When Google introduced support for flash-based video such as YouTube in Google Earth 4.2 beta for Windows, hackers soon found that any flash application can run, not just YouTube. Soon after, Mickey Mellen built GE Boards, a Flash-based geo-bulletin board for Google Earth, using Flash to submit forms to a server via Google Earth. (Google Earth’s HTML support does not include support for forms.)
Now Valery Hronusov, in yet another bout of envelope-pushing, has embedded a Flash-based Meebo chatroom into a placemark popup on Google Earth, effectively allowing georeferenced chats, or if you will, a virtual walk-in “office”. It works great, if you have Google Earth for Windows.
And there’s the rub, because a Windows-only extension of Google Earth’s functionality breaks the platform independence of the experience. There are two possible solutions for this:
- Flash support in Google Earth goes universal. I’m sure this will eventually happen, though I’ve been told it will take a while.
- Google Earth’s HTML inside placemark popups expands to include forms, and ideally a lot more, so that content inside such a popup can really just become an HTML browser window with the same feature set as, say, the cross-platform Firefox.
The latter is really the preferred option. In my biased opinion Flash applications as a rule are a waste of programming, though there are a couple of exceptions — embedded content like video via YouTube, Meebo chatrooms and the highly usable Google Street View in Google Maps.
Come to think of it, why hasn’t Street View been incorporated into Google Earth for Windows yet? Perhaps because feature parity between different platforms for a given version of Google Earth is important to the Google Earth team, in which case I’d agree. The more Google Earth feels like a platform-independent geobrowser, the better.
Besides Flash support, there are still a few other differences between the Windows and Mac versions of Google Earth (sorry, I can’t speak for Linux users): The Windows version has a built-in browser, full-screen mode and a more feature-rich API. This is the legacy of porting over an application that was first built just for the Windows platform before remaking the GUI in the cross-platform Qt.