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Google Earth 6 Debuts

The latest update of Google's geo-software includes better Street View integration and 3D trees.

Google on Monday released Google Earth 6, an improved version of its virtual globe software.

Now almost a decade old -- the software was called Keyhole Earthviewer before it was acquired by Google in 2005 -- Google Earth has finally grown some 3D trees.

Fittingly, the Google product manager who made the announcement is named Peter Birch.

"In Google Earth, while we and our users have been busy populating the globe with many thousands of 3D building models, trees have been rather hard to come by," wrote Birch in a blog post. "All that is changing with Google Earth 6, which includes beautifully detailed, 3D models for dozens of species of trees, from the Japanese Maple to the East African Cordia to my personal favorite, the cacao tree."

Google Earth now has more than 80 million trees, mainly in urban areas like Athens, Berlin, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Tokyo. Google has also been working with nature and conservation organizations such as the Green Belt Movement in Africa, the Amazon Conservation Team in Brazil, and CONABIO in Mexico to create tree models where forests are threatened.

Trees can be toggled on or off by enabling or disabling the 3D building layer.

The sixth iteration of Google Earth also brings better integration with Street View. In previous versions, Street View felt like a separate viewing and navigation experience. Each panorama seemed like an island of imagery. Now Google Earth users can glide down from orbit, select a Street View landing point, and ease right into ground-based navigation.

Google has also simplified the process of finding and accessing historic image sets, such as Warsaw in 1935 or London in 1945, which were introduced in Google Earth 5. When users visit areas with historic image data, they will be informed of this by a message in the application status bar. Clicking on this message will allow users to browse the imagery.

Google Earth 6 is available for free; Google Earth Pro, a version for professionals who need access to GIS data import capabilities and other advanced features, sells for $399 per user, with volume discounts. Google also offers a version of Google Earth for enterprise customers.

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