The Virtual Earth blog points to an interview in Geoplace.com with John Curlander, who was part of Vexcel, which was acquired by Microsoft for its photogrammetry technology and integrated into the Virtual Earth team. Curlander talks a lot about Virtual Earth’s business model, and it is interesting reading, but he does get some things wrong about Google Earth:
GeoWorld: Would you say that your Web-services approach is different than how Google approaches the market?
Curlander: Google Earth isn’t really a Web service. Google bought Keyhole a few years ago for its application that’s now called Google Earth. It’s basically a 3-D viewer Google Earth and Google Maps, their Web service, are completely separate. You have to go to Google Maps for the driving directions, yellow pages, etc. and Google Earth for the 3-D visual.
Except that Google Earth really is a web service — or at the very least an internet service, with all its data streamed live to the client. Also, Google Earth and Google Maps share the same imagery dataset, and Google Maps can render a subset of Google Earth’s native KML file format. Finally, Google Earth does do driving directions and yellow pages, just like Google Maps. So Curlander should try the competition again sometime.
Other than selling the pro version of the viewer, I don’t think they’ve been successful in connecting Google Earth into any sort of business model. Maybe in the future they’ll be able to bring these tools together, but they will have to rewrite Google Earth since it is a thick client application. One of the limitations of this thick-client application, of which they have released a number of versions, is that you have to download the whole thing each time.
That said, you don’t have to download a new version of Google Earth to get access to new imagery dataset updates, new layers and new functionality like KML search. With Virtual Earth, meanwhile, you regularly have to update your browser and the plugin via the Windows updater. So the relative advantages are not that clear-cut.