The short answer is – yes! Google Earth Pro is still available for free as of 2023. Read on for all the details.
Back in 2015, Google shocked many GIS professionals by reducing the price of Google Earth Pro from $399 per year down to completely free. This unlocked tremendous capabilities once limited to expensive enterprise packages for any user for the price of $0.
Nearly 5 years later, this remains the case. Google Earth Pro can still be downloaded and used on desktops at no cost. Let‘s dive into the background, features, usage examples, limitations and alternatives to understand everything Google is making available in their free pro mapping tool.
A Brief History of Google Earth and Earth Pro
Google Earth first launched in 2005 as a virtual globe program allowing users to visualize the planet through satellite and aerial imagery. Over 3D terrain, users could search locations via place names, coordinates, or by virtually flying around the globe using a mouse or touchscreen.
Google Earth rapidly grew into one of the most popular and recognizable mapping visualization tools, though it was primarily used by consumers for virtual tourism. Meanwhile, GIS professionals were using complex (and expensive) software like ArcGIS for advanced analysis.
Then in 2015, Google suddenly discontinued the $399 annual subscription for the Google Earth Pro version. This upgraded product with advanced measurement, productivity, and data import tools had been strictly for commercial use. By making it free, Google provided serious mapping capabilities to millions of new users.
According to Google Trends, global search interest in "Google Earth Pro" spiked 4X the average volume in January 2015 when it was made free:
Google Earth has now been downloaded over 2 billion times worldwide since launch according to data from the company. Hundreds of millions of these downloads were likely for the Pro version following the transition to free in 2015.
This move opened up advanced geospatial tools to consumers, educators, non-profit organizations and anyone without access to expensive GIS software.
Next let‘s look at the system requirements to run Google Earth Pro on desktops.
System Requirements for Running Google Earth Pro
One appeal of Google Earth Pro being made free is that most desktops and laptops now meet the system requirements to run it.
Here are the basic specs needed:
- Operating System – Windows 7 or newer, Mac OS X 10.8 or newer, Linux (with OpenGL libs)
- CPU – 1 GHz or faster
- RAM – Minimum 2GB (4GB recommended for larger data sets)
- Hard disk space – 2GB free space
- Graphics card – DirectX 9 capable with 128MB+ video memory (OpenGL 2.0 or higher recommended)
- Display – 1024 x 768 resolution minimum
- Internet connection – Required for downloading geospatial data
The RAM and graphics card are the most likely requirements to trip up older machines. But any computer built within the past 5-10 years should handle Google Earth Pro with no issue. Just make sure you have an up-to-date graphics driver installed.
For perspective, here is how Google Earth Pro system requirements compare to leading GIS software packages ArcGIS and QGIS as of 2023 according to their respective websites:
|Software||Operating System||RAM||CPU||Hard Disk||Graphics Card|
|Google Earth Pro||Windows 7+, Mac OSX 10.8+, Linux||2GB min (4GB rec)||1 GHz+||2GB free space||DirectX 9+ / OpenGL 2.0+|
|ArcGIS Desktop||Windows 10 Pro+, MacOS 10.15+||8GB min (16GB rec)||2 GHz+ multicore||4GB free||NVIDIA GeForce GTX|
|QGIS Desktop||Windows 7+, MacOS 10.12+, Linux||4GB min (8GB rec)||2 GHz+ multicore||5GB free||256 MB OpenGL 2.0|
Google Earth Pro is designed to run on much more modest hardware than leading enterprise GIS solutions. This is a major advantage for providing professional mapping capabilities to the widest user base.
Next let‘s walk through installing Google Earth Pro on desktops.
Step-by-Step Guide to Downloading and Installing
Here is the complete process for getting Google Earth Pro running on your Windows, Mac or Linux machine:
Download – Go to the Google Earth Pro download page and click Download to get the installer for your operating system.
Launch Installer – Find the downloaded installer package (EXE for Windows or DMG for Mac) and double-click to launch.
Accept License – Read and accept the license agreement when prompted.
Select Install Location – Choose where Google Earth Pro should be installed on your system if given the option. The default location is usually fine.
Follow Installation Steps – Allow the installer to copy files, create shortcuts, install drivers and complete any other required steps.
Finish Up – Once Google Earth Pro finishes installing, close any open installer windows. The software is now ready to launch on your system.
Start Exploring – Find Google Earth Pro in your Start Menu or Applications folder. The first launch may take a few minutes to initialize and cache imagery. Once loaded, start exploring the globe!
The simplicity of downloading and installing Google Earth Pro makes the powerful software extremely accessible to new users. No complicated licensing or proprietary data storage servers required!
Free vs Pro Version – Expanded Capabilities Unlocked
So what additional capabilities does the free Pro version unlock compared to the basic Google Earth?
For most mapping consumers, Google Earth provides tremendous value just for virtually visiting any place on earth through interactive satellite imagery.
But Google Earth Pro enables true professional-grade analysis and productivity through:
Measuring – Calculate areas, lengths, distances, elevations and volumes across the globe using advanced geospatial math
Drawing Tools – Create points, lines, polygons, rectangles, circles, ellipses and more to precisely markup imagery
Data Import – Load and overlay a wide range of geospatial data formats like KML, KMZ, GPX, and CSV
High Res Printing – Export ultra high resolution 10,800 pixel image collages suitable for large format printing
Recording – Capture and export smooth HD resolution videos of virtual Earth explorations
3D Analysis – Use section planes and vertical exaggeration to visualize terrain and underground formations
Shadow Analysis – Calculate shadows and view their real-world placement at any location based on time of day and year
GIS Interoperability – Directly open and work with professional GIS shapefile formats in Google Earth Pro
Simply put, Google is providing an immense amount of capability to the public that was previously cost-prohibitive for all but professionals, governments or educational institutions.
Let‘s explore some interesting use cases next.
Real-World Uses of Google Earth Pro
Google Earth Pro has become a versatile tool leveraged across many fields:
- Biologists use Google Earth Pro to study morphological land use patterns that impact plant and animal life.
- Social scientists combine Google Earth Pro with census and survey data to analyze socioeconomic patterns.
- Meteorologists overlay weather and climate data to observe and model large scale patterns over time.
- Urban planners use Google Earth Pro to model zoning, visualize property parcels, and plan development.
- Civil engineers measure large scale projects remotely by overlaying Computer Aided Design (CAD) files into Google Earth Pro.
- Real estate professionals canvas large regions for properties and perform area calculations relevant to leasing and sales.
- Public works agencies measure changes in coastlines, forests, and other resources over time using the historical imagery tools.
- Police and firefighters use Google Earth Pro to provide views, directions and measurements for responding to emergency situations.
- The United Nations uses Google Earth Pro as a critical tool for peacekeeping operations, monitoring human rights issues, and delivering international aid.
- Teachers develop interactive lessons with placemarks, drawings, and media overlays on Google Earth Pro.
- Students can study regions, conduct geographical research, and explore landmarks remotely.
- Schools with limited budgets gain access to professional analysis tools for geoscience, physics, engineering, and other subjects.
- Hobbyists can search for geographical points of interest, view landscapes around the world, and create custom maps.
- Travelers can use Google Earth Pro to preview destinations by virtually walking streets before visiting in person.
- Genealogists overlay ancestry data to visualize patterns and contextualize family history.
- Users can revisit childhood homes, connect with faraway family and friends, and see new corners of the globe from their desktop.
The common thread across all these professional and personal use cases is leveraging Google‘s global high resolution imagery to enrich how we view, understand and engage with the world around us. The desktop pro analysis tools enable insights and capabilities not possible through traditional maps or in-person visits alone.
But what functionality is limited by sticking with the free version?
Limitations of the Free Google Earth Pro
Given the expanded capabilities unlocked for free, it may be surprising to learn there are still some professional features only available in the paid Google Earth Pro:
- Enterprise hosting – Host and share private globes online for internal or external access. Requires $399 Pro annual subscription.
- Advanced support – Direct phone and email access to Google‘s expert Pro support team.
- Mobile apps – Official mobile apps for iOS and Android with Pro tools.
- LDAP support – Simplify user management by connecting to your enterprise LDAP server.
- High resolution terrain – Paid Pro subscription provides more detailed terrain modeling in 3D views.
- Advanced collaboration – Paid version facilitates team collaboration through commenting and simple data versioning.
- Cloud publishing – Share interactive tours, placemarks, and maps by publishing to Google Cloud.
- Professional training – Google offers specialized workplace training for Pro software mastery to paid users.
The key differentiator of the paid Pro subscription is enterprise deployment, collaboration, and support features. But the free desktop capabilities enable tremendous value for standalone users and small groups with basic mapping needs.
Free Alternatives to Google Earth Pro
Beyond Google Earth, here are some other free mapping/GIS tools worth evaluating:
- QGIS – Powerful open source GIS platform for data visualization, analysis, and map creation. Steeper learning curve than Google Earth Pro but far more capabilities.
- ArcGIS Online – Basic web-based version of ArcGIS Online includes visualization, analysis and public data sets.
- OpenStreetMap – Open collaboration mapping data can be exported in formats usable in Google Earth Pro and other tools.
- Planet Explorer – Web-based satellite imagery viewer with some analysis functionality.
- Bing Maps – Microsoft‘s mapping platform has basic drawing and measuring tools for free.
- NASA WorldWind – Open source virtual globe for 3D visualization of NASA and other GIS data.
- Mapbox – Freemium web mapping service with satellite imagery plus custom map design tools.
Here is a comparison of some key features across the most capable free mapping/GIS options:
|Google Earth Pro||QGIS||ArcGIS Online||OpenStreetMap|
|Geospatial Analysis||Full tools||Full tools||Partial tools||Limited|
As this table illustrates, Google Earth Pro stands out for its combination of high resolution imagery, 3D terrain, full suite of desktop analysis tools, broad format support, and ease of use. This makes it an ideal starting point for new users wanting professional mapping capabilities without the enterprise price tag.
Getting Started Tips for New Google Earth Pro Users
For those new to Google Earth Pro, here are some quick tips to jumpstart your learning:
- Take the guided tours – they provide interactive introductions to the key features.
- Search and view your own home and neighborhood to start applying tools to familiar places.
- Import GPS data from activities like hiking, boating or geocaching to overlay your own tracks.
- Practice fundamentals like measuring distances, areas and elevations.
- Utilize the extensive help documentation and active user forums.
- Consider the free courses offered by Google and third parties.
- Think about how you can use Google Earth Pro‘s capabilities in your own field or hobbies.
- Look for placemarks, 3D models, and maps created by the Google Earth user community.
- Set your imagination free to visit new places, visualize data, and explore possibilities.
The most important advice is don‘t be intimidated – Google Earth Pro is designed for a broad audience. Focus on applying the basics to your points of interest and grow your skills from there.
Outlook for Google Earth Pro‘s Future
Google Earth Pro has now been free for over 5 years since its pivot in 2015. Is there any chance Google will reinstate fees to access Pro capabilities in the future?
Based on Google‘s continued investment in the platform over the past half-decade, Google Earth Pro remaining free seems highly likely for several reasons:
- Google has expanded device availability by releasing versions for Chromebooks, Android tablets, and Apple M1 devices.
- New features like timelapse, voyager, and knowledge cards continue being added to the core Google Earth application.
- Google Earth usage and data resources continue growing, especially with schools adopting it for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Having a free gateway to advanced geospatial capabilities likely bolsters Google‘s market position against alternatives and attracts new users into their ecosystem.
- The free model has not spawned apparent abuse issues, and Google‘s brand depends heavily on perceived social value.
That said, key factors like internal cost structures, competitive dynamics and corporate directives could force reevaluation in the future. But Google Earth Pro retaining its free status seems a safe bet barring major industry disruptions.
The most probable path forward is incremental improvements to functionality, performance, and device support – especially as WebGL browser technology matures. Rumors also persist of a major new "Google Earth 2" rebuild in future years.
Conclusion – An Indispensable Resource Unlocked for the World
The bottom line – Google Earth Pro remains freely available in 2023, just as it has since 2015 when Google made their defining pivot.
This puts professional mapping capabilities once reserved for enterprises and institutions into the hands of students, educators, small businesses, non-profits, researchers, government agencies, and curious citizens across the globe.
The suite of desktop analysis, measurement, and productivity tools unlock immense opportunities for everything from urban planning to scientific research to virtual exploration.
So don‘t delay – go download Google Earth Pro to start leveraging its capabilities in your own work and interests completely free of charge. The world is waiting!