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Marble provides basic engine for free Google Earth replacement

By Bruce Byfield on August 11, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

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The Free Software Foundation can cross off another item on its high priority list of applications that free software needs in order to compete. Version 0.6 of Marble, which ships with KDE 4.1, may not rival Google Earth just yet, but the underlying engine has the potential to do so in future versions. The main improvements needed to reach this stage are a lower level of detail and some additional views and integration into free online resources.

Marble is a new tool from KDE Education, the subproject already known for such educational tools as the annotated periodic table Kalzium and the astronomy program KStars. Like them, Marble is not just educational, but has all the makings of a handy reference utility as well.

Marble consists of a series of views of the world, ranging from a satellite view to a plain atlas view. Each of these views is available on a globe, a flat map, or a Mercator projection (a flat view that contains some distortions, such as an enlarged Greenland and diminished Australia, but which continues to enjoy popularity after 500 years). The first time you open a view, Marble takes 10 to 20 seconds to create it, but, after that, you can switch views within a few seconds.

You can further customize a view in Marble by switching to the Legends tab, where you can change what the map displays, choosing whether you want to view cities, or -- in the satellite or atlas views -- mountains, places of interest such as the poles and airports, and surface features such as ice caps and deserts, as well as map features ranging from a compass to lines of latitude and longitude. Although currently you can only turn off categories of features rather than choosing them individually, it is easy to imagine the Legend being extended to offer zoom views of features.

One or two of Marble's views, such as Earth at Night, are mostly eye-candy. Others, such as the precipitation and temperature views for December and July, are more immediately useful. It doesn't take much imagination to anticipate countless more views offering economic, geographical, and social information in the future.

Searching Marble

Whatever view you are in, you can search Marble in several ways. The first way is to drag with the mouse until you find the location you want. When you are viewing a globe, that can mean dragging the globe in any direction (which is why a compass is a standard part of the legend).

A more efficient way is to click on the Navigation tab. From this tab you can zoom in and out or re-center the view, as well as use a search field with automatic word completion to jump to a specific city. This feature is efficient, but currently incomplete, with minor cities not showing in a number of locations, apparently on an arbitrary basis, since one city of a certain size may be shown but another of the same size left off.

With the latest version of Marble, a third, more specific way to search has been added. When you are online, the OpenStreetMap view gives you a street-level map that you can save as a .JPG or .PNG graphic or print. However, like the city-level view, the street map view is currently incomplete, showing the main roads in some areas, but not many side streets. Presumably, though, this situation will eventually be improved, since you can select File -> Download New Data to update the available information.

Looking ahead

Marble is unlikely to rival Google Earth in certain areas. It is unlikely, for example, to offer continually updated satellite views or street images any time in the immediate future.

However, by the time Marble reaches its 1.0 release, there seems no reason why it could not equal Google's efforts on a more practical level. Some possibilities seem obvious. Links to Wikipedia could be easily implemented, and, the Marble project is already planning to link to Google's Panaramio. Similarly, once the OpenStreetMap data gains its missing detail, an address search function should provide the same functionality as Google Maps.

Marble is noticeably faster than Google Earth, and, like many of the applications written for KDE 4, benefits from the scalable vector graphics on the Plasma desktop. While the functionality is not yet what it could be, enough is in place to suggest that we now have a free license alternative to Google's network services. The question now is what we will choose to do with it.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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wrong-headed replacement of proprietary apps

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.203.203.20] on August 11, 2008 11:35 PM
Why is it that true believers feel the need to replace every last proprietary app? vmware, skype, and google earth are best-of-breed and free-as-in-beer.

I can understand why things like openoffice are needed as they provide a linux replacement for ms office. Things like the Gimp make sense because they are free-libre and free-beer compared to photoshop which is neither, and not even available for Linux.

But stuff like Google Earth? Get a life.

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Re: wrong-headed replacement of proprietary apps

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.101.237.55] on August 11, 2008 11:52 PM
Why such an aggressively negative attitude?

I, for one, really appreciate the work on this app... I'd like to have a clickable world map showing my band's performances around the world. I'd much rather put lots of time and energy into a Free Software option than google maps. Thanks to the developers and the EFF!

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Re(1): wrong-headed replacement of proprietary apps

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.20.75.93] on August 12, 2008 05:00 PM
He'se right! What a waist. Google Earch is FREE!!!

