Tuesday, April 08, 2008

EarthBrowser 3.0 Imminent

EarthBrowser 3.0 is currently in beta testing and I think that it might live up to my prediction to revolutionize virtual globes. It should be released within the next two weeks.

Floundering In The Past

I have been working on version 3 of EarthBrowser since 2004 and it is finally coming to fruition. Up until about a year ago, I was still working on a version that was based on OpenGL with a Python scripting engine. It was basically a new platform that would do seamless version updates, enable users to extend the interface programmatically, do extremely fast raster and vector map projections on multi-gigabyte data files using JPEG-2000 incremental decompression. Use a hexagonal dataset grid to feed the fragment shader based clipmap engine for smooth panning around the poles with no perspective distortion. I was also downloading, pan-sharpening and color-space correcting the Landsat 15m dataset. Bit-torrent distributed datasets were integrated, relief mapping and atmospheric diffusion were supported. It really is a masterpiece, but then Google Earth was given away for free and sales of version 2 began to dry up as I was digging myself deeper and deeper.

The Turning Point

Then along came Modest Maps which introduced me to Flash programming. Once again plunging into yet another new technology, I decided to make a quick sliding map with a few datasets for people to put on their websites for free advertising. Then I saw Papervision3D and realized that I could do a globe. It was a little too slow for my needs so I ported my C++ game engine kernel over to Flash. I kept adding features expecting to hit the limit of what was possible with Flash and I never did. Around June I put the OpenGL version on the back burner and began working full time on a web version of EarthBrowser.

Unexpected Windfall

This February Adobe released Adobe AIR which enabled me to bring my EarthBrowser back to the desktop. AIR has some *really* nice features that make EarthBrowser much more powerful than I imagined it could be in my last post. There is an integrated web browser, right within EarthBrowser 3.0 now. That is huge and you won't really understand how easy it makes things until you browse some geo-websites and drag and drop KML links right into your placemarks folder or look at the Wikipedia page for a city or country.

Weather Datasets

There are a lot of other nice features that you won't see in Google Earth or Microsoft's Virtual Earth. I've been creating a lot of real-time datasets generated from the NOAA Forecast Models to give regions of rainfall, snowfall, humidity, temperature and many other measurements which are all animated across the globe with an intuitive time slider. Continental US doppler radar, earthquakes, volcanoes, webcams and many more datasets are all there and animated too.

Finally: KML Integration

KML support in EarthBrowser 3.0 is really nice and intuitive. There is a Panarimio KML file that allows you to see pictures from all over the world as you zoom in closer. You can download a KML or KMZ file directly within the embedded browser or drag and drop it from your desktop. EarthBrowser even has some extensions to the KML format that I felt were missing and greatly enhance the expressiveness of the format. But I'll save that for another post.

KML Mashup Tool

EarthBrowser 3.0 has really been designed to be a KML authoring and mashup tool. If you want to save a single feature from a dataset, just drag a placemark icon from the globe right into your placemarks folder and it will make a copy. You can drag out any combination of items in your placemark folder onto a text editor to make a custom KML mashup file to post it on your own website or share it with your friends. Version 3.1 will extend EarthBrowser from your desktop to your website. It will be easy since it is based on Flash technology. A simple and seamless way of creating and distributing your personal or corporate geospatial content.

I'm Not a Machine, Or Am I?

Is it possible for one man to compete with Google and Microsoft? Not really, and I'm not trying to. I want to make EarthBrowser an excellent tool for education, weather watching and KML authoring and have it be just enjoyable to use. Google and Microsoft are working hard to... hmmm... put buildings in... add more resolution... see star texture tiles and some other stuff. It takes a team of coders and a multi-billion dollar company to give this kind of software away for free. That's why I have to charge for it. I've spent countless sleepless nights and many evenings and weekends away from my family. I've gone into debt while sales of version 2 have dropped to almost nothing, trying desperately to get this new version done. I really have to thank my wife and children for their patience in allowing me to pursue the dream of owning my own business making virtual globes. Once sales pick up again with version 3, crossing fingers, I can focus on adding even more great features, but I'll talk about those later.


Michael Ashbridge said...

Looking forward to knowing a little more about your plans to extend KML. Are you planning to put them in a separate XML namespace?

Kai Hoevel said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and details about your software baby! I now can see the point of having this alternative more clearly! Also the latest version 3 is fun to use and will hopefully have the success which it deserves! Thanks a lot for sharing this information!!!

matt_giger said...

Man, I used the word "mashup" three times in one paragraph. That's lame.

Anonymous said...

The only negative about using an associative array for styling is that it's not discoverable. (JS consoles that autocomplete for you).

max den said...

Amazing post

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