Tools for Google Earth

Manifold GIS for Google Earth Authors

Get the Most out of Earth

To get the most out of Google Earth you need to be able to display your own data in Google Earth using Google KML or KMZ files.

Manifold ® System is the best tool for that job, because it gives you the widest range of capabilities, delivers the most power, takes care of all sorts of nuances automatically you don't want to know about, connects to just about every data source imaginable, employs modern, easy to use visual interfaces and best of all, costs far less than legacy software while doing more than toy software that doesn't do what you need.

Manifold System Personal x64 Edition does all that for only $145. It's perfect for Google Earth authors. This page is dedicated to use of Manifold System for Google Earth. The thousands of other pages in this web site cover general GIS use of Manifold System.

What is KML and KMZ?

KML is the XML-based format Google Earth uses to accept data for display. Click open a KML file and Google Earth will light up and do its "zoom in from space" thing to show the data in that file. If you can write a KML file, you can use Google Earth as a super-cool, free viewer for your data.

KMZ is a KML file compressed using "zip" technology to save space. It's the same thing, just smaller, so when we say KML we mean both types of files. KML allows you to show points and lines in Google Earth and also allows overlaying images. Manifold can use those capabilities to also show areas and surface-type data like gradient maps.

Click on the image at left to see a larger screenshot of contours exported to Google Earth using a KML file. The contour area shows places in the Montara Mountain region of California that are between 1000 feet and 1200 feet above sea level. We used Manifold to create a terrain elevation contour for those heights using USGS elevation data for Montara Mountain and then we exported the contour into a Google Earth KML file.

See for yourself the power of KML files: click here to download a sample collection of KML files zipped together. These show the contour area above, a surface overlay on Montara Mountain, GIS data for Carson City, Nevada, GIS data for Placer County, California, and the intricately gerrymandered Congressional district of Joe Barton seen below. Unzip the zipfile and then double-click on any of the .kml files to watch Google Earth do its thing. Cool!

See the gerrymanders.zip file for a cool KML collection of Gerrymandered districts that uses polygons in Google Earth to show a display. This example file contains two KML files: a KML with 84 really awfully Gerrymandered congressional districts and a shorter KML with just the absolute worst 22 districts.

What is Manifold System?

Manifold® System is the world's most modern and comprehensive GIS (Geographic Information System) product ever created. It runs on Windows desktops, costs as little as $145 and provides more features than packages costing $20,000 from old-fashioned vendors.

A GIS package does way more than just drawing maps. A modern GIS like Manifold integrates visual displays, like maps, with deep connections to database information and it automatically handles the infinity of nerd-alert technical details involved with projections. Manifold handles drawings, GIS data, CAD data, images, surfaces and databases at the same time using a host of beautifully-integrated capabilities. It's like getting AutoCAD, Oracle, PhotoShop, Illustrator, Visual Studio and a cool mapping program all rolled into one intense package at an absurdly low price.

(Detail, left): The hatched region shows a single Congressional district in Texas, for Joe Barton (R), seen in Manifold using a background of other Congressional districts. It has been shaped to include voter populations favorable to the incumbent, a practice known as "Gerrymandering." (108th Congress example: the district is more regular in the 109th Congress). Both parties use gerrymandering.

Whether you want to do something really simple, like show pushpins in Google Earth of your favorite pubs, or so something a little more complex like show the trails in a nature preserve, or more professional like showing how a new industrial development overlays zoning areas or abuts wetlands, or totally enterprise-deep like showing how county parcel layers, easements and other layers overlay the path of utility lines taken from the corporate Oracle database, Manifold can do it all.

Because Manifold is so low in price and because it is often easier to use a professional tool that doesn't have the limitations of consumer-ware, people will often use Manifold even for the simplest tasks. It costs no more to use the best. When you start with the best you know that no matter how your needs grow your investment in expertise in Manifold won't top out.

(Detail, right): The same gerrymandered Congressional district shown in Google Earth using a KML file created by Manifold. Manifold allows you to take data from millions of sources and use it in Google Earth presentations.A really cool thing about Manifold is that Manifold exports data as well, so when you display your maps in Google Earth you can leverage the tons of data embedded into GIS files.

