By WALTER S. MOSSBERG
It's good to have a healthy skepticism about the claims of the
hype-driven technology industry. But there are times when even a
hardened skeptic has to admit to amazement and delight at the sheer
coolness of some of the things you can do on a personal computer
today. And one of those "wow" moments happens the first time you run a
new program called Google Earth.
The program lets you view satellite and aerial photos of pretty much
any spot on the planet. In big metropolitan areas in the U.S., Canada
and Western Europe, you can locate, and zoom in on, individual
buildings and houses, and see cars and trees. You can overlay streets
onto these urban images, as well as markers indicating restaurants,
hotels and more. In other places, you can make out only towns and
large geographical features, like lakes.
The program rapidly fetches the images from the Internet and visually
"flies" you from place to place around the globe. The process is so
fluid it feels like a Hollywood stunt. For instance, if you're staring
at a bird's-eye view of St. Mark's Square in Venice and you type in
your address in Boston, Google Earth will zoom out till you seem high
in the sky, then rapidly "fly" you west across the Atlantic into the
U.S., and then stop right over your house.