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Google Earth users outnumber Brazil's population

Michael Jones, chief technology officer of Google's geography software, counts Google Earth as fifth among the most populous nations.

BERKELEY, Calif.-- Michael Jones, chief technology officer of Google's geography software, on Tuesday counted Google Earth as fifth among the most populous nations, by a measure of how many people have installed the mapping application that lets people see their house from space.

More than 200 million people have downloaded Google Earth, according to Jones, who spoke here at the Fifth International Symposium on Digital Earth. That's just under the population of Indonesia at roughly 233 million and the United States at just more than 301 million. Brazil's population falls short of Google Earth users with 188 million residents.

Jones said that Google Earth, which launched two years ago, has also drawn more installations than Microsoft's Windows XP.

"That attracts attention," Jones said to an audience at the five-day conference, held on the U.C. Berkeley campus. He specifically referred to positive mentions of Google Earth among top government officials such as French President Jacques Chirac and even Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Jones highlighted a quote from President Bush about the mapping software.

Bush has said: "I kind of like to look at the ranch on Google, reminds me of where I want to be sometimes."

Similarly, Google Earth is catching on in celebrity culture, Jones said. In one example, the actress Angelina Jolie tattooed the longitude and latitude of the birthplace of each of her children, three of whom are adopted, on her arm. A German magazine with a photo of the actress' tattoo took the opportunity to map the children's locations on Google Earth and publish the images.

"There's a change happening," Jones said. These are "true signals of a society adapting to 'where' as an important part of 'what.'"

He said that the attraction isn't just about Google Earth but about digital earth, and people seeing their surroundings in a new way. At least one person in Iran, for example has sent him hate mail, saying Google has besmirched Iranian pride by not showing the Persian Gulf on Google Earth, he said. "They care about how their country is portrayed."

That sense of the world could only intensify as Google and rivals expand and improve on mapping software. Google, for example, last week started giving people "street views"--or close-up photos--of urban addresses in the Bay Area and New York. The new application has even drawn privacy concerns.

Yet the company plans to put even more of that data and imagery in people's hands. Given the fact that there are about 1 billion personal computers in the world, and a global population of roughly 6 billion, Jones said he can see the remaining people adopting technology that's much smaller. "What are they going to buy? I think it will be more like an (Apple) iPhone with Google Earth," he said.