Google Earth comparison

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[[Category:End User Documentation]] [[Category:End User Documentation]]
-sun is rounding the earth 

Revision as of 11:56, 6 December 2005

This Google Earth comparison with World Wind is an attempt to show the differences and similarities between both products.


General discussion

A screenshot of World Wind using the halo and stars plug-ins.
A screenshot of World Wind using the halo and stars plug-ins.
A screenshot of Google Earth.
A screenshot of Google Earth.

Well, we like to think World Wind is better. Give you two quick reasons why? Glad to - here you go: World Wind is open-source (FREE), and more powerful in many ways than Google Earth. OK, so not everyone will agree, and frankly, that is quite alright with us.

The fact is, they both are sophisticated programs with amazing feature sets, and they both have features that the other would benefit from. But as similar as they are, and (perhaps more so) as they seem, Google Earth and World Wind are not entirely comparable, due to significantly different focuses and development history/philosophies. Many of us use both programs, depending on what we wish to accomplish. In some aspects, each program has distinct advantages over the other, and so we will leave it to you to decide which you prefer. (if you absolutely must have a favorite)

It is easy to construct a set of criteria by which either one can be made to seem inferior, but the truth is that they are two very different products aimed at different audiences. Google Earth uses commercial satellite imagery, and thus has much more data (and more recent data) available to users than World Wind. On the other hand, Google Earth is lacking the Scientific Visualization Viewer capabilities of World Wind, and cannot be extended with user-authored add-ons. Moreover, World Wind provides direct access to the downloaded DDS and JPEG satellite images, and the open source nature of the program means that anyone can get the source code and 'roll their own' version of the program. Try doing THAT (or many other WW-specific features which make this software so great) with Google Earth!

World Wind is totally free. It is also easy to use. There are no limits to what you can do with World Wind, and it won't cost you a dime (except for all those missed days of work while you zoom in on your Favorite President's Ranch and try to figure out what he spends those long vacations doing). It includes a myriad of advanced functions and capabilities. For those, and for many other things, there is Open-Source. World Wind benefits from diverse input from a user community which has the power to shape its development. This has led to a proliferation of 'add-ons' and 'plug-ins' which can be thought of as something like all those great extensions for Firefox. And this is only the beginning!

'Wait!', you protest, 'Google Earth has lots of stuff like that, too!' Yes, Google Earth has a whole lot of great user contributions, and this is one thing that makes Google Earth such an amazing program. And Google itself owes much of its success to its policies of allowing users access to certain API's, or allowing them to participate and play with things a lot - this has really helped to stimulate new applications and rapid development of various technologies. Google is to be commended for their foresight and tradition of 'doing things a little different.'

But there is a significant difference between allowing developers and users the ability to work with the program in pre-defined parameters, and what World Wind allows, which is total access to everything! In this area, and in others, World Wind will always win out over similar products that aren't free and open-source, no matter how many features they might have, and how high the quality of their imagery.

>>Google Earth Plus: a really good deal.->- __ <<< <<- - ->> >>> __ ->- NASA World Wind: free and priceless.<<

My advice? Use Both!


As well as the free version of Google Earth, there are additional versions available with different features. These versions start at $20 a year and quickly jump to $400 a year, with the Enterprise versions requiring contact from sales person. Additional componets for the $400 per year version cost $200 each.

NASA World Wind comes in one version, free.


World Wind is an education tool that allows users to explore many aspects of the Earth and Moon. With tools such as WMS and MODIS built in, World Wind allows viewing of recent world events, weather patterns, fires, and any other imagery people have desired to make available. The hope with World Wind is that people can get a better understanding and appreciation of the world around them.

Google Earth is a commercial product with the main intent of making money. It does this by allowing people to see the world they know and interact with it better. This isn't to say that they don't want people to learn from their product, but that is not the main intent.

Feature Comparison

Different versions of Google Earth have different features. See the Google Earth comparison chart to see what is available in each version.


World Wind covers both Earth and Moon, while Google Earth focuses on the Earth. Through add-ons it is possible to add additional worlds to World Wind.

Earth imagery

For getting a snap shot of the world as it currently is, there is no doubt that Google Earth is more complete. As a corporation it can pay to have the imagery in its product. NASA World Wind is funded by the American tax payers on a strict budget and therefore relies on freely accessible imagery.

World Wind has been built to make use of a multitude of image sets, and as such has better performance when compared to the free version of Google Earth when viewing external imagery such as the Blue Marble NG which is available for both programs.

Because of this difference individuals and organisations can make use of their own imagery for free in World Wind and not have to incur the initial cost of the more expensive versions of Google Earth.

There is also community effort to bring more high detail imagery to World Wind, such as the OneEarth and ZoomIt! projects.

Image Storage

World Wind allows you to set your own cache size and to change the location of the stored imagery. This allows you to share the same cache between multiple computers. This is beneficial in situations like schools where it would ease both internal network traffic and traffic out to the Internet. The images are also stored in a way that makes it possible to retrieve the imagery from the cache.

Google Earth stores its imagery in a locked file of a fixed size. While it is possible to share the cache, it's limited size reduces the benefit of doing so.

GPS Device

Not available in the free version of Google Earth.

NASA World Wind has several plug-ins for GPS devices.

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