It's one thing to see Joe Barton's gerrymandered district, but it's really cool to be able to just click on the link for that district in the Google Earth to launch the relevant web site. It's absolutely priceless to get that into Google Earth direct from the Congressional map's table without ever having to type in URLs manually!

That's especially important if you are doing more than totally trivial things in Google Earth. Your time is valuable and shouldn't have to be spent re-inventing the wheel. Manifold lets you tap, for free, into the millions of maps and databases published on Internet for free download. The US government alone publishes millions of maps for free download via Internet - you can use them in Manifold, cutting and pasting what you need to get exactly the display you want in Google Earth.

Some beginners who don't know about this stuff may find the list of Manifold supported formats boring, but as you get farther into it you'll see that each format supported by Manifold opens yet another endless world of data to you from which you can pick and choose.

(Detail, left): Manifold can "extrude" points, lines or areas to 3D effects in Google Earth, automatically taking the altitude from any desired database field. Cool!

For organizational users, your organization's data is solid gold, but it is no good to you if you can't get to it, use it or share it with others. Manifold provides better connections to databases than any other GIS and has unique capabilities to connect to corporate data houses storing geospatial data in a wealth of enterprise-class formats, including direct Oracle Spatial connections, Open GIS Consortium WKT and WKB, Geodatabase, geocoded tables and direct binary.

Manifold itself is delivered with fully licensed versions of IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle DBMS. You don't need these databases to export to Google Earth, but having them delivered by Manifold tells you this is one GIS package that goes far beyond others in DBMS capabilities. Manifold also supports just about every other data source known, from MySQL to well, anything else, using ADO .NET, OLE DB and ODBC as well as direct connection technologies such as Oracle's OCI.

See the Flashy Demo topic in the manual for an example of data flows between other applications and Manifold.See the Flashy Demo topic in the manual for an example of data flows between other applications and Manifold.

(Detail, right): Recent earthquakes in Los Angeles, color-coded and labeled with the magnitude, grabbed with a Web Query and run through Manifold into a KML file for use in Google Earth.

Manifold also contains the world's finest Spatial SQL and the most extensive internal DBMS capabilities ever seen in the GIS market. From neurofuzzy inferencing to "more like this" technology, Manifold allows you to slice and dice your data faster and better than most dedicated DBMS packages can do, and all in the geographic context required by Google Earth. You might think you won't care about such stuff for really simple uses, but even for simple Google Earth applications it's a real time saver to be able to do things like change DBMS data types on the fly so that whatever you want for your Google Earth Name and Description fields comes out right.

In more sophisticated applications, it's often not just about showing dots on a map, it's about showing the right dots, which often have to be pulled out of big corporate databases using sophisticated criteria combining many different data attributes or geospatial relationships like whether a particular dot is inside or within 100 feet of a particular type of flood zone. All that Manifold does perfectly and elegantly too, with supreme geospatial power at your beck and call if you need to use it.

At Manifold we believe in Google Earth. We think it's a lot more than just a cool consumer gadget to thrill the innocent. Google Earth delivers a viewing tool of tremendous power and sophistication that can be used in professional, business, academic, government, non-profit and enterprise settings to help visualize all kinds of data that people need to see. If you share that belief, you need a tool for authoring Google Earth data that can keep up with the tremendous possibilities of Google Earth and that tool is Manifold.

Top Reasons to Get Manifold for Google Earth

While there are many reasons in general to use Manifold instead of old-fashioned GIS packages or toy mapping packages, there are several key reasons Manifold is the best tool for Google Earth authors:

Google Starter Project and Tutorial

Only Manifold provides a pre-built project to make it easier for Google newbies to get started in the big new world of GIS. The StarterPak.zip project installs in seconds and provides an editing stack already built with the most common layers people need to create Google Earth content in the continental US. It includes live, linked imagery for both Google Earth satellite images as well as Google Maps street map imagery, US states, major US highways, US county outlines, cities with population greater than 25,000, towns with population less than 25,000 and appropriate labels.

