With the explosive introduction of Google Earth, it is hard to imagine what the world was like before we were all started looking up our old high school on satellite imagery. As the novelty of Google Earth wears off, GIS professionals are beginning to come up with different way to utilize this new tool to disseminate GIS data and in turn are creating tools to export data to Google Earth. Right now ESRI doesn’t have any answer to Google Earth. Their viewers are either too expensive or too old to compete leaving a void that Google Earth is beginning to fill. At the UC, we saw the new ArcExplorer, but as with most development at ESRI it becomes hidden from view until the next big conference (I guess that means we’ll see it at the Business Partner Conference?). In the mean time, tools such as Arc2Earth and KML Home Companion will be matured and assimilated into workflows making Google Earth an integrated part of GIS distribution.
I’m sure there are many at ESRI who feel that ArcExplorer will be a “Google Killer”, but to them I say don’t look at it that way. Google Earth is just another tool to help sell products that ESRI develops. In the end it will be ESRI desktop and server software that will power most of this new way of sharing GIS information and that is what matters. I can only guess to how well ArcExplorer will perform but if I use ArcGlobe as any reference point, ArcExplorer could be DOA. Again as I said above, this might not be the case, but since we get no updates from ESRI to the development of the software it is hard to say. So in this absence of information, many will continue to explore using KML and KMZ in conjunction with Google Earth. Even if ArcExplorer is a home run, why would users change their workflows when their customers are already used to Google Earth?
I’ve said before that I think ESRI should leverage support for KML/KMZ into their products and jump on the Google Earth bandwagon while its hot. CNN seems quite intent on using Google Earth on their newscasts and anyone with a broadband internet connection can join in that fun. I can’t imagine a scenario where people type in ESRI.com and grab the latest copy of ArcExplorer to view the huge earthquake in Southern California (though ESRI would have a front row seat) unless somehow ArcExplorer is pushed by Yahoo! to compete against Microsoft and Google.
I think in the end if there is any hope that ArcExplorer can compete against Google Earth in our marketplace, we need to know more about what to expect from ArcExplorer, a timetable for its release and even a broad beta release (beyond the ones at ESRI’s beta site).