ActiveX + Google Earth? 1998 all over again is an initiative by Dutch municipalities — still in the pilot phase — to make their geospatial information available to citizens via Google Earth. That much is laudable. Less so is their decision to use ActiveX controls to link the web component to Google Earth.


ActiveX is a Windows-only technology that, among other things, lets Windows web browsers control other Windows applications. This makes for great hacking and tinkering, and several clever tools have been written with it to control Google Earth. But it self-evidently doesn’t work for Mac and Linux versions of Google Earth.

That’s not a problem if you’re a hacker intent on pushing the envelope. Nor is it a problem if you’re a company making a business decision to focus on just the Windows market. But if you’re the public sector, then limiting your services to one endorsed operating system is just not on. We went through this phase in the late 1990s with proprietary technologies for web browsers — try it today and you’d get laughed out of the developers’ meeting… unless it’s held in Voorst municipality, obviously.

The problem with ActiveX is that it caters to programmers with specific skill sets, rather than to the needs of (taxpaying) users — and that’s a backwards way to develop a service. What’s more, there are perfectly good ways of retrieving personalized content for viewing in Google Earth without using ActiveX; as long ago as August 2005, Google Earth Hacks‘ Mickey showed with GEWar that network links with unique personalized URLs can achieve the same result. The more recent fancy-looking competitions that ran on Google Earth managed it as well.

A final irony is that one of the development partners, EGEM, says (in Dutch) it is responsible for assuring the project subscribes to open standards. I couldn’t agree more — I’m looking forward to the version that works with Firefox in Linux.

4 thoughts on “ActiveX + Google Earth? 1998 all over again”

  1. Yes it is interesting to see applications that look like propietary solutions for specific groups of users, built to work on free public viewers.

    It feels like there is a bite here. I still find it very noteworthy and amazing that so many people try to hit the global level (mass public free viewer) from their own local store (remote and older technology?).

    This says something about the need to simulate readily available localised content as soon as one can from anywhere on earth – how remote. The goal seems to justify the means.

    Some kind of quality standardisation should take root soon though – if not already.

  2. would you please give us the statistics whats the percentage of users with firefox on linux on this blog ? – when you will need to pay programmers with your money i would like to see your math of putting your money behind your mouth – i believe that IE on windows is a very fair realistic compromise for now.

  3. So far this month, 10.0% of all visitors do not use Windows. 30.5% of all visitors do not use any variant of Internet Explorer.

    It’s not that the public sector should cater specifically to Linux Firefox users, it’s that the public sector should not make using a specific operating system a prerequisite for access to its services. You do that by using standards.

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