E2 IconBernie Szukalski was nice enough to give me the keys to the latest beta of ArcGIS Explorer (AGX) today at the UC. Everyone who has Beta 2 won’t recognize the program very much. The progress since the last beta is huge. First off the “blue marble” is just beautiful, with cloud layer and atmosphere it really enhances the visuals. Next the AGX team has a new webpage with the new 3D and 2D maps on them (don’t get to excited about that download link just yet as it goes nowhere). Of special note is the world streets layer. This is the most beautiful layer I’ve seen on a digital globe yet. The attention to detail that the cartographers took to create that layer just amazes me. Beyond that you can see that they have some featured maps at the bottom of the page that will be updated as things happen (disasters etc).

It appears that you can now add just about any local dataset to your digital earth viewer; shapefile, personal geodatabase, raster or KML. Navigation tools are improved as well as a ton of keyboard controls. KML support at release will be KML 2.0 and sync up with ArcGIS Server. There are plans to add KML 2.1 support right after the release goes final so don’t get too up in arms about that. There was also some talk about connecting to the SketchUp 3D Warehouse as well. As SketchUp is at the ESRI UC, I’m sure there has been quite a bit of discussions about that.

The NMF file format that AGX saves out is documented and developers will be able to create and modify these NMF files. There is much more to why you’d use NMF that I’ll leave when I get my hands on the next beta. Of course you can add any ArcGIS Server or ArcIMS service besides all these other formats. The task framework will also be updated at the next beta.

The progress beyond the current beta that testers are using is amazing. The product looks almost totally different. It won’t replace Google Earth, but will augment it. Depending on how many people share their ArcGIS Globe Services around the world and if ESRI or someone else creates a clearinghouse for them, some great data views can be displayed on the digital earth. I can’t wait until that next beta gets out and we can start playing with it. That World Streets layer is such eye candy I want it.