Geographic Exploration System (GES) is a new buzzword, in case you hadn’t noticed. The term, in its recent incarnation, seems to date back to ESRI announcing ArcGIS Explorer last summer in San Diego and last fall in Warsaw. More recently GeoWorld editor Matt Ball tackles the topic in a feature called, “Digital Reality: Comparing Geographic Exploration Systems.” In it, he distinguishes this class of products as offering “the ability to visualize the globe in three dimensions.”
Ball includes a series of products in his comparison: Skyline’s Terra Suite, GeoFusion’s GeoPlayer and GeoMatix Toolkit, NASA’s World Wind, GeoTango’s GlobeView (recently acquired by Microsoft), Carbon Tools Gaia, and ESRI’s ArcGIS Explorer. Google Earth, of course, fits in this group, too.
The interesting thing to remember here is that these are all client/server solutions, true systems. Ideally, you download an app and run it on your local machine and tap into data served up by one or more providers (via open or proprietary standards, or a mix) on the Internet. So, while these are all 3D viewers, the ability to visualize the entire globe is really up to those providing the data. And, of course, if you are planning to be offline, you’d better download the data you’ll need when disconnected.
Google Earth is giving everyone the idea that all viewers must “come with” oodles and oodles of high resolution data when in fact, some come with basically none and send you out to find it. When comparing Google Local/Earth and Live Local many reviews go into great depth about the data available, as they should. Some geographic data still costs money and we as well as the consumer level user need to know that. ESRI wants users to know that; that’s how it hopes to leverage ArcWeb Services, which of course, includes data and services.
One historical note. If I recall correctly, in about 1992 ArcView (good old desktop ArcView 1, I think) was described as a Geographic Exploration System. It was 2D and accessed existing ESRI formatted data from its sample CDs, your existing GIS implementation or from data you purchased (including Directions Magazine founder Scott Elliott’s 15 CD Wessex data). Times have changed…
Interestingly, ESRI’s website does not appear to include the term “Geographic Exploration System.” In fact, “geographic exploration” is only found on K-12 and library pages, where I should add, it most certainly belongs.