Google Earth – Almost a Great Program


My mother just asked me to get Google Earth (link to download page [1]) working on her machine so she can see where my sister [2] lives.

So I download all 20 megs of the sucker (of course it had a horrible license agreement that precludes packaging for Debian or any other sane distribution) and ran it (under a different account of course because I don’t trust non-free software). It’s unfortunate that Google weren’t prepared to put in the extra effort of making Debian and RPM packages for it. When I examined the contents of the file there were sym-links from FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD to Linux and from amd64 and x86_64 to x86. So much for portability, just assume that everything is an i386 running Linux!

The first problem I encountered is that it doesn’t support installing in text mode and demands X access, have the Google people never heard of sys-admins who do their work over low-bandwidth links and don’t use X? What happens if your sys-admin is using a braille terminal?

When I enabled X by “ssh -X” I encountered the error below (Error 1). It seems that the installation program was not written with the X11 Security Restrictions in mind and only works with “ssh -Y“. The same applies to actually running the program once it’s installed.

Finally it gave me a GNOME error dialogue about the Bitstream Vera Sans font not being installed. If they had made a Debian package then it could have depended on the package that provides the font in question. Now I’m left wondering which package provides it, and whether it’s even available (maybe they depend on non-free fonts).

Once I got it working I found it to be incredibly slow on my Pentium-M laptop with 1.5G of RAM. I ran it on a Pentium-D desktop system in a Xen DomU (it’s only 32bit and I couldn’t figure out how to get the AMD64 version of Debian to run i386 programs without a chroot or a Xen instance). But it still wasn’t particularly fast. One problem is that the GUI is not well written, so I drag the Earth to rotate it from the initial view and the Earth moves slowly long after I have released my mouse button. Another is that my X server started using significantly more memory while it was running (and has not returned to it’s previous size).

Google Earth is a really neat program that does some nice things. But I’m not going to buy a new Thinkpad to run it, and the experience of running it on a Pentium-D server is not that great either. I’ve just rm’d it from my laptop, I’ll leave it installed on the server but probably won’t run it often.

I’ll try installing it on my mother’s computer (Celeron 2.4GHz with 512M of RAM) but I am not expecting it to run well. The machine is still new to her, I replaced her Pentium3 800MHz with 384M of RAM about a week ago. She never found the Pentium3 to be slow (and I don’t think that Google Earth is a good reason for an upgrade).

Error 1:
$ /tmp/GoogleEarthLinux.bin
Verifying archive integrity… All good.
Uncompressing Google Earth for GNU/Linux……………………………………………………..
The program ‘setup.gtk2’ received an X Window System error.
This probably reflects a bug in the program.
The error was ‘BadWindow (invalid Window parameter)’.
(Details: serial 122 error_code 3 request_code 38 minor_code 0)
(Note to programmers: normally, X errors are reported asynchronously;
that is, you will receive the error a while after causing it.
To debug your program, run it with the –sync command line
option to change this behavior. You can then get a meaningful
backtrace from your debugger if you break on the gdk_x_error() function.)


13 thoughts on “Google Earth – Almost a Great Program”

  1. Meep says:

    Using the googleearth-package package and enabling dri on the display made googleearth install and run smoothly on comparable hardware here…

  2. gregor herrmann says:

    Using googleearth-package (from contrib) makes installing on a Debian machine easier.

  3. Jambo says:

    installing ge on debian:

    1. apt-get install googleearth-package
    2. make-googleearth-package
    3. dpkg -i googleearth_4.2.180.1134+0.3.2-1_i386.deb

  4. Jonas says:

    Well, if it makes you feel any better…the Windows version isn’t all that fast either. At least it wasn’t on my machine when it ran XP. I haven’t tried the Linux version yet, and I have no intention to either (their “Let us provide Picasa to Linux users in the form of a binary that includes wine technology” attitude pissed me off). Still, a couple of points.

    The bitstream fonts are free. They are available in the Ubuntu-repos for one thing, but outside of Ubuntu I don’t know where to get them. The package name is ttf-bitstream-vera though, and may be available in your repos too.

    As far as packaging goes, if you want to try it again later some time, have you checked google’s own repo? It seems odd if it wasn’t available there. Although the repo only have 32-bit packages as far as I can tell…so you may be out-of-luck even if it is available there. Well, forget that option. Just checked. Google earth is not yet included in their repo, but is being planned. 64-bit is also in the planning stages…and 64-bit will apparently mean packaging as 64-bit but setting up ia-32-libs as a dependency. Sigh.

    Another option is to use the medbuntu repo. Granted, the repo is designed with Ubuntu in mind but Google-earth at least should work in any Debian based distro. Probably the rest too, since all that is available there are things that are legally and/or philosophical problems with including in the main distro (read: codecs, DVD-decryption, and a couple of other things). Still, just download the packages from:

    to see if they look safe to you, or your machine really (or your mother’s for that matter if her machine is running Linux too.).

  5. anonymous says:

    you may want to try the googleearth-package from the contrib archive (testing and unstable only).

    the bitstream fonts are provided by the ttf-bitstream-vera package.

  6. Mark Brown says:

    Note that Google Earth relies heavily on 3D acceleration – it sounds awfully like you were running with soft 3D which I can’t imagine would work very well.

  7. Sam Morris says:

    FYI, there is a googleearth-package package in non-free. That should bypass most of your problems with their typically-dreadful installer.

    On a related note, I wish Debian didn’t patch ssh to make -X behave like -Y by default… :(

  8. etbe says:

    Thanks for the comments. I wrote this post in more of a whinging mind-set than a lazy-web post, but the suggestions are all good.

    I do have DRI loaded on my laptop. I’m surprised to learn that it relies on 3D hardware support, the 3D stuff it does (showing a rotating globe of the Earth) should not be that challenging (in a view from space you don’t lose any detail by considering the Earth to be flat).

    For other people who read the comments, all the above were moderated so there is some overlap in the suggestions but all the authors were unaware of the other comments in my moderation queue.

  9. Jonas says:

    Regarding the 3D-hardware…yes, when viewed from space non-accelerated should suffice. However, you can zoom in to get considerable detail if you so choose. So far that you can follow individual streets, or see where the local university is, and stuff like that. When doing that, I would suspect it would be intolerably slow without 3D hardware support.

  10. User says:

    You geeks are funny. Google is for profit, they just make gains by making useful software freely available. Dual-boot and quit complaining.

  11. etbe says:

    Jonas: The view of the globe from space can use 3D features. But when you start to zoom in the fact that the Earth is not flat makes little difference to the section you see. When seen from the height of a satellite it’s pretty much all flat. Using 2D acceleration and fudging things a little would give a better result for everyone.

    User: Google achieved their market position by making their systems work for everyone. If they don’t support the non-Windows users then that gives an entry point to the market for their competitors. If you want to keep a monopoly position through legal means then you have to put in some extra work to satisfy all the customers!

  12. Ian Soutar says:

    Google Earth works very well on my eeepc. However I had to run it once with an exernal monitor set to high resolution (1280×1024 or 1024×768) … that seemed to trigger 3d graphics to work.

    5 minutes later I disconnected the external monitor after quitting googleearth. I put the resolution back to the 800×480 standard for the eeepc. Next time I ran googleearth it ran on 800×480 with full 3d graphics. I was able to go to the Eiffel Tower and zoom around the building watching it lean this way and that.

    Works great now and no external monitor is required.

    Ian Soutar

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