EarthBrowser 2.5.5, by Lunar Software
Posted: 10-May-2005

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Lunar Software Type: SHAREWARE

Reviewer: Ed Witanowski Class: INTERNET
     
$23.95   Download

Overview
Lunar EarthBrowser is a tool to view the Earth from a lunar perspective. When you first bring up this application you see a 3-D rotating earth. The specs say the resolution is 1km/pixel. The user can zoom in to a whole range of cities/locations by way of a menu. Cities are indicated by yellow dots. As the cursor moves over a dot the city/location name and temperature are displayed. Various features of the current map setting can be turned on and off including weather forecast, cloud animations, earthquakes, ocean-buoy information, Antarctic iceberg info, tropical storms, fires, webcams, etc. Worldwide information on weather, oceanography, local images, country statistics are available to the user. World travelers, weather aficionados, boaters and information junkies/lurkers are the target users.

Listed Features

  • Global weather forecasts for over 17,000 locations
  • High resolution 1km/pixel satellite map of the Earth
  • Live hurricane and tropical storm tracking
  • Satellite cloud animations are updated every 3 hours
  • Live earthquake map with magnitudes and links
  • Live ocean buoy data for over 250 buoys
  • Antarctic iceberg tracking
  • Daily fire hotspot display
  • Hundreds of dynamic webcams all over the globe
  • Add and save your own webcams
  • Political borders/Tectonic plate boundaries
  • Over 15,000 volcanoes with links to more information
  • Screen Saver
  • Times in cities of all world time zones
  • Links to facts about countries all over the world


Requirements
To run EarthBrowser 2.5.5 on Mac OS X 10.1 or later version, you need 128MB Ram, 64MB of disk space and an Internet connection. Earlier versions will run on earlier versions of the Mac OS 9 and earlier. There are also Windows versions. A list of all downloadable versions is available from the
EarthBrowser web site.

Setup
I downloaded the EarthBrowser application from the website. It was 4.3 MB and took less than a minute to download. After double-clicking on the .dmg file, a folder was created that includes the application, a 9-page manual and a ReadMe file. I ran the application on a 12" PowerBook G4, 1.5 MHz, 512 MB memory, with an 80 GB disk and a SuperDrive. The PowerBook is connected via Airport to a LinkSys WRT54G wireless router which is connected to a cable modem.


Installing EarthBrowser


In Use

The first thing I did in EarthBrowser was to select Location List from the Menu. This displays a location list window for choosing a specific location. When you start to type in the name of a city, a live scrolling list scrolls to that city.


EarthBrowser Location List

When you double-click a city name, the map will zoom to that location. It can take up to 30 seconds to reach its final state. Upon completion, you are presented with a high resolution graphic map image showing forests, mountains, bodies of waters, and presenting key points on the map that represent major cities or locations. A nice feature is that when you quit EarthBrowser and start it again, it remembers where you left off from your last session, displaying the same map at the same location.


EarthBrowser Map View


If you move the cursor to various yellow dots (which represent major cities), the city name and temperature are displayed. If you have the Forecast setting turned on and click on a city, a popup is displayed with a 7-day forecast, temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed and more. These are static popup displays, and do not update in real-time. You have to go back and click on the city again to update the values on the popup. If you click the country flag on the Forecast display, you will be taken to the
CIA fact site that contains information about this country.


EarthBrowser Forecasts and Weather Conditions

The Forecast setting is controlled by a toolbar. EarthBrowser comes with a floating toolbar that lets you turn on various features of the application, such as showing shadows, earthquakes, clouds, forecasts, storms, volcanos, webcams, fires, icebergs, and buoys. It includes additional features for showing the default view of the entire world, zoom in, zoom out, rotate hand tool, grid lines and settings. The settings button displays a window for additional options, such as City Lights, State Borders, Temperatures, Local Times, and more.


EarthBrowser Toolbar

If you turn on the Ocean Buoy setting, you will see buoy icons in the oceans. Again, if you move the cursor to a buoy, a short description of the buoy and its location is displayed. If you click on the buoy icon, you will see a picture of the buoy with air temp, water temp, wind speed, wave height and more. See Fig. 3. If you click on the picture of the buoy in the popup a NOAA web site will be displayed with more information about the buoy including graphs of recent measurements.


