Sometimes we bump into solutions that are looking for a problem. One of the first utilities to use Adobe’s new AIR platform looks that way.
Because something common can be done a different way doesn’t mean it should be done that way. After all, the road less traveled is often less traveled for a reason.
EarthBrowser is billed as a revolutionary new platform for viewing and creating geographically based information. I don’t mean to be picky, but hasn’t that already been invented?
It’s like saying, ‘this time, when we re-invent the wheel, let’s make it rounder.’ EarthBrowser is one of the first so-called “rich internet applications that deploy to the desktop and run across operating systems.’ So says, Adobe, creators and distributors of the new AIR technology upon which EarthBrowser works.
I just smell a 21st century version of Java here. The theory was, ‘write once, run everywhere’ with Java applications. It quickly became, ‘write once, debug everywhere’ instead.
If all this sounds a little confusing, don’t worry. It’s not just you. It is confusing. Adobe says AIR “offers an exciting new way to engage customers with innovative, branded desktop applications, without requiring changes to existing technology, people, or processes.”
Back to Interactive Earth, the EarthBrowser.
Instead of downloading a Mac application, you’re prompted first to install Adobe’s AIR on your Mac. Think Flash. Little Flash-like boxes pop up here and there asking permission for this or that.
AIR gets downloaded and installed so that EarthBrowser can get downloaded and installed.
What you get after that is the typical AIR window with EarthBrowser inside. It’s sort of like a Safari window without Safari, Safari’s tools, tabs or anything familiar.
Everything resides as floating windows inside the EarthBrowser window. The EarthBrowser Manual, for example. It contains details about how to use EarthBrowser. By the way, since EarthBrowser isn’t free, nagware resides inside the window, too.
The instructions on how to use EarthBrowsers control window are straightforward, similar to what you’d find in a PDF manual.
Another small, floating window within a window is the Control Window, which is point and click access to Options, Weather, Radar, U.S. and Global Forecasts, Earthquakes, volcanoes, and much, much more.
The slider bar in the right of the Control Window allows you to zoom in on the earth image behind. Click on the earth image to move it around inside the AIR window.
Image movement isn’t fluid, but rather a bit jerky or poorly animated. Google Earth it’s not. That’s the difference between a web-like application and a stand-alone application. Google’s version of the earth rocks. EarthBrowser is rocky.
In full zoom mode you’ll see images not totally unsimilar to those of Google Earth, but without as much detail or as close up.
EarthBrowser has a lot more information, including weather forecasts, live earthquake and volcano information, and more.
It’s important to remember that EarthBrowser is a first try at using Adobe’s AIR as the application platform, and all such applications and utilities should improve over time. So, comparing Google Earth to EarthBrowser isn’t really fair. Google wins. It’s mature, fast, fluid, and detailed.
It’s also free, which makes EarthBrowser all the more of an odd duck with a $29 price tag.
Back to that original question. Why are they doing this? Why is Adobe creating yet another platform for desktop applications? Apparently Windows, Mac OS X and Linux are not enough. With another platform of web-like tools, new applications and utilities need to be created, and supposedly they can all run wherever AIR runs.
EarthBrowser runs. I suspect more users will run away from it than run to it.