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Re: wrong-headed replacement of proprietary apps

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 172.31.11.193] on August 12, 2008 12:47 AM
because we can! Why is it valid to replace one proprietary app like Office and photoshop but not skype, vmware or google earth? Why should we draw the line? Why should a developer that is interested in writing their own geospatial apps not be encouraged by the freedom to do so? You're reasoning seems to be make free those big apps that cost money, but the ones that are already free (as in beer) we don't need to worry about? I disagree completely.

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Re: wrong-headed replacement of proprietary apps

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 199.64.72.252] on August 12, 2008 07:56 AM
How about wrong-headed replacement of free apps?
Why did Google make GoogleEarth in the first place? After all, it started as just a rip-off of the free NASA WorldWind [http://worldwind.arc.nasa.gov/], and accessed the same free-for-everybody online datasets (mostly Landsat and USGS).
The answer of course is that Google gave GoogleEarth a different interface to WorldWind, and improved it in their own way, adding proprietary high resolution datasets and many user-oriented features. In the meantime, NASA improved WorldWind in other ways (on a miniscule budget), so that it is user-extensible, with lots of add-on packs available. You can even download all of the data for WorldWind, if you want to and have a few TB of storage.

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Re(1): wrong-headed replacement of proprietary apps

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 141.123.223.100] on August 13, 2008 09:34 PM
Huh, proof that open source development isn't faster than corporate, proprietary development. If they're using the same data, why is it that Google was able to come up with Google Earth, but no one in the open source movement did? And, now that Google Earth's been around a couple of years, we have a crappy Johnny-come-lately that doesn't come close to the same level of functionality, and never will. But, but, but, but, open source development is faster! Oh, is that the key? This software, which has a small fraction of the functionality, is faster? Well, DUH! I could make my car twice as fast if I stripped all of the body panels off, too.

Here's a clue guys: bang the rocks together...

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Re(2): wrong-headed replacement of proprietary apps

Posted by: Nathan Willis on August 13, 2008 11:28 PM
Who said anything about the open source development model being faster than proprietary development? I'm being entirely serious -- I don't see that in the article or in the preceding comments.

Nate

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Re(3): wrong-headed replacement of proprietary apps

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 141.123.223.100] on August 14, 2008 05:40 PM
Uh, that's the mantra. Perhaps you should go back and read the Marketplace and the Bazaar. My bad, I thought it was a required reading manifesto.

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Re(2): wrong-headed replacement of proprietary apps

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.214.73.63] on August 16, 2008 01:18 PM
> If they're using the same data, why is it that Google was able to come up with Google Earth,
> but no one in the open source movement did?

google hearth was released in mid 2006 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_earth)

There are some free software program developed before google earth, for example Xplanet (version 0.95a has been released on 2003-03-07), Earth3d (versione 1.0.1 has been released on 2004-08-06), ...

So at least 3 years before Google hearth there are free software program that do the same job.

here you can find some similar free software programs:
http://linguistico.sf.net/wiki/doku.php?id=software_libero:educazione#spazio_terra

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Re: wrong-headed replacement of proprietary apps

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 88.149.177.66] on August 13, 2008 12:32 PM
Because we want a Free as in Freedom operating system and application stack. If you don't care about your freedom, stick with cracked copy of Windows and freeware programs.
Proprietary program subjugate users, you can't know what they really do, and you can't improve them.
For me is more than enough motivation to create Libre alternatives :)

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Re(1): wrong-headed replacement of proprietary apps

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 141.123.223.100] on August 13, 2008 09:42 PM
Proprietary program subjugate users

Yeah, because it really makes any difference to me whatsoever in the real world. In the last 20 years, I've paid for maybe, MAYBE 10-12 pieces of software for use on my own computers. Everything else has been pirated or cracked. Guess what happened? I worked twice as fast and more efficiently than my idiot neighbor who's still trying to piece together his own OS with cobbled together, half-written, undocumented pieces of crap from the open source community. You're a mindless drone convinced by other mindless drone that everyone else is a mindless drone for failing to agree with your insanity. Grow up, get a clue.

you can't know what they really do

I know exactly what they do: they work. I tried open office, I went back to Microsoft Office in a week. OO was slow, bloated and STILL managed to be lacking half the feature set of MS Office. Openoffice was the definition of suck.

and you can't improve them.

A) I don't need to, they do what I need 'em to and more. The only reason you can improve open source software is...YOU NEED TO! B) I don't want to improve them, I want to use them. You feel free to spend your time in your Mom's basement tinkering, the rest of us have real work to do.