EarthBrowser Buoy Information Popups

Although the buoy info is updated hourly, the popup info lags behind, typically displaying information 2-3 hrs old. If the popup is up and the buoy info changes the popup disappears. This behavior differs from the forecast popup that stays up but does not update its info. Also, when I first bring up these popups, many of the popups are off the screen to the right. I have to drag the popup to the left to see the entire popup. Once re-positioned, the popups will always appear in the same position from then on.

Clicking on an iceberg icon will display a picture of the iceberg. The user can also turn on country names, grid lines and calculate distances interactively. If cloud cover is turned on you can see an animation of clouds passing over. If you are zoomed in too close the cloud information is too coarse. You need to be zoomed out quite a bit to have the clouds look natural. If earthquakes are turned on you see tiny circles with numbers and colors. The numbers are the magnitude of the quake. The colors indicate how recent the quake was. The hotter the color, the more recent the quake, the cooler the color the older the quake (see the Map View figure above).

If you move the cursor over one of these earthquake icons you'll see information such as magnitude, location and GMT time of the quake. If you click on the icon, you'll see a
USGS site with more detailed info on the quake.


Earthquake information retrieved on your browser when clicking on an earthquake icon

If you just want to get a nice view of the entire world, click on the Default View toolbar icon (the first one), and a nice graphic image is displays of the Earth. Using the hand rotate tool, you can spin around the world and browse various countries. When you are ready to zoom in, click on the zoom in tool and the map starts zooming in on the location you click. After each click, the application re-renders the map view, and you must wait until rendering is complete before clicking again. However, if you hold down the mouse button, the view continues to zoom without re-rendering, allowing you a speedy zoom to the closeness you desire.


EarthBrowser Default World View

Another nice feature is the webcam tool. By turning on webcams, a webcam icon displays in all the locations of the map where a real-time webcam exists. From there you can request a screen capture to make a copy of the image. The one oddity I found with the screen copy function is that with a desktop busy with files, the screen capture image is not always placed in an empty area of your desktop. In my test, it was overlaid directly on top of another desktop file. In any case, the webcam pictures are very cool. Below is a webcam shot of Half Dome at Yosemite National Park in California.


Webcam Image of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

In the pulldown location list, there are around 17000 different cities and locations to choose from. You can also add your own cities and locations. There are several other customizations possible, such as updating the webcam list, or saving your favorite views in a Favorites List. The geological features displayed are also very impressive. Mountains, valleys, lakes, etc., are all shown in amazing texture detail. One of the cool settings that I turned on was "Ocean Features", which displays the names of oceans as you navigate around the globe.

I did have a problem with the Ocean Buoy popup when I upgraded from 2.54 to 2.55. I did get a response for this problem in a couple of days via e-mail. There were two other email questions I sent in regarding popup display issues and webcam updates, but I never received a response to those.

Summary
Lunar EarthBrowser is a 3-D simulation tool that gives the user various pieces of information about the world. The user can see weather information, cloud cover, ocean data, earthquake, volcano, fire, tropical storm, Antarctic iceberg and country data. By moving the cursor over various points and icons and clicking, web sites are displayed with even more up-to-date information. The application includes features for adding new cities/locations and new webcam sites to the application's database, although I was not successful in adding new webcams. The Earth can be rotated and the user can zoom in and out down to 1 km/pixel resolution. Cities/locations can also be viewed by a scrolling list. The amount of visual and texture information provided by EarthBrowser is astounding. People who are interested in information about weather, ocean conditions, earthquakes, country data, and other information on the Earth, will find EarthBrowser to be a useful and indispensable tool. Despite the few minor bugs I encountered, I would highly recommend this application. EarthBrowser provides great functionality, visual appeal and useful and current global information at a very reasonable price.

Pros

  • Ease of use, large database of cities/locations
  • Nice selection of different types of information
  • Summary information links to websites containing more detailed information
  • Good looking geographic features, mountains, valleys, lakes, etc.
  • Easy to navigate to any location in the world


Cons

  • Inconsistent behavior of popups (most popup windows initially appear off screen)
  • Ocean buoy information 2-3 hrs old
  • Cloud cover data too coarse when zoomed into a location.
  • Had trouble creating new web cams


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice