Finding Free Aerial Maps Online
If you are looking for free aerial maps, you currently have a number of options. To begin with, you need to decide how you wish to interact with these images. You can either use a desktop based application or a web based application such as firefox or Internet explorer. You can generally find the same or similar photos no matter which platform you choose.
There are currently a number of aerial and satellite photo browsing desktop applications, the most famous of which may be Google Earth. Google Earth was originally made by an independent company, Keyhole, Inc. and known as "Earth Viewer." Google acquired this company in 2004 and would later release the program for consumer use for free. As freeware, updates to the program are also free and there are no limits to how you can use to program, although a "Plus" version with GPS integration is offered for a $20 annual fee and a commercial "Pro" edition is available for a $400 annual fee. Currently upgrades are planned for the "Pro" version which will substantially raise the annual fee. Google Earth is available for many operating systems including Linux and FreeBSD in addition to Windows and Mac OS X.
In addition to Google Earth, you also have the open source NASA sponsored program known as WorldWind. WorldWind offers both free aerial maps in the style of Google Earth and extraterrestrial models, such as the Moon and Jupiter. WorldWind incorporates aerial data from Microsoft's Virtual Earth platform. As open source software, WorldWind is free software.
If you are not looking for a desktop application, you still have a number of options for free aerial maps. Google also offers its aerial imagery in their Google Maps service online. Simply click the "Satellite" tab and zoom in to see if aerial photographs are available for the area you are looking in. You can also check out TerraServer-USA, offered for free by Microsoft. TerraServer uses public domain USGS aerial photographs. If you prefer non-profits and open source, but do not want to install NASA WorldWind there is another option for you as well. OpenAerialMap.org is an open collection of aerial photographs, collected into a single coherent view of the world.
There are many other free aerial maps services available, as well as live demos of proprietary programs which have a one time, or annual fee. It is up to you to decide which service or program fits your needs best.
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