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Re(2): wrong-headed replacement of proprietary apps

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 147.62.42.119] on August 14, 2008 01:42 PM
[QUOTE]Yeah, because it really makes any difference to me whatsoever in the real world. In the last 20 years, I've paid for maybe, MAYBE 10-12 pieces of software for use on my own computers. Everything else has been pirated or cracked. Guess what happened? I worked twice as fast and more efficiently than my idiot neighbor who's still trying to piece together his own OS with cobbled together, half-written, undocumented pieces of crap from the open source community. You're a mindless drone convinced by other mindless drone that everyone else is a mindless drone for failing to agree with your insanity. Grow up, get a clue.[/QUOTE]

Of course, there are people who rob banks and become multi-millionaires. And there are people who work for a living. Some of the people who work for a living become multi-millionaires, while others don't. Doesn't mean all those who work for a living will start robbing banks instead. Some people have ethics. Grow up, get a clue.

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Re(3): wrong-headed replacement of proprietary apps

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 141.123.223.100] on August 14, 2008 05:48 PM
Of course, there are people who rob banks and become multi-millionaires. And there are people who work for a living. Some of the people who work for a living become multi-millionaires, while others don't. Doesn't mean all those who work for a living will start robbing banks instead. Some people have ethics. Grow up, get a clue.

Yes, excellent comparison. You're right, my taking a $200 copy of Windows to use on my own machine to learn and master so that I can then provide support to my corporation that purchases 10s of millions of dollars a year from MS is really going to break the bank of the Gates Foundation. You're right, I'm going to switch myself and my company to Linux, that should help all of the developers at MS who make a living doing it. Get a clue, your ethics are flawed and are simply a fabrication of the system to make those schlubs who never make anything of their lives feel better about themselves. "Well, I wasted my life, but at least I stuck to my ethics!" Ever think there's a reason the successful continue to get ahead while the ethical languish? It's because they know there's no karma. Lie, cheat, steal or die. If you think your way is "better", you're in for a rude awakening as those who have are poised to take everything that remains from those who have not. Medieval feudalism will look like a dream world in the next 50 years with all of those slugs saying "I wouldn't want to be rich, I have everything I need right here...."

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Marble provides basic engine for free Google Earth replacement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 203.206.159.77] on August 12, 2008 06:22 AM
How about the fact that in many cases the Linux versions of those proprietary but free applications are inferior to their Windows counterparts? I know that the Linux version of Skype, for example, is a couple of releases behind the Windows version and as such doesn't have the same features. Last time I looked at it Google Earth for Linux was still using WINE (admittedly this was a while ago and things may have changed) and didn't have GPS support.

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Re: Marble provides basic engine for free Google Earth replacement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 172.31.11.193] on August 12, 2008 07:32 AM
So your answer is "tools down everyone"? Do you see proprietary companies not competing because someone else has done it already? Innovation and evolution works partially through mimicking and extending as well as introducing novelty. It's interesting that you use the Skype and google earth example because neither of these are open source implementations - they are proprietary offerings on the linux platform.. imagine how much better then could be if they did let the community chip in? They aren't "Free". Is your issue really that proprietary software are seen as second class citizen on linux (by their business owners) rather than it being a problem with opensource?

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Marble provides basic engine for free Google Earth replacement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.254.84.207] on August 12, 2008 08:03 AM
You're wrong. Google Earth for Linux uses qt, not wine. Picasa uses wine, but that's a different story altogether.

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Marble provides basic engine for free Google Earth replacement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.158.232.107] on August 12, 2008 08:46 AM
well FSF is doing a great job, but i dont think they are looking at the linux desktop from a strategic standpoint. i use linux and use skype and google earth. if FSF had comparable products (as far as functionality and ease of use goes), i would most likely use them, but they are 'not for me' in that sense. that said i highly respect their efforts. however, if i were in the FSF, i'd put my efforts into pimping out progs that are not available for linux, not because FOSS is not important, but because programs that are cross platform will not stop people from migrating to linux. spend more time on other products, i think FSF has some of the top coders that ever lived, but spreading their efforts thinly at this point is not a great idea. wait til linux takes over the world please, then we can clean up the rest.

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Marble provides basic engine for free Google Earth replacement

Posted by: Morten Juhl-Johansen Zölde-Fejér on August 12, 2008 09:13 AM
I find that the effort to integrate OpenStreetMap is very interesting, since this project is very active and offers some impressive map work - often better than other services. I think that this project contributes greatly to the feeling of "a full desktop".