The Manifold Tutorial for Google Earth is a streamlined, copiously illustrated, step-by-step introduction to Manifold for people who want to create content for Google Earth. Just like PhotoShop or Illustrator, you can spend years exploring all the many features of Manifold - the tutorial focuses on those key features Google people need to know first.

Benefits: Save time and effort getting started. Be productive exporting to Google Earth right away.

(Details, right above and below): Manifold screen shots showing edits being made in a drawing layer. The upper image uses a satellite image layer as a background. The lower screen shot shows how we can just click a tab to switch to using a street map streamed image as a background. This is just too cool to be believed - you have to experience it.

Live Edits using Live Imagery

Manifold is the only product that provides real-time linkage to both satellite imagery and street map images using any one of a wide variety of image servers as layers in the editing stack (lesser packages don't do either). It's the only way to see what you are doing in the actual geographic and image context of image servers like Virtual Earth, NASA World Wind and Google Earth. All other products require you to "edit blind," perhaps using other GIS layers as a guide but not real imagery itself. To explain this using a PhotoShop analogy, suppose you had to trace over an image in PhotoShop to create a new image. That's easy in PhotoShop because you just add the source image as a layer to your editing stack in PhotoShop and then draw over it, perhaps using partial transparency for the upper layer so you can see what's below.

But without having that source image visible in the lower layer you'd have no chance of tracing accurately. Manifold layers are like PhotoShop layers: you can see the actual imagery streamed in from satellite imagery or from street map imagery into lower layers, allowing you to draw what you want in the upper layers always seeing real imagery as a guide. Pan, Zoom and change the view as you like and Manifold will automatically stream in the right imagery.

Benefits: Fast and easy WYSIWYG creation of Google Earth content with actual satellite imagery streamed in as backgrounds. Eliminates errors and guarantees accurate geographic placement!

Although Manifold can browse imagery from many different image servers, most Manifold users prefer to use Virtual Earth for imagery even when authoring for Google Earth. See the incredible detail of Microsoft Virtual Earth, which is often 0.3 meter resolution, far better than most image servers: Click on the thumbnail at left to see the Beverly Hills Hotel swimming pool area - you can actually count the palm fronds on some of the palms and see shadows of palm trees that are only a foot wide. Incredible! Microsoft Virtual Earth images tends to have smoother imaging (less of a patchwork effect) when zoomed out than Google, with no worries about watermarks or unreliable service. It's great that Manifold users can choose whatever are the very best layers to use for their Google Earth authoring.

Manifold Image Server Connections

Besides Google Earth Manifold connects to and downloads tiles for display from Microsoft Virtual Earth, OGC and many Others. Google Earth is totally cool, but it is not the only game in town. Manifold can simultaneously host "live" layers linked in from satellite images, street map images, OGC WMS servers, NASA World Wind, Microsoft Virtual Earth images, TerraServer images, Yahoo! Maps images and even images streamed in from your own image servers, all at the same time and all perfectly georegistered so that everything lines up. This allows you to use whatever background is best to see your data before you export it into KML for use in Google Earth.

Benefits: Wondering why your data doesn't line up with Google Earth imagery? You can see if the issue is in your data or in Google Earth by checking your data against other sources. Pretty neat for only $145, don't you think?

Automatic Projection Conversions to Google

You have to ge the datum and ellipsoid right. Datums are a highly technical matter but they have to be done right if you want your data to line up with Google Earth. Manifold is the only product that will automatically do "on the fly" projection conversion between thousands of datums and ellipsoids that are used for GIS data and by GPS devices into the datum and ellipsoid used by Google Earth. A lot of people think that if data is in Latitude / Longitude projection that's all they need to show it accurately in Google Earth. Not true! Every drawing or image in Latitude / Longitude projection also uses a datum and an ellipsoid, and the datum and ellipsoid used by most GIS data are not the datum and ellipsoid used by Google Earth. If you don't get this right your data will be shifted and distorted.

To get it right, your software has to re-project all data involved into a Latitude / Longitude coordinate system that uses the right datum and ellipsoid. Only Manifold does this automatically for you within the KML exporter and only Manifold writes to KML / KMZ using high precision formulae with automatic use of NTv2 custom grid transformations.

