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What Planet Are You on?

Linux comes down to earth with a splash. Not to be left behind, Linux users can now extend their reach to planet earth. While Linux users are often accused of not living on this planet, in this case, the new development comes with the ability to browse the planet using the cool Google application Google Earth.

With the current beta 4 version, Google includes support for Linux. You can now browse the planet in all its glory. Download the Linux, Windows, or Mac OS X version at http://earth.google.com/download-earth.html. The requirements for Linux are similar to those for other operating systems. Google recommends at least 512MB of RAM and at least 2GB free of disk space. Google also recommends your system sport a 3D-capable graphics card with at least 32MB of video RAM. The minimal requirements ask for much less, with 128MB of RAM, 400MB free of disk space, and a graphics resolution of at least 1024 by 768 pixels with 16-bit color. Most PCs purchased within the last three to four years should work just fine.

Furthermore, I credit Google with ensuring their application works on the main Linux distributions. Google lists support for Debian 3.1, Fedora Core 5, Gentoo 2006.0, Linspire 5.1, Red Hat 9, Suse 10.1, and Ubuntu 5.10. Testing on distributions such as Gentoo goes beyond what most software developers do and is appreciated.

Google Earth allows you to see just how much Google knows about, well, everything on this planet. You can fly to an address, view the terrain and even pan and zoom around 3D renderings of famous structures. Most of the high-resolution data, though, come from North America, Europe, and Australia. A few additional places, sometimes surprising, that are covered include much of Thailand, Taiwan, and a good bit of Iraq. In the US, Missouri and Indiana sport the most complete coverage.

Version 4 adds some improvements, especially in handling the KML, the XML-based data language Google Earth uses to describe earth features. In addition, version 4 makes the user interface controls for navigating in three-dimensional space smaller, and more unobtrusive.

One part missing, though, is that SketchUp, the Google 3D design application, does not yet support Linux. To add more 3D buildings, you need to use SketchUp (or create your own KML-based application). Currently, Google only provides Windows and Mac OS X versions of SketchUp.

In addition to Google Earth, Google has been porting other applications to Linux, including Picasa, a digital photo tool. This represents a clear acknowledgment that Linux has arrived. Of course, coming from Google, which may have more Linux systems than any other organization, this is not saying too much. But, Google has invested significant resources in creating Linux applications.

After reading the Picasa frequently-asked questions list, it’s clear that Google gets it when it comes to Linux. The text of this page shows a high level of Linux experience. Picasa becomes more interesting when you realize that Picasa is a Windows application that runs under WINE, a support layer to run Windows applications on Linux. Google contracted with CodeWeavers to enhance WINE so that it could run Picasa properly. These enhancements are now part of WINE. You can see the list of changes here.

Companies devoting resources to Linux include more than just Google. In fact, most major players in the software market, with the notable exception of Microsoft, support Linux in some form or another. –Eric Foster-Johnson

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