When it comes to programs that work with the Internet, most people think of their web browser or their email application.
The fact of the matter is there is a plethora of programs that are geared to work with the Internet and not just your email client or web browser. There are FTP programs, games, VOIP programs and more.
This week I thought I would write about a gem of an Internet program that has been a lot of fun to play around with. And it's educational, too.
Open your web browser and enter http://earth.google.com. That will bring you to the homepage of one of the coolest web-based applications I've seen in a long time.
Now, when you think of Google, the first thing that generally comes to mind is web searching. And for the most part, that's true; Google is the premier search engine on the web today.
But did you know that there is so much more to Google than just web searching? Among other things, it also powers the best free satellite imagery program on the Internet.
Google Earth is a program that you have to download and install on your computer. Once installed, you become the proud owner of the neatest virtual globe in existence. Did I mention that this program is really cool?
When you go to http://earth.google.com, click the "download Google Earth" button. On the page that opens, be sure to read the information about what systems can handle it; it won't run on older machines but for the most part, most modern machines can handle it.
After you've read the system requirements and made sure you aren't trying to install this on an old Windows 95 box built in 1997 or something, click on the "download GoogleEarth" button. This will start the downloading process. Save the file to a place where you will be able to find it like your desktop.
Once the download is complete, close all your windows and double click it. Follow along clicking the "next" button when appropriate and install the program onto your machine. Remember, this is a pretty intensive program that may not run on all systems. Also, the specifications call for a broadband connection so that means it probably won't work over dialup even if you have a fast machine.
Once installed you should have a Google Earth icon on your desktop. Click it and this is where the fun starts.
The program opens with a virtual globe floating in space. Use your mouse to grab and turn the globe up, down left or right. Try to position the globe so that Florida (or any are you are interested in, for that matter) is in the center of the screen.
On the screen you will see some buttons that control the action. Click and hold the "zoom" button. Like a rock your view will drop until you are almost at ground level (you may want to zoom out a bit so you can see where you are as you move around). Using the controls, you can rotate the image left or right and also "tilt" the view so you are looking at it across the ground with a view of the horizon. Geography has never been more fun.
I have been using Google Earth to explore my old "stomping grounds" in Worcester, Mass., where I grew up and I'll tell you, the sense of nostalgia is uncanny; it's just like being there (only higher). With Google Earth I can visit any time.
There is a tool you can use to mark locations to bring you back instantly and there are an insane amount of "overlays" that you can enable on the display.
Google earth gives you the opportunity to explore the world from the comfort of your desk with spectacular views and detailed information about what you are looking at just a click away.
One question that seems to come up with this program is "how old are these images"? Well, all I can say is that they are not "real time." The satellite images appear to be about a year or so old but that doesn't take away from the fun. Disney World (for instance) looks pretty much the same from space now as it did whenever these pictures were taken and frankly, it doesn't really matter. You have the whole world to explore. Have fun.
Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (888) 752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).