The application asks users to type in an address and will then "fly" the user from space to the address through satellite imagery. Users can then zoom in on the aerial satellite view of the search location, view buildings and landscapes, and tilt and rotate the view to see 3D terrain and buildings.
Google Earth also offers driving directions and lets users search for schools, parks, restaurants, and hotels. Additionally, the application includes multiple layer support, allowing users to annotate satellite views and combine multiple layers of information such as restaurant locations, driving directions and service stations.
In late June, Google deployed a free beta version of Google Earth on the Windows platform. The company said the application "utilizes broadband streaming technology and 3D graphics, much like a videogame, enabling users to interactively explore the world, either their own neighborhood or the far corners of the globe."
An advanced version of Google Earth for Windows includes GPS (Global Positioning System) compatibility for $20 a year, while a commercial version promises high-resolution printing and other professional tools for $400 a year.
Earlier this month, a pre-release version of Google Earth for Mac OS X that uses OpenGL rendering reportedly began making the rounds overseas. The 40MB application packs a hefty set of preferences, allowing users to tweak detail and color, and control the speed of their "flights."
Google Earth interfaces with Google's Web-based mapping service, Google Maps, in providing local search results and driving directions. However, sources say Google Earth for Mac OS X includes a superior set of satellite imagery when compared to the Google Maps Web service, offering additional clarity and a deeper zoom function.
View more images of Google Earth for Mac OS X
Over the past year, search rivals have been launching new mapping services and related tools in an effort to capitalize on the lucrative search industry. At the Wall Street Journal "D" conference in May, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates previewed a tool similar to Google Earth called MSN Virtual Earth. Meanwhile, Amazon.com has launched a comparable project through its A9.com Web site that aims to provide photos of most U.S.-based businesses for an online service called BlockView.