Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope finally has SpaceNavigator support

When WorldWide Telescope came out earlier this year, it blew a lot of people away — including me.  It’s a phenomenal program!

However, it didn’t support the excellent SpaceNavigator device, making it much more difficult to use.  I thought it was a bug at first, but it was simply not a supported device.

Today 3Dconnexion announced support for the software, and it works wonderfully.  I’ve spent a good deal of time just browsing around this evening, because the SpaceNavigator makes it so easy.  If you already have a SpaceNavigator, so download the latest version of WWTS and have some fun!

Virtual Earth 6.2 released, with stunning clouds

Virtual Earth 6.2 has been released, with a whole host of new features.  Among them:

  • New imagery —  “Richer bird’s eye” and new 3D imagery, but I can’t find a list of what’s been updated.
  • Weather integration — Real-time clouds (see more below)
  • Localized maps — English, German, French, Italian and Spanish.
  • Near-matching — Helps find locations with alternate and similar spellings.
  • Landmark-based routing
  • Rich imagery for mobile users — Their screenshot shows an iPhone, but I can’t make it work on mine.  Maybe I need a specific URL?
  • One-click directions

The new imagery might be worth writing about, but I can’t find what’s new.  However, the clouds are very cool.  Fly down low in a city, look up, then wait a few seconds.  Pop!  There they are.

Unlike the clouds in Google Earth, these are fully 3D semi-transparent clouds.  Flying through them, they look almost real — it’s very impressive.There are a few downsides, though.  For one, they load in square tile areas.  If you fly too quickly, they’ll disappear until the next set loads.  Also, there is no way to leave them on and get a satellite view of an area from up high; if you fly very high above them, they simply go away to leave you with a clear view of the ground.

I’ll leave you with a short video demo of the clouds, shot by Frank Taylor at Google Earth Blog.  With it, you can really see just how cool this feature is.  He’s using a SpaceNavigator to fly through them, a tool which I strongly recommend for any avid Virtual Earth (or Google Earth) user.

3Dconnexion releases SpaceNavigator for Notebooks

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the SpaceNavigator. As Stefan Geens says, there is simply no better way to navigate Google Earth. Today, 3Dconnexion has released a portable version of the SpaceNavigator, at about half the size and twice the cost ($129 vs. $59). Is it worth it?

My initial thought was that the lower weight could be a problem. I wouldn’t mind if the current one was a bit heavier (and it’s already pretty heavy). PC Magazine listed that as their primary gripe about the new model, though they seem to like it pretty well overall.

More info can be found in their press release, on their site or at the Google Earth Blog. If I get my hands on one, I’ll be sure to post an in-depth review.

10 million downloads on Google Earth Hacks

3DConnexion SpaceNavigatorThe 10 millionth file download on Google Earth Hacks is coming soon, and they’re giving away a few SpaceNavigators to celebrate.

Guess the exact date/time of the 10 millionth download and you can win.

Details about the contest can be found here, and here is where you can enter to win.

Sandio 3D Mouse

Sandio 3D O2 MouseI’ve had the opportunity to play with the Sandio 3D O2 mouse for a few days and I thought I’d share my impressions of it with you.  Before I saw the mouse, I was expecting something similar to the SpaceNavigator, but it’s not very similar at all.

To start with (and I think this is its best feature), this functions as a normal mouse, suitable for e-mail, browsing, gaming, etc.  The SpaceNavigator, of course, is a completely separate device.  This is a pretty big deal.  I don’t usually bring my SpaceNavigator with me when I travel (it’s certainly small enough to bring – I’m just lazy), but I always bring my mouse.  Having both in one device is great.

This mouse has the normal two buttons + a scroll wheel.  Above the scroll wheel is an analog joystick, similar to those found on game pads (Xbox, PS3, etc).  On the right and left side of the mouse are two more analog sticks, and a couple more buttons.  Those analog sticks are what you use to fly around in your 3D worlds.

This mouse is billed as a “gaming mouse” and I can’t really comment on that aspect of it.  My main use for it would be in Google Earth and Virtual Earth, so that’s what I tried.

