Monday, March 19, 2007

Google Earth on Ubuntu: a new definition of slow

This post is all Dr. Roger Smith's fault. Roger has been playing with Ubuntu 6.10, and he asked me how to install Google Earth from the .bin file he'd just downloaded. After telling him how to start a shell and set the execute bit, he was off and running. And out of curiosity, I decided to download and test Google Earth on rhea, my Ubuntu 7.04 machine.

Google Earth started life as a Windows-only application. Recently Google has been porting Google Earth to Linux and releasing betas. It was one of those betas I snagged and installed. And before you say it, yes, I installed beta software on an alpha operating system. But it's still slower than Congress in an election year.

Google Earth first opens up with a shot of the Earth in space. It then begins to zoom into the planet, and it will eventually stop at the altitude you see above. On my machine, you can see each magnification step laboriously drawn, one frame at a time.

In this next step I've deliberately started to center over Florida, with the intention of zooming down further onto Orlando, where I live. This is where I learned what slow execution really means. I had to position the cursor over an area, then hold the mouse button down and drag the mouse, and hold it down, until, some seconds after the action started, the earth moved to where I wanted it positioned. Then I could take my finger off the mouse button.

In this view I've reorganized the side panels a bit and I've zoomed into Orlando International Airport.

Finally, I've zoomed into the upper left terminal. At this magnification the detail is pretty sharp. Unfortunately it doesn't get any sharper. Any attempts to zoom further just results in bigger blurrier views.

Google Earth's forte' is its crisp, clear resolution that is in my opinion as good if not better than that provided by Nasa's World Wind application. The only problem is that the interface is not quite as intuitive as World Wind, and for non-Window's platforms, its performance needs work. I tried to run Google Earth on my other Linux installation, Suse 10.2. It wouldn't even start up. I got the splash screen but nothing else after that.

My advice: stick to the Window's version for now until the Linux version is finished and finally released. Hopefully it'll be considerably faster.


  1. With Google Earth 4.3 disabling atmosphere in view menu remove turns Google earth fast. Try it!

  2. Yes, yes, yes! Thank you. I've been trying to figure out what was wrong with the slow Google Earth forever! (well, 30 minutes anyway) :-)


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