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The personal journal of technology journalist and conference speaker Randall S. Newton.

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Google Already Has A Browser

[An expanded version of this item, written for design professionals, will be posted at AECnews.com.]

The web, and especially the blogosphere, is filled with rumor and gossip claiming that Google is working on a browser. A recent CNet article, "Clues May Point to Google Browser" is probably the best summary of all the current talk. There's one problem with all the speculation--Google already has a browser. It's called Google Earth.

"The media doesn't get it," said Google Earth software engineer Michael Ashbridge Friday at 3D Base Camp, the users conference sponsored by @Last Software, makers of SketchUp design software. “Nobody in the media who writes about Google Earth gets it. Google Earth is a 3D browser.”

Ashbridge, along with Google colleague Wes Thierry, were at the conference in Boulder, Colorado to show off a new SketchUp plug-in that allows SketchUp 3D models to appear in Google Earth, and for Google Earth georeferenced imagery to appear in a SketchUp model. I attended the event, blogging it for my online journal AECnews.com.

If you haven't already downloaded Google Earth and played with it, you are missing a treat. (Don't bother if your Internet connection is dial-up.) Having the power to view satellite imagery and aerial photography of the entire Earth, at your fingertips, is an incredible experience. But Google Earth is more than a viewer. It has much of the functionality of the existing map-server sites such as Yahoo! Maps, MapQuest and Google Maps. It also has tools to export data and imagery and to import information from other sources, creating new opportunities for leveraging the geographic data.

The combination of Google Earth and SketchUp opens the door to many new uses. Want to know what the planned parking garage will look like on site? If you create a model in SketchUp, you can place it, at true scale and true location, into Google Earth. Some landscape architects already use SketchUp to create accurate depictions of their work; now they can lay their designs into imagery, merging the new park (etc.) into the existing locale.

The new SketchUp plug-in which allows this interaction between the two programs is about a week away from release. A preliminary version is currently available for download from the SketchUp website, but it is more labor intensive and less useful than the new version.

Compared to the best-known programs for architectural design, including AutoCAD, MicroStation, and ArchiCAD, SketchUp is an upstart. It was launched in 1999, designed to be simple to use but deceptively powerful. While it succeeds in bringing 3D to the masses, it now has a new and huge advantage over the larger, more expensive and more complicated professional CAD programs--it is the only one Google Earth supports. When asked, late in the session at 3D Boot Camp, if the ability to place CAD models in Google Earth would extend to other products and formats, Ashbridge replied in his soft Irish lilt, “We really like these SketchUp guys, it’s great stuff. I’m sticking with these guys.”


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