Benefits: Data won't appear misaligned in Google Earth because the KML-writing software didn't know to adjust the datum. Manifold does this for you automatically.

(Detail, left): Manifold can download tracks and waypoints from GPS devices. Go hike the Sierra Nevada with a handheld GPS to record your track. On your return home, download the GPS data into Manifold, build your drawing and points of interest and make a KML file to email your friends and colleagues so they can see where you've been.

Easy Reprojection of Images and Surfaces

Manifold can also re-project images and surfaces, a really demanding job that few other packages can do at any price, because it not only involves "rubber sheet" warping of the image into a new projection, it also involves re-sampling the image and restructuring the pixels to account for the different sizes and shapes of pixels that happen when re-projecting.

(Detail, right): Click on the thumbnail at right to see a large image showing a Manifold map window opened with an image / surface in a layer above a satellite image streamed in from an image server. Microsoft Visual Earth imagery was used for maximum quality and accuracy. The surface was prepared from USGS data using the incredible power of Manifold. You can't beat having a WYSIWYG display when preparing cool effects for Google Earth.

This is especially important when using image server background images, as these are streamed in using Mercator projection, which is different than the Latitude / Longitude projection used in KML. Manifold will simultaneously, automatically do "on-the-fly" re-projections so that all layers match up, all the time. Again, this is deeply technical but it counts, so you can feel safe knowing that Manifold's internal wizardry takes care of projections for you.

Benefits: Removes the need to learn hyper-technical stuff about projections. Places your data with maximum possible accuracy within Google Earth no matter what the source. Manifold supports virtually every projection, datum and ellipsoid known, and does on-the-fly conversions from major sources such as Oracle Spatial projections. Use that corporate data warehouse and see the data in Google Earth!

Image Export to Google Earth

Manifold is the only GIS, at any price, that has a full roster of image manipulation tools for direct manipulation and editing of images in the same georeferenced context of drawings, surfaces and satellite and street map images. Manifold is the only tool that allows rapid transfer of selections between drawing objects and images, allowing rapid "cut out" editing, and provides fast and easy conversion of vector objects into raster images for export to Google Earth. If you want to create sophisticated and elegant Google Earth displays, you will need to use image export within geographic contexts as only Manifold makes possible. At all times, no matter how many times you Copy and Paste between editing stacks or other Manifold windows, Manifold will maintain perfect georegistration so that when you export your results to Google Earth they show up where they are supposed to.

Benefits: Overlay imagery in perfect georegistration with Google Earth to show custom imagery or to show areas as imagery.

3D Extrusions in Google Earth

Manifold will automatically "extrude" points, lines or areas in KML export to create 3D shapes in Google Earth. These can be used to represent buildings or other shapes to give greater impact to your presentation. The height or altitude used can be automatically taken from any database field and can be an absolute number or set to be a relative height above the Google Earth terrain to give "terrain following" effects. See the image at left for "extruded" gerrymandered congressional districts and the image at right for lines extruded to form "walls."

Benefits: Greater visual impact that allows your data to stand out from a photographic background.

Full Range of Drawing, Image, Surface and DBMS Formats

Manifold has the largest range of import capabilities for drawings (vector data), images (raster images), surfaces and database formats of any GIS system at any price. That matters for Google Earth users because if you can find data for free on the web you don't have to buy it or create it if you can read the format it uses. If you can read the format, you can copy and paste what you need from existing data, most of which is in the public domain and totally free to use however you like. Not only does Manifold provide the widest range of import formats, Manifold also provides the best tools for rapid, error-free georegistration of drawings, images or other data that are imported from formats that do not provide projection information. Without that georegistration capability, you can't correctly show that data in Google Earth. Manifold also provides astonishing power for automatic connections with external data sources.

No other system at any price, for example, provides Manifold capability like that seen in the Flashy Demo tutorial page.

Benefits: Whatever your data source, there is almost always a way to get it into Manifold without having to buy anything extra.

Tools to Show Surfaces in Google Earth

Surfaces are 2D images of 3D terrain or other data that are usually shown in shaded relief and colored by contours or with a smooth color gradient. Surfaces are usually used to show terrain elevation, that is the bumps and dips in the