Occasionally a piece of software comes along that is very, very cool.
http://earth.google.comGoogle Earth, a free application that brings a 3D model of the world to your desktop, was launched last week by the California-based search engine giant.
After installing the 10MB application, you are presented with a 3D model of the globe, which you can tilt, pan and spin around with your mouse. Using the scroll wheel lets you zoom in and out with an extraordinary level of detail to high-resolution satellite images of hundreds of cities, giving users a birds-eye view of streets, buildings, parks and landmarks.
View larger image: Australia
Type the name of a city into the search bar and Google Earth rockets out of your current location and flies you directly to street level of your next destination. Like any decent geographical information system, Google Earth combines these bitmap satellite images with vector overlays that represent borders, roads and train lines, and a stack of other information.
It would be good to see Google expand its database to include more thorough information on countries outside of the US. Currently, US-based cities have the most data associated with them, such as placemarks for local shops, bars/clubs, chemists, petrol stations and schools.
A large amount of community-generated points can also be displayed, such as Web cams, stadiums and places of interest.
View larger image: Sydney
You can create your own placemarks with custom icons for personal spots like home, work, your favourite pub or the best beaches in town. You can then save maps as JPEGs and e-mail them to friends through Google Earth's File menu. What's even better than sending a static image, though, is saving locations as very small KMZ co-ordinate files to share with other Google Earth users. This allows users to zoom in (and out) on the sent spot. And if you're in the US, Google Earth can provide directions from one location to another.