<firstimage=”//static.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/marble_logo.jpg”>If you haven’t tried out Google Earth, you may be missing out. Being able to turn the Earth around as if it was a marble is pretty cool in itself, let alone the fact that you have access to satellite images of the whole world. All of that is great, but Google Earth can sometimes be a resource hog. Additionally, Google Earth is made by, well, Google, which might lead some people to automatically boycott it.
In any case, even though Google Earth is available for Linux, there’s also a decent open source alternative to Google Earth that users can try as well.
Marble is, like stated above, an open source alternative to Google Earth that is truly native to Linux. It is most commonly associated with the KDE desktop environment, although it can be run alongside any desktop environment such as GNOME. Marble is built differently, and carries less fat and more of the good stuff.
If you’re a KDE user, Marble may already be installed. If not, both KDE users as well as users of any other desktop environment can install it. On most distributions the package should be called marble. Go ahead and install that along with its dependencies, and you’re all set.
To launch Marble, you’ll find it under the Education category. If you didn’t have an Education category, it should have created it for you upon installation. When Marble is open, you’ll be greeted by a view of Earth, concentrated on Europe. From here, you can go ahead and control Marble however you like. You will most likely make the most use out of the tools located on the left pane, where there are four different categories of controlling what you see – Navigation (moving around the map), Legend, Map View, and Routing.
Left Pane Tools
Navigation presents you with some basic tools for moving around the map. In here you can search for cities (they have to be big enough to be locally significant), move around using cardinal directions, go back to your set “Home” location, and zoom in and out. Note that Marble supports mouse scrolling and double clicking for the zoom features, while click-and-drag works for pushing around the map.
The Legend category shows you what each item on the map represents. There are also check marks next to each map feature, so you can choose which ones you would like to see or hide. What the Legend category displays is dependent on what is selected in Map View.
Map View lets you choose what you would like to actually see. There are three separate options you can choose from: the projection type, which celestial body should be shown (Earth or Moon), and the theme. The moon only comes with one theme, but Earth comes in a number of themes, including a plain view, a satellite view, an atlas, a street map provided by OpenStreetMap (an open replacement to Google Maps), historical maps, and temperature and precipitation maps.
The maps are continually updated and downloaded from the Internet every time you use them. Therefore, some maps may not load if you are not connected to the Internet at that moment. Marble will even use the theme you used last time upon launch. These different map themes are probably one of the most compelling features of Marble that are not present in Google Earth as fully as they are in Marble.
Finally, in the Routing category, you can choose to have Marble give you driving directions. It would be most helpful to be on the OpenStreetMap theme. You can then choose a start and stop location and Marble will visually create a route for you to follow. You can also get textual directions, although they are not always available.
Marble is also able to function with a GPS device. After enabling “Current Location” under the View menu, you’ll have another category in your left pane. Here you can enable the gpsd service, which will try to find any GPS devices to track your current position. Additionally there are map adjustment and auto-zoom options for you to try if you use this feature.
Under Settings –> Configure Marble Virtual Globe you’ll find a couple of other useful features that you may need to configure. Here you’ll find settings for your units, time, graphics and image quality, routing, and more. Although not essentially necessary, it is worth going through the options to have the best experience possible.
Marble is a well-developed virtual globe application for Linux that brings a new perspective to the Earth-viewing experience. Although a couple of missing features would be desirable, the application already does enough to satisfy. If you enjoy using Google Earth, you’ll feel well-catered for with Marble.
Do you have Google Earth installed? What about it do you like and dislike? How would your experience compare with the Marble alternative to Google Earth? Let us know in the comments!alternative to google earth