Gaming laptops are traditionally full of compromises.
NASA World Wind 1.3
- Globe graphics, 3D terrain, in depth geographical information, good tutorial
- Full features limited to U.S., interface needs work
A meteorologist would love this, however don’t expect to get directions to your shops, especially if you live outside the U.S.A.
For those more interested in the geographical features of our lonely planet, then NASA World Wind 1.3 is your software - provided you have Windows. (sorry Mac users!) Unlike Google Earth, the complete package of Worldwind is free. So what's the difference? Google Earth's main focus is on the human elements of our world, such as directions to find places of interest; it lists shops, parks, and other famous locations in your world view. World Wind has some of that, but focuses more on the natural and political aspects of Earth; the weather patterns, tectonic plates, borders, topography and countries to name a few.
The software is older than Google Earth, yet the zoomed out world graphics are better and the image collection is dubbed the "Blue Marble." This series of images show the colour of the Earth's surface for each month of 2004 at very high resolution (500meters/pixel) on a global scale. Of course when you zoom right in, it does look a little cartoonish.
NASA boasts that World Wind is designed so all ages could enjoy it, with a simple user interface. However we found Google Earth's interface to be more intuitive. For example, in Google Earth if you want to zoom in on a city you just double click on the name, while with World Wind you will have to scroll the mouse wheel all the way in. Disappointingly, it took longer to load up the map when close to a city with World Wind compared to Google Earth.
One problem that must be fixed in future editions of this software is viewing cities close up on a 3D map. Having a 2D image of buildings pasted onto a 3D landscape looks bizarre with twists and unusual warps in the buildings when you angle the camera to a horizontal perspective. Furthermore, in-depth graphic viewing of cities on World Wind is only available for cities in the United States. The rest of the world will have to live with less detailed views of their cities. You can zoom into a US city up to 1km and still have sharp detail, while things start to get blurry once you go below 30km for Sydney.
A misleading element of NASA World Wind is the name 'place finder' tool; it is very limited in what it can do. You can find human settlements easily, but if you want to find geographical places of interest such as The Blue Mountains near Sydney, Ayers Rock (Uluru) in the middle of Australia or Mt. Everest in the Himalayas, you're out of luck.
There is a moon add on, which is a lot simpler than the Earth with this software. It has three different modes of viewing - one normal, one showing the elevation through colour coding and another showing the surface of the moon with a wash of grey but sharper detail. Names are listed of the various areas of the moon we have discovered as well as craters and moon landing locations, but that's about it.
This all being said, if you feel the desire to get educated on our lonely planet, see the world's weather at work, find out what Earth looked like in the different months of 2004 among other things, get World Wind; it's well worth checking out especially seeing it's free.
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