The impossible has been achieved; in as far as Google Earth has just got even better. The Beta 4 release seems pretty stable here, certainly no mishaps since I’ve been using it and using it I have been: a lot. Not only has the map rendering become much speedier than before, but additional little things such as the time-stamped image support for KML files making it possible to see the same map image but at different times really do make all the difference.

Well, not all the difference, if you are in Japan I’m pretty sure you would reserve that accolade for the fact that there is now a fully localized version complete with Japanese language support and a dedicated Japan data layer. If you have coughed up the $400 for the ‘Pro’ version you might prefer to think it refers best to the ability to create HDTV movies of your Google earth explorations. If you make use of the application for producing driving directions, although why you would when there are much better solutions to that particular problem in my never at all humble opinion, then ‘all the difference’ can be seen in the improved printing layout.

For me though, I guess it would really have to be the addition of web mapping that enables third parties to overlay map data on any GE view. This, in turn, brings in the new ‘featured content’ functionality.

Turn this layer on and you get a completely new world of discovery, with different content being delivered on a rota basis. It can be anything from the United Nations Environmental Program showing images detailing environmental destruction across time-stamped vistas, through to tracking a GPS tagged whale shark as it swims the ocean, or find a Tanzanian chimp wandering the jungle habitat courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute. This multimedia addition is actually extremely well implemented, and Google has chosen its content partners wisely. Zoom in on a pyramid in Egypt and Discovery Network information will pop up before your eyes, making this an even more valuable educational resource than ever for example. Want something with a more business oriented use? How about the ‘Turn Here’ video city guides covering hotels, restaurants and local events around the planet.

There is a bit of a continuing rush to download Beta 4, so it can be slow going, but believe me it is worth the wait.