Google is always looking at new ways to organize and present information. One of those ways is to geotag data. Geotagging is a way of linking information to a real-world location. You view geotagged information on a map. While Google Maps could serve as a way to provide geotagged information to users, Google decided to go with an alternative. Google chose a digital globe and called it Google Earth.
Google acquired a company called Keyhole in 2005. Keyhole built the foundation for Google Earth, a digital globe that gave users the ability to zoom in and out of views ranging from a few dozen feet from the surface of the Earth to the equivalent of orbiting the planet. Google Earth gives the user dozens of choices, from viewing satellite images of the planet to overlaying maps, three dimensional terrain features and even fully-rendered cityscapes.
Google Earth also allows developers to create applications to link information to specific locations on the globe. Users can elect to view geotagged information ranging from general news reports to customized data. Google Earth makes it possible to illustrate news stories in a new way. For example, a news agency could illustrate a story about wildfires by plotting out the damage on Google Earth.
Originally, the only way users could access Google Earth was to download an application and install it on their own computers. The application accesses the Internet to get the latest information and updates, but the user's computer hosts most of the application's features. In 2008, Google launched a new Google Earth application that's entirely Web-based. But since the full version of Google Earth needs a lot of computing resources to run smoothly, the Web-based version is a streamlined variation with fewer features than its desktop cousin.
When Google executives say they want to organize the world's information, they're not kidding. And they aren't stopping with just the Web -- they want to organize your information too. That's where the Google Desktop application comes in. Read more about it in the next section.