Usage notes for Google Earth Mac 3.1.0527 Beta

The Mac version of the best free software released this side of the millenium is now out, just a little over six months after it was first released for free on Windows. First impressions are that Google Earth Mac is a very solid beta. There are a few features pared from the Windows version, but none that dent the enjoyment or its usability. And I think the Mac version looks better than the Windows version, with the bright “Googley” colors on the panels replaced by a much cooler light blue (official screenshot).


Who is it for?

Amazingly, minimum specs are listed as a 600Mhz G3 with 128MB RAM and 16MB of VRAM, though you need OS X 10.4. (Can OS X 10.4 even run on 128MB RAM?). Google promises (in the release notes) that future versions will run on 10.3.9. Recommended specs are a G4 at 1.2Ghz or faster with 512MB RAM and 32MB VRAM.

So, what works?

I’ve thrown all manner of KML files at it, including some of the biggest baddest ones I could find, as well as large overlays, complex network links and 3D models, and they all work flawlessly (with one exception).

Google’s own 3D-buildings layer renders fine; you can email placemarks and images, use the measuring tool, contribute to Google Earth Community, do location searches and get playable directions, just as with the Windows version. All the layers you find in the Layers panel in the Windows version are available on the Mac version as well, including those from National Geographic.

What’s not included?

There is no embedded browser option. Instead, links lead to your default external browser. Google says (in the release notes) that browser integration is on its way. (BTW, Firefox is smart enough to open KML and KMZ files automatically in Google Earth, while Safari is not.)

GPS, Path, and Polygon are not available in the menus, because these are Plus and Pro features, and those versions are not available yet. Google says, however, (yes, in those rather helpful release notes) that Plus and Pro versions are on their way.

The other things that currently aren’t possible but which Google says soon will be are full-screen mode and the ability to use Gmail to send pics and placemarks instead of your default mail client.


In the preferences panel, virtually all preferences are exactly replicated from the Windows version. (One exception is that you can’t choose your display fonts on the Mac version.)

With those exceptions noted, the Mac and PC versions are feature identical.

Further observations

In the Search panel, what’s called “Local Search” on the Windows version becomes “Find businesses.”

There are a few cosmetic glitches I noticed, but no showstoppers, and they’re listed in the release notes. These notes also offer workarounds for older graphics cards, and offer tips on setting your ideal cache size.

For geeks

There is no Applescript support yet, though I’m told it is something that is being worked on (and the application does list itself as Apple scriptable, though there is no AppleScript dictionary when you go looking.)

This version is not a universal binary, but it runs on Rosetta (albeit slowly, I am told). There is a universal binary version in the works.

This application was developed on Qt, the cross-platform development platform (as first noted here). I assume this means the Linux version is not too far behind.

Google Earth for Mac will obviously not play nice with web applications that require Microsoft’s ActiveX or which hack the Windows application for scriptability, so no GlobeGlider for the Mac.

The only way I’ve gotten Google Earth Mac to crash is by having it try to access a password-protected KML file, just like the one Jason Birch posted in his comment on a recent Ogle Earth article about whether you can password-protect KML files. I suspect it’s because the Mac version doesn’t have a built-in browser yet.

wonky.pngAnd finally, a pet peeve: This wonky button.

[Update: 21:17 UTC: The release notes and the Google Earth download site differ somewhat in the recommendation for what is the minimum spec. On the site FAQ, "500Mhz" (I presume from a G4) and 256MB RAM are considered a minimum for the Mac.]

10 thoughts on “Usage notes for Google Earth Mac 3.1.0527 Beta”

  1. Re speed: I’ve tested it on both a G5 Quad and my 867Mhz G4 Titanium PowerBook with 1GB RAM, and I find the performance to be fine on both. I think that this application slows down a lot below a certain threshhold of RAM. That said, I can’t vouch for performance on a G3, though I suspect it’s better than the 1 FPS I got running Google Earth for Windows on Virtual PC on my PowerBook.

  2. Based on the tip at Mac OS X Hints I whipped up the following file which allows Safari to automatically open GE links:

    <!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "">
    <plist version="1.0">

    Save this in a text file named “” in your Home > Library > Preferences folder, relaunch Safari and GE links will open automatically.

  3. I just checked the script and indeed, it does work for properly encoded KML and KMZ files. Just make sure you have “Open safe files after downloading” checked in Safari’s preferences.

  4. Only uses one processor. Other than that, good start, and I’ll probably be giving them some money as soon as they let us.

  5. Our shop has also run into inconsistent Google Earth Mac behavior when trying to overlay a georeferenced image embedded in a KMZ file.

    Testing on four different machines, I found that two older G4s displayed the overlay with no problem, while a newer dual G5 refused to show it at all. A Mac Mini displayed it but the image was fractured. All four machines displayed vector overlays normally.

    This hardware-specific behavior suggests a problem with how the image overlay routine addresses display memory.

  6. Google Earth for Mac

    I found out today that Google released a version of Google Earth for Mac OS X 10.3.9 (Panther). This is great! Google Earth has been one of my favorite computer programs, but I’ve beed disappointed that I haven’t been able to run it on an…

  7. Google Earth for Mac

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