto your computer. I run it at least once a month.
  • Adobe Reader 7 - PDF reader Adobe Systems. View, print, and search PDF files. Launches up to 50% faster than Reader 6.0.
  • Picasa - Photo organizer: Find, edit, and share your photos in seconds. Remove red eye and fix photos. Good if you don't already have a photo organizer.
  • Google Pack Screensaver - Photo screensaver from your personal collection. View pictures full screen or as a collage. I skipped this one.
  • Google Desktop - Desktop companion. Find all your email, files, web history, and more. Get all your personalized info in one place with Sidebar. I skipped this one as it was sort of annoying.

References and More Information:

Originally published in the Woodstock Villager 02/23/07

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