Once inside of Google Earth, I have to say I was a bit disappointed.  Part of that can be attributed to the learning curve on any new device, but it was a slow process to learn.  I found the SpaceNavigator to be much more intuitive.   Beyond that, there were two problems that were much more serious:

  • It doesn’t support simultaneous movements. For example, if I was panning across the map and wanted to dive, I had to choose one or the other.  I really don’t understand why I couldn’t pan and dive, but I tried repeatedly without success.  Compare this to the SpaceNavigator where you can make four individual movements at a time (pan while diving while rotating while lowering the view, etc).  For an example of that, check out this entry in the Google Earth Blog where Frank flies around Denver looking at the 3D buildings.
  • The analog sticks on the device aren’t truly analog – they’re digital (as in 0/1).  They have an audible “click” when pointing in any direction.  You either go or you don’t — there is no in-between.  Again, compare this to the SpaceNavigator where you can vary the amount of pressure which then varies the speed of your movement.

I really wanted to like this mouse.  It looks awesome, with a big footprint, great colors and cool glowing lights on it.  However, I just can’t bring myself to like it that much.  It will probably become my travel mouse, with my generic Microsoft Mouse / SpaceNavigator keeping permanent residence on my desk.

If you’re a gamer and you’ve tried this mouse, please post in the comments and let us know what you thought of it.

10 best new features in Google Earth since its release

When Google Earth was first released, there was talk about it everywhere and they were overwhelmed with downloads. Since then, it’s become more and more popular. However, I’m sure there are a lot of folks that downloaded it two years ago, checked it out a little bit, and then haven’t gone back in. Here’s what you’re missing now:

10. PhotoOverlays: In the latest release of Google Earth they now have PhotoOverlays – photos that seem to be hung in mid-air or wrapped around a sphere.

Google Earth terrain9. Improved terrain: The 3D terrain in Google Earth is the main thing that separates it from Google Maps. You can tilt down and see the mountains and valleys in beautiful 3D. There is now an option to allow you to choose the terrain quality (lower=better performance, high=more eye candy).

8. Time animations: Starting with the beta version of GE4 you could have time animations — items that update as time rolls by. This can be for long periods (spread of Avian flu) or for short periods (“Blues Brother” car jumping a drawbridge).

7. New layers: Google Earth launched with an impressive collection of build-in layers. They’ve added tons more since then. My personal favorite is the “traffic” layer, which shows current traffic speeds in metro areas (Atlanta here). Dig into the layers and see all of the great new items in there.

SpaceNavigator6. SpaceNavigator support: If you’ve not used this 3D mouse-ish tool, you have to try it. It makes Google Earth a whole new toy. Read more about this at the Google Earth Blog, or try to win one by using GEboards.

5. Flight simulator: For a while, it was fun to try to fake being a flight simulator in Google Earth by simply plugging in joystick. With the release of version 4.2, they included a hidden flight sim. Simply press [CTRL]-[ALT]-[A] (Command-Option-A on Mac) and you can choose to fly either an F16 or an SR22!

Google Earth Sky Mode4. Sky mode: Another great addition in version 4.2. By clicking the small “sky mode” button in Google Earth, you’ll be taken up to space and be shown the area exactly above where you were on the earth. You can browse, pan and zoom just as you would in earth mode, including support for the SpaceNavigator.

3. Flash support: Google Earth now supports Flash animations inside of the description bubbles (Windows only, though). This has allowed for obvious things such as embedding YouTube videos, but also for less-obvious things such as creating Flash-based forms to allow for an in-Earth message board.

Google Earth - 3D Buildings - Denver, Colorado2. 3D textures: When Google Earth first came out, people were amazed by the 3D buildings you could fly around. Problem was, they were all gray – solid, boring, gray. Since they, Google has built support for textures on the outside of buildings and the result is some cool looking cities. Denver, Colorado is probably the best example (it’s the home of SketchUp, the authoring tool for 3D models in Google Earth), so check it out.

1. Tons more imagery: Tons. Terabytes worth. Google has put out about eight huge imagery updates since they first released Google Earth, and each one has added thousands of square miles of fresh, higher quality images. Go check out your house again and you’ll probably find that it looks much better now than it did a few years ago.

There you go. 10 good reasons to go get the latest version of Google Earth and waste some time. If you’re looking for more fun stuff in Google Earth, go check out the huge KML file collection at Google Earth Hacks.

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