Google’s recent announcements concerning the deprecation of Google Earth Enterprise and the Google Maps Engine API have generated considerable comment, consternation and speculation about what the changes really mean for Google’s enterprise customers.
The announcement on ESRI’s website certainly gives the impression that this heralds a long-planned strategic partnership with Google: a coordinated transition within Google towards adoption of ESRI’s ArcGIS platform. Reading between the lines, however, it seems more likely that this is more a case of Google’s marketing people putting a brave face on a pragmatic business decision to sunset their APIs and get out of the GIS market, and that the ‘migration path’ to ESRI’s products reflects only Google’s immediate need to find something plausible to offer their customers.
Google have form on this, of course. The other recent announcement that the Google Glass ‘experiment’ is to be quietly put out to pasture reminds us that this is a company not afraid to close down high profile products if they fail to address the needs of their core advertising business (and contribute significantly to the bottom line). Whilst location is always going to be at the heart of Google’s search technology, it has been clear for some time that providing public mapping APIs has become an expensive and unnecessary distraction for Google.
Whilst some Google Earth users might welcome the lure of ESRI’s proprietary ecosystem, it is likely that many will baulk at the suggestion. ESRI’s products are undeniably powerful and feature-rich, though open source GIS products such as QGIS have been doing a spectacular job of challenging ESRI and other mainstream GIS products for features and sophistication, and many of our customers are telling us that they are turning to QGIS as a powerful and less expensive open source alternative to mainstream commercial GIS tools.
So is there a clear open source, open standards-based alternative to Google Earth right now? Something that enables enterprise clients to achieve Google Earth’s stated objective of enabling customers to “build, host, and view private globes created from their own geospatial data. … behind the firewall with access restricted to authorized employees.”?
The powerful combination of GeoServer, GeoWebCache, and OpenLayers undoubtedly provides a compelling set of SDI capabilities, which with relatively little effort can be deployed to deliver a world-class enterprise mapping solution. We should therefore perhaps extend ESRI’s comparison table to include the open source alternative:
As far as browser-based visualisation goes – another notable strength of Google Earth – OpenLayers 3 will soon be delivering full integration with the open source Cesium project, adding WebGL 3D globe and ‘2.5D’ perspective views. Of course, where Google excelled was in provision of foundation map data in their public products. OpenStreetMap’s crowdsourced global map data, rivals Google’s product for completeness and currency, and is similarly capable of supporting routing and navigation applications. Much work has been done over recent years in addressing the questions of accuracy and authority.
The story for raster imagery - an open source replacement for Google Earth’s global satellite and aerial imagery is rather different, and we will discuss options for data delivery and management in a future post.
Matthew Wood, Product Manager