GemGids.nl 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.