SAN FRANCISCO--This morning at the Google IO conference here, the company announced a new browser plug-in that enables users to get the same high-flying experience they've been getting in the standalone geography software application Google Earth (download for Mac and Windows).
The diminutive plug-in, which weighs in at just 300k turns Firefox 2 (3 RC1 is not currently supported) or IE6 and 7 into 3D-capable mapping solutions. The technology ties into the Google Earth API, and the current example found here (download from CNET Download.com) lets you zoom around all of earth, complete with 3D topography. The controls are a little more stripped down, with one button that scrolls around and right click contextual menus that let the user control which angle they're viewing the map from. In the future, developers will be able to build their own tools on top of this platform, and drop it right into their sites.
Since Google began adding layers to its Web-based Maps solution we've been expecting Google Earth's 3D action to make its way to the browser. Microsoft was first to market with its own 3D solution, allowing users to experience a similar effect to its Live Maps product back in late 2006. Most recently features have begun to jump to both the Maps and Earth product, signaling closer integration.
More on this later. We'll be covering news at the conference all day, so stay tuned.