During one of my SCETV sessions this week the question came up about the various flavors of Google Earth, and which might be most appropriate. For classrooms and general use, go with the free version. Period. I can’t see why anyone who doesn’t work with GIS professionally would need anything else.
Google has provided a nice comparison chart showing the features of each version. Looking at this, there are very, very few things that Google Earth Plus will do that the free version won’t. Even then, there are some third-party ways to get around the differences. One just needs to decide if that would be worth the $20 annual investment. For now, I’ll just focus on the differences between these two, and leave Google Earth Pro out of the equation.
All version are based on the same imagery, so there is no enhanced resolution by purchasing anything. Supposedly the speed and performance increases with each level. I’d have to see a side-by-side comparison to see if it was worth it. The images that one can print are a little larger, but the images that one can save are the same size.
It looks like the biggest difference between the two lower level versions is the ability to work with GPS units. GE Plus allows real-time GPS tracking, whereas the free version doesn’t. I have to ask, how many times would one really use this feature?? You have to have a broadband connection to the Internet for GE to even work. Unless you do have a wireless broadband card, it’s not like you’re going to take your laptop into the field or drive around with it to warrant real-time tracking.
Much more practical is the ability to share date with a GPS. The free version will open GPX files, so you can save your GPS tracks and import them into GE. Neither version will save Google Earth placemarks as GPS waypoints. However, there are some free utilities that will do that. Just save the placemarks as a KML file, use a KML2GPX converter, then open the GPX file in your GPS managment software (easyGPS is free and, well, easy), then upload to your GPS unit. Done.
About the only thing that would make me consider upgrading to the next level would be the ability to import spreadsheet data. Even that is a misnomer. GE Plus can import .CSV files – not spreadsheet files. Also, import is limited to 100 points per file. I guess you could import multiple files, each with 100 points, but it could be limiting. However, since GE files are based on XML, you could format the data in XML yourself, if you really want to be able to work on the files outside of the GE environment. If you’re developing API’s to create network layers, you would use this method anyway, and not try to import from a spreadsheet. I would think the ability to EXPORT to a spreadsheet would be much more useful. Here again, third-party applications come through where Google has not. There are several methods of converting KML files to CSV files.
This brings us to Google Earth Pro. At $400, it really is intended for power users. Here again, unless you really, really need this, so of the differences between the free version and Pro can be overcome with third party applications. One of the biggest benefits over the other two versions is Pro’s ability to work with standard GIS data. Well, if you can convert KML data to GPX or CSV, then you can open that data in a standard GIS program such as ArcGIS. ESRI has now developed an add-on to ArcGIS that will save shape layers as KML files. That kind of takes that advantage away.
Finally, GEO Pro can create movie files from the tours and flyovers. Once more, third-party folks have solved this. AVIScreen is a free program that will capture anything on the screen and save it as an AVI movie file. If you’re only posting this only and not trying to create DVD quality videos, this should be fine.
In short, there’s not much more that the pay versions give you that you can’t accomplish with the free version and a little ingenuity.