Google Upgrades Earth, Maps Products

Google pushed an update to its popular Google Earth service Monday, including a major update to the satellite imagery that is a central feature of the product. The amount of available aerial imagery has been expanded by four times, the company said.

A version for Linux systems has been introduced with the most current beta. While the software has already been downloaded 100 million times, the service's move to Linux is likely to help accelerate adoption. Additionally, the software has been localized for French, Italian, German, and Spanish users.

About 20 percent of the globe is now covered by high-resolution imagery, or approximately one-third of the world's population. "When we say 'high resolution,' we mean the good stuff: you can see cars, houses, buildings in more than 200 countries and territories," Google Earth and Maps director John Hanke said.

Google engineers have also brought Google's KML technology to its Maps product. Users will be able to view KML within maps by entering the URL to the location of the KML file. Additionally, Maps would support "geocoding," a technology used to produce mashups of map data.

Hanke said that the company is also introducing a version of the product intended for enterprise users, which will be a fee-based service. "It leverages the Google Maps API to enable businesses to map customer locations, track shipments, manage facilities or view any other data source in a geographic context," he explained.

Finally, Google is offering a new version of SketchUp that allows users to model buildings in 3D for placement into Google Earth.

The offerings are intended to both increase market share as well as bring in revenue from a product that has essentially made none. Google Maps is third in market share with 26 million U.S. visitors in May. In comparison, market-leading Mapquest had 43.5 million visitors and Yahoo 26.1 million.

Google has seen its number of visitors triple in the past year, while Yahoo and Mapquest have only increased 20 percent, says research firm Nielsen/NetRatings.

The new enterprise program is likely to bring in a good deal of revenue for the company. Enterprise licenses to use the Google Maps API would begin at about $10,000 annually, the company said.

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