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The view from above

You, too, can use satellite imagery to spy on your friends and loved ones, and it is all courtesy of Google.

Have you ever wanted to see an aerial view of your neighborhood? If so, you’re not alone. You, too, can use satellite imagery to spy on your friends and loved ones, and it’s all courtesy of Google.

What am I talking about? Keyhole 2, recently purchased by Google, enables you to view any address in the world from recorded satellite images. OK, so it’s not really for spying on your neighbors. The software is actually aimed at travel agencies, contractors, small commercial airlines, real estate offices, and any other company that thrives on geographical data, but it’s fun for everyday power users like you and me as well.

Keyhole 2 is the only program to deliver a 3D digital model of the entire earth via the Internet. Keyhole’s groundbreaking EarthStream technology combines advanced 3D graphics and network streaming to produce a high-performance system that runs on standard PCs and servers. The user-intuitive Keyhole’s solutions enable anyone to manipulate a rich map of the earth composed of imagery and feature information.

Using the software, you can enter an address or a region that you want to view. The program will “fly” you to the address then progressively get closer. Keyhole 2 does better, of course, in major cities than it does in more regional areas, but you can almost always get a clear photo from up to 1,000 feet. If you’re targeting an area that has a lot of traffic, you can sometimes get as close as 400 feet without losing clarity.

You can alter how you view the images as well, from using 3D terrain to fill out the images to showing borders (highways and surface streets) when zooming in on your desired territory. You can also measure the distance between two geographical points, tilt the view to fit your liking, and more. About the only thing you can’t do is reach through the screen and knock on your cousin’s door, though rumor has it that option is coming in the next major upgrade.

The software is free to use for seven days, after which you must register. If you’re just a regular user who likes the educational value of virtually flying all over the world, you can easily do so for $25 per year. If, however, you actually plan on using the technology in your work, you’re better off buying the Pro version of the program for $500. With the Pro software, you can do things that you can’t with the pay-as-you-go version–collaborate with colleagues, run detailed analysis reports, and more.

There are add-ons for the Pro version as well: a data importer, a movie maker, and a premium printing service, all of which cost $300. You can also buy more data–information on shopping centers and traffic counts, to be precise, for an additional $300 each.

Keyhole Pro isn’t cheap, but then again, emerging technology rarely is. If you just think it would be fun to view the world from the eagle eye of a satellite, the yearly plan is probably your best bet. On the other hand, if your business relies on having the most up-to-date geographical data available, then it’s a no-brainer. Spend the big bucks, and you’ll be rewarded a hundred times over by a program that’s crisp, speedy, and crystal clear.

Keyhole 2 runs on Windows 98 and up, but works best on NT or XP. You can find out more about the software as well as the technology behind it by visiting Keyhole’s Web site >www.keyhole.com

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