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Marble provides basic engine for free Google Earth replacement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 172.17.9.242] on August 12, 2008 09:54 AM
So the question has been raised why we are working on "another" virtual globe which we call MARBLE. And of course the question is a valid one (although it got voiced the wrong way). We already do answer this question in our MANIFESTO which got created when MARBLE entered KDE SVN:

http://websvn.kde.org/branches/KDE/4.1/kdeedu/marble/MANIFESTO.txt?revision=829867&view=markup

Here are a few more thoughts though:

1.) Because we enjoy working on virtual globes and MARBLE !
I've personally enjoyed virtual globes since I've seen a black-white virtual globe the very first time in my life back in the early 80ies (on a Mac or ATARI ST). Since then I've been passionate about virtual globes ever since: There did exist lots of virtual globes in the 90ies before Google Earth ("GE") got initially released in 2005. And many of them were IMHO superior compared to GE in several aspects - except for the amount of data and the brand.
However none of the virtual globes I've seen so far worked and looked the way that I'd like to see: So I decided to create "my own" virtual globe back in 2003.
So what keeps our team ticking is mostly the love for the work on this kind of software. It's an extremely exciting and appealing topic to work on as it offers lots of interesting aspects of mathematics (I've studied physics ...), usability, education, the visual aesthetics of maps and of problem solving.
Indeed it would be stupid if the reason to work on MARBLE was to create a free software "clone" of GE (but as I pointed out already that's neither our intent nor our motivation) -- it would especially be stupid given that we all are working on MARBLE in our sparetime. So even if GE would become free software today we'd still continue to work on MARBLE because we enjoy to work on MARBLE! Because we've got a different vision for MARBLE and because we believe that we can do better than others!

That's why Bruce Byfield points out in his excellent article that MARBLE will probably never fully "replace" GE. Not because we wouldn't be able to do it technically but because our focus is a different one. And indeed if you look at MARBLE the experience is a different one. That being said we are open to all kinds of contributions. So if you feel that there is functionality missing that you'd like to see in MARBLE and if you want to contribute to it, we'd welcome your efforts and contributions! Creating a virtual globe is a very complex matter so we need more contributors to get it right! We'd love to see more people to

JOIN US! We still need more people for

- documentation: We'd like to see MARBLE's documentation being much better than today. It should not only describe MARBLE itself but should also provide related geography lessons and class projects.
- translation: MARBLE is afaik the most translated globe already (with about 30 languages and rising: ). We'd like to see more translations!
- knowledgable coders (it's good to have good math skills, GPS skills, etc.)
- artwork, QA and lots of other aspects that you feel is lacking ;-)
- aaaand maps (join the OpenStreetMap project and you will help MARBLE!):

2.) We like to create maps and we like to give them away for free. We believe that maps are such an important aspect of life that there should be some maps that people can use freely without restrictions (except proper credits and attribution). So MARBLE is not only Free Software (it's licensed under the LGPL) but MARBLE is also about promoting free maps and free content in general! That's why we are using free maps exclusively and that's why we are cooperating with the OpenStreetMap project. This is very much in line with the KDE philosophy which is not only about Free Software but also about what we call "Free Culture": That's why the KDE project is also working together with Wikipedia as we also think that information that is important to humanity should be a common free good.

Anyways, Thanks Bruce for this nice article and I hope some more people will consider to contribute to MARBLE and OpenStreetMap!

Torsten Rahn


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Marble provides basic engine for free Google Earth replacement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.83.146.64] on August 12, 2008 03:03 PM
Anyone ever tried to integrate GE in his own app? ;) With marble you can

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Re: Marble provides basic engine for free Google Earth replacement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 172.17.9.238] on August 12, 2008 03:49 PM
Actually that's a very good reason to keep working on Marble. We have structured Marble so that it can be used by other projects in whole or in parts. We have created a library out of it, a Qt Widget that can be used by other applications and a KPart that can be embedded in other KDE applications. That is very different from GE or any other application in the genre. In short, it will bring all forms of geo visualizations to KDE and perhaps also other free desktops.

Inge Wallin, Marble co-maintainer.

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Marble has "Links to wikipedia"... already

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 209.33.215.134] on August 12, 2008 03:58 PM
Um, Marble already has "Links to Wikipedia" did you not notice those when you view information about anything (cities, etc.) Has had that for ages... =)

And in response to those asking why make Marble, well, because it's incredibly fast, and incredibly flexible as Inge said, it can be used in a variety of applications. Also, note that Marble was one of the most shown apps at the KDE 4.0 Release event which was hosted by Google itself =)

Jeremy Whiting

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