Google Earth 6: A little creepier, quite a bit more awesome

If you can overlook the ability to peer into your neighbors' homes, Google Earth 6 is a pretty slick tool. I can't help but think that Orwell would be particularly amused by it.

I've always liked Google Earth and it's always been a useful educational and exploratory tool. Google Maps, however, in recent years has gotten so good that I just stopped using Earth. It was an interesting diversion, but not something on which I'd be likely to spend much time. It is, after all, client software and Maps is all browser-based. However, Google Earth Version 6 powerfully integrates higher-resolution images, Street View, and 3D walkaround navigation for an impressive, if vaguely creepy view of just about the whole world.

Since I live in the middle of nowhere, it takes the Google Street View cars a while to drive by my house. When they do, though, and a couple clicks in Google Earth takes me directly to the integrated Street View and lets me walk around my neighborhood, it's easy to see why so many Germans wanted no part of this. I "walked" down my street and looked inside my neighbor's open garage doors. The antique Mustang Fastback he had inside the darkened garage wasn't very clear, but it was there.

And yet the ability to simulate a drive down a road, even with sometimes spotty panoramic views was pretty cool. It's also pretty useful for planning a route through unfamiliar territory. Or for looking at the most easily accessible door on a house with an obscured view from the street if I'm casing the joint.

Privacy worries aside, though, the new version of Earth includes some particularly interesting features. The video below demonstrates the ability to view historical images (where available), including less recent Street View photos, as well as pictures embedded in the Earth application.

Version 6 adds 3D rendering of trees which sounds useless until you watch this video showing 3D tree models from the Amazon:

Additional moon, space, and ocean views have also been added, making this a remarkably complete and robust tool showcasing just how much geological, astronomical, and personal images and data Google has collected and indexed.