The latest version of Google Earth makes it, indubitably, the only free mapping app worth considering. Accessible enough for casual users, Google has been added features that make it a necessity for those whose topographic desires are more serious.
Most of the interface's real estate displays a rendering of the globe, which slowly zooms in on a satellite image of your destination once you've keyed it in. The control panel has changed and is now translucent and sits unobtrusively in a corner of the map. The new diagonal movement control and flexible north anchor, so you can re-orient the map, are useful additions.
The Layers, Places and Search panes are now a left-side navigation bar, and have more options for determining what information appears on the map. Everything from roads and restaurants to crime statistics can be displayed; subcategories and individual items can be unchecked to show only what you need. Google's driving directions are incorporated, and the user community has produced several nifty mods, including historical maps. There's also integration with Google's 3-D rendering program SketchUp, so you can design a building and see it in a real-life setting.
The only downside to the program is that it can consume a large amount of RAM, so as the developer notes, older machines might experience performance issues. But everyone else is bound to love Google Earth, both as an entertaining novelty and an informational tool.
Google Earth puts a planet's worth of imagery and other geographic information right on your desktop. View exotic locales like Maui and Paris, as well as points of interest such as local restaurants, hospitals, and schools. Google Earth combines satellite imagery, maps, and the power of Google Search to put the world's geographic information at your fingertips. With Google Earth you can fly from space to your neighborhood--just type in an address and zoom right in, search for schools, parks, restaurants, and hotels. Get driving directions, tilt and rotate the view to see 3D terrain and buildings, save and share your searches and favorites and even add your own annotations.
The latest version adds higher-quality terrain data, textures for 3D buildings, and a new user interface.
Note: Google Earth is a broadband, 3D application that not all computers can run. Windows-based desktop PCs older than four years may not be able to run Google Earth and Windows-based notebook PCs older than two years may not be able to run it.