NASA World Wind, which I...*gasp!* *sputter!* *splutter!* I haven't! Well, let's fix that right now. I thought I had already blogged about World Wind, but I've only mentioned it! The horror!
Well, NASA World Wind is kind of like Google Earth. Only a lot better. As one of the contributors analogizes, Google Earth is like AOL - eye candy, seemingly user friendly, but in the end, pretty lame. World wind is like, oh, Firefox. Still pretty, maybe a bit less dumbed down, and incredibly more powerful, extensible, useful, and just better. Besides, both WW and FF (that's World Wind and FireFox) are open-source. Funny how this works, huh?
In its most basic form, World Wind is a 3-D globe. Grab it, move it, spin it, tilt it, look at your house (presuming you're in the US or lucky enough to be special other places), soar over the Alps, dive into Hell's Canyon, climb Mount St. Helens...it's super cool. And it's only getting better.
It's so much more, though. Not only can you look at the Earth, but you can crawl through Valles Marineris and scale Olympus Mons on Mars, gaze into Jupiter's red spot and survey its various moons, check out the landing sites of the Apollo missions on that rock we call the Moon, ogle our cousin planet Venus, gaze into the sky and zoom in on colliding galaxies with SDSS, and even cruise along the Death star!
The best part is how all of these extra planets came into existence. It was the community. People working together to make something they enjoy better, and then sharing it with the rest of us. That's what Open Source is all about. And with World Wind, the spirit is alive and thriving. World wind is incredibly extensible, through plugins and simpler add-ons. It has an awesome community behind it that it would be lost without. Thanks to the community, we have not only planets, but World wind can read GE's KML files and shape files. You can overlay your own images. You can measure to see how long your route walking to school is.
World wind is also more science/education oriented, than oriented to Joe Blow looking for his house. Several teachers are using World Wind to enhance their classroom and make it much less boring.
First, download World Wind. If you've got questions, or you want to look for add-ons, check out the forums, where many helpful volunteers (including me) are ready to answer your questions. The community-run site, World Wind Central is a great place to start your troubleshooting, and to browse the many add-ons that are avalaible.
So start your journey to a better Earth-viewing experience. As somewhat of an "insider" (which in Open-Source is anyone who wants to be), I can tell you that World Wind is far from idle. Things are moving, shaking, and turning upside down. Big things are happening. There is now a non-profit organization, the Free Earth Foundation sprung from World Wind to aquire and serve free images of the earth, Saturn, rumors of Google's Summer of Code, and cross-platform on the horizon. It'll be a wild and awesome ride, so hang on.