Google Earth has received so much press coverage that many users will appreciate that it is one of the coolest applications to download. In brief, it is a feature-laden 3D virtual globe, map and geography browser which lets users zoom in on their world with fantastic detail. View satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings and even explore galaxies in the sky. This application allows the exploration of rich geographical content, save toured places and share with others. The software maps the earth by the superimposition of images obtained from satellite imagery, aerial photography and GIS 3D globe.
Google Earth is undoubtedly a very impressive application, and it is extremely hard not to admire the wealth of features that it offers. Its satellite images are unrivaled, it provides useful and accurate statistical information, and the software has many practical benefits, such as helping to find locations and give driving directions. In terms of functionality, this application earns our highest praise. We use the software on a regular basis on both desktop and mobile devices (the latter under Android). However, while Google Earth is available to download without charge, Google do not release the software under an open source license.
In the past there have been attempts to reverse engineer Google Earth and implement its features in an open and extensible way. However, these actions were understandably frowned upon by Google. Instead we prefer to see the development of open source virtual globe software which uses freely licensed or public domain data. While the development of open source virtual globe applications may not, in itself, encourage Google to release its application or data under a similar license, it does give users the option to be able to have the freedom to do what they want. This route also helps to foster greater user community support to drive development often in the form of add-ons and plug-ins.
There are a number of applications which are credible open source alternatives to Google Earth. While none of the software applications featured in this article have all of the features offered by Google Earth (although some offer some different features), and they are not exactly comparable, they are all worthy of investigating.
Let’s explore the 7 alternatives to Google Earth. For each application we have compiled its own portal page, providing a screenshot of the software in action, a full description with an in-depth analysis of its features, together with links to relevant resources.
|Quantum GIS||User friendly Geographic Information System|
|Marble||Combination atlas/virtual globe|
|OpenStreetMap||A copyright free alternative to Google Maps|
|GeoMapApp||Earth science exploration, global topography database, and visualization|
|World Wind||Virtual globe initially developed by NASA's Learning Technologies project|
|Virtual Ocean||GeoMapApp tool suite with the NASA World Wind 3-D earth browser|
|ossimPlanet||Accurate 3D global geo-spatial viewer|
Read our complete collection of recommended free and open source software. The collection covers all categories of software.
The software collection forms part of our series of informative articles for Linux enthusiasts. There's tons of in-depth reviews, alternatives to Google, fun things to try, hardware, free programming books and tutorials, and much more.