The info page is up. Ooh. Ah.
Some more benefits to having two major players in the Earth browsing space:
1) More features. If, as Darren Cope says, ArcGIS can do basic GIS analysis, Google Earth will have to catch up, perhaps by unleashing features from the Plus version.
2) Less leverage for governments upset at what these viewers show. That’s because the pandora’s box of satellite imagery delivered by the internet just got opened a whole lot wider.
The problem that Thailand, South Korea and India have had with Google Earth rest upon three facts being the case: The existence of high-resolution imagery, the existence of 3D viewers for this data, and the existence of the internet as a delivery mechanism. All three have long been around. It was only a matter of time before costs would come down to such an extent that Google could offer it for free. Now ESRI appears to be doing the same.
But while Google is expected to make its money from ads and upselling to the Plus and Pro versions, how will ESRI pay the bills?
I suspect it is going to use the Adobe PDF model and actually see ArcGIS as a cost center. ArcGIS Explorer can natively show stuff made and served by ESRI products such as ArcIMS, ArcWeb and ArcGIS server, whereas Google Earth first needs their output converted to KML. Knowing that work produced and served using ESRI tools can be viewed for free in an ESRI browser anywhere should be an incentive to buy more ESRI stuff.
Finally, if both ESRI and Google start showing Taiwan as Taiwan and the Line of Control between Pakistan and India, what are India and China going to do? Boycott Google searches and ESRI software?
[Update 11.04 UTC: Another screenshot at Phantom planet.]
[Update 2005-10-31, 11.02 UTC: David Maguire, from ESRI, elaborates on the business model: