NASA’s World Wind
Marco points me to a program released by NASA known as World Wind that is very similar to Google Earth, but seems to have been around for far longer. It has some advantages over Google Earth and Maps but also lacks certain features.
World Wind is essentially another program to view visuals of the Earth from satellite orbit. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to have quite the high graphical detail for certain urban areas that Google Earth does. So that is admittedly a let down.
But World Wind does have several graphical topography display modes that Google Earth completely lacks. One can also download entire parts of the ‘layers’ of parts of the world to view offline. Google Earth forces you to go online whenever you want to use it.
I also find World Wind locates names and places far more accurately. Skimming over Kwa-Zulu Natal brings up a huge amount of various regions names. I can also find an obscure town in some part of the world more easily and there is no evidence of the ‘tearing’ and clunky loading of geographical features that Google Earth has.
There are other downsides to World Wind – Table Mountain’s size is grossly overstated by the one Landsat mode – but it seems quite useful provided NASA keep adding to it. The scientific visualisation mode for one has a listing showing fire activity in Africa in 2002 over a period of time.
World Wind is about 180MB’s in size for the full infrastructure. You may also need Net1.1 and Direct X9.0c installed before the installer will proceed. You also need a decent graphics card and 2GB’s of space. Apparently you can download the Add-On Packs from here but be warned – if you’re a local ADSL user who frets about your 3GB cap this will chew it up. The Southern Hemisphere add-on pack is alone over 1GB in size. A download manager is recommended since their servers can go offline due to the heavy demands placed on it.