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Google Earth Goes Into the Past, Underwater--And Deep Into Your Computer's System

Earlier this month, Google released a beta-test release of the newest version of Google Earth. Google Earth 5.0, a free download for Windows 2000, XP or Vista, Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5, and most versions of Linux, adds some fascinating new perspectives on this planet--and one other--but I'm not going to rush to install it.

(Remember when I said I'd have a review of this program by last week? I lied.)

Unlike earlier releases, this treasure chest of 3-D cartography doesn't just show what's on the ground today. It includes a collection of overhead views from earlier years and lets you view the majority of the Earth's surface covered by its oceans.


The historical imagery is likely to be the biggest time-suck. To see what a place looked like before, click the clock icon in Google Earth's toolbar, then move a slider back to earlier years. For example, you can see that in 1949, there was only one 14th Street Bridge going over the Potomac (although a second span was under construction). The Las Vegas of 1950, meanwhile, is a barren, lifeless desert.

But this historical record also has numerous gaps at the moment. For instance, that 1949 aerial photography only covers a minority of the District, plus a slice of Arlington; the next most recent shot dates back only to 1988. In other cites, even fewer views of the past are available; the oldest overhead photo of Chicago dates to 1988, and in Paris, you can't go back farther than 2002. I won't be surprised, however, to see Google build out this catalog in the coming months.

Google Earth's underwater views are less practical--anybody planning a vacation to the Mariana Trench?--but can still be fun to poke around.

Google Earth 5.0 also lets you take a side trip to Mars. I'm not sure the 3D views there fully express the scale of such landmarks as Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system, but maybe it's just the lack of any familiar objects to put that mountain into perspective.

But getting at all this geographic goodness demands a somewhat invasive software installation. In Windows Vista and Mac OS X, Google's installer loads a software-update tool that runs in the background. That application doesn't seem to take up much memory in either operating system, but it's also unnecessary. Google Earth could check for updates on its own each time it runs, as many other programs do.

(On a PC, you can argue that many people have multiple Google applications running--say, Google Desktop and Picasa--and would benefit from a centralized update system. That's unlikely to be the case on a Mac, where Google Earth is often the only Google program in sight; writing a separate updater utility seems a waste of time for the Mountain View, Calif., company's developers.)

The Windows installer also prompts you to add Google's Chrome browser, but you can easily decline that.

I generally try to keep my computers as simple as possible, and not installing programs that I don't need is a big part of that. Google Earth 5 isn't the first Google application to silently add this update agent on computers--see this January story from Ars Technica for more details--but at some point you have stop and ask "do we have to keep doing business this way?"

What will you do? Does the addition of this extra snippet of background software make the foreground program, Google Earth itself, unappealing?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  February 13, 2009; 12:58 PM ET
Categories:  Productivity , The Web  
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Apparently, at least on a Mac, the updater is difficult to disable. Here's how:

Something like this will do it:

1) Quit all google apps

2) Delete the launchd entries (one or the other files may exist)

$ sudo rm ~/Library/LaunchAgents/

$ sudo rm /Library/LaunchAgents/

2) Delete shared google stuff

$ rm -rf ~/Library/Application/Support/Google

$ rm -rf ~/Library/Google

3) Recreate the above folder as "root" to prevent google apps from installing the updater agent code again when re-launched

$ sudo mkdir ~/Library/Google

By changing the ~/Library/Google folder to be owned by root you should avoid going through this shenanigans again. Just check for a /Library/Google too and do the same to it. Don't give google apps your password.

You need experience for those commands. You can use the Finder too.
After recreating an empty ~/Library/Google select File>Get Info. Use the permissions at the bottom to add the "Administrator" with read/write. Change "..(Me)" to read only.

Posted by: wiredog | February 13, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

This is not limited to Google. Have you installed iTunes recently? Not only does it install a global updater, it also installs quicktime, bonjour and other crap to support the iPhone. Even when the user doesn't use any of them.

BTW, iTunes (a media player) won't even run if you don't have QuickTime installed.

Posted by: tundey | February 13, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

And iTunes must not be installed if you want to update Quicktime.

Posted by: txJosh16 | February 13, 2009 10:25 PM | Report abuse

You can choose not to install bonjour and the other junk. Take the time to read the screens and think about what you are doing. Unclick what you don't want. This applies to all the browser toolbars, also.

Posted by: DrBones721 | February 16, 2009 8:59 AM | Report abuse

No problem installing the browser ad-on for Google Earth BUT after that, where is the download feature for the product itself -- ugh.

Posted by: | February 16, 2009 10:14 PM | Report abuse

Bad link -- download accomplished.

Posted by: | February 17, 2009 3:09 AM | Report abuse

Oops! Earlier I wrote:
"And iTunes must not be installed if you want to update Quicktime."

I meant to write:
And iTunes must NOW be installed if you want to update Quicktime. Or at least I found no way to update Quicktime on my formally non-iTuned laptop without installing it.

Posted by: txJosh16 | February 17, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

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