Geography 2.0: Virtual Globes

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Virtual globes expectations from Where 2.0

Before the conference, I gave four Where 2.0 expectations I had for Google, ESRI, NASA, and Microsoft concerning virtual globes. Here are my post-conference impressions:

Google will talk about their time browser
Google did not launch the time browser I was hoping for, but did introduce an attractive new version of Google Earth. When asked about spatiotemporal data at Geo Developer Day, Michael T. Jones, Google Earth CTO, alluded to additional relevant functionality available within Google Earth Enterprise. He did not linger on the point though, as not to distract from the features of the latest consumer release. Also stated somewhat cryptically, Jones mentioned the risks of adding functionality that detracts from the usability of the product. I interpret this to mean that they have not found a satisfactory manner to implement a time browser that matches their user-to-user design philosophy.

ESRI will either launch or provide an exact launch date for ArcGIS Explorer
ESRI and Jack Dangermond did not provide a launch date for the public beta of ArcGIS Explorer. While disappointed, I am heartened that they are making sure their internet-based virtual globe is fully-baked before release.

NASA; Hope to hear more about their vision of moving World Wind toward a scientific analysis tool
Of the four, my expectations from the NASA World Wind team were lowest. Patrick Hogan's Where 2.0 presentation was entirely about the basic functionality and open-source nature of the software; no particularly new material was covered. However, in a conversation with World Wind developers Randy Kim and Frank Kuehnel, I learned a lot more about the next steps in the software's evolution from visualization software to what they describe as a "mission operation" tool. I'll discuss those details--which mostly concern the software's tiling infrastructure--in a later post.

Microsoft will display or announce some thoughtful, interesting tool -- with a somewhat logical business model
I set expectations low for Microsoft too. Though it's anticipated that Microsoft will eventually launch a virtual globe, I did not expect an announcement. In fact, at this conference they did not launch anything. Their most-recent Windows Live Local was released a few weeks ago though on May 23rd. Its new features portray mostly-incremental, logical progress: better integrated Messenger map sharing, pushpins and notes collections, and the ability to view local traffic conditions. Their release notes provide specifics. Microsoft really seems to believe in their Bird's Eye imagery. Their goal of covering 80% of the United States with Bird's Eye overhead imagery is a big commitment (and good news for Pictometry). I made sure to utter my hope for 3D geospatial software for XBOX360 to every Microsoft employee I saw. Hopefully, someone will carry the message back to the hive.