As Google began to launch things like searchable email and satellite-fed mapping features, my interest became more piqued, and while monitoring their beta releases, I soon discovered the holy grail of kickass free software downloads: Google Earth.
In 2004, Google swallowed 3-D mapping company Keyhole; their bastard offspring is Google Earth (earth.google.com), a program that allows PC users to download a virtual globe. It's fully searchable, fully zoomable, and can be handily manipulated by even the most topographically- and technologically-challenged. Type in your home address, and you'll be flown there--as if by magic carpet--to a comfortable hovering altitude to within a couple of hundred feet of your roof. The image is an actual picture taken by a satellite within the past three years--and everything's updated consistently, be it a shot of your apartment complex's swimming pool or the rocky minutiae of Mount Kilimanjaro. As if this weren't impressive enough, you can add and subtract things like international boundaries, roads, 3-D buildings, census information, and all manner of business and commerce-related locations. As these are displayed, you're immediately given the choice of getting directions or viewing that location's website. It doesn't end there: You can adjust the viewing angle so you fly above Earth like Superman, take a virtual flying tour of places you've marked, or email directions and screenshots.
Is the world ready for a highly visceral, real-time, searchable interface that deals--in astounding detail--with the very soil upon which we tread? It's hard to say, but regardless, your trusty desk globe--and well, probably any other map you've ever had--just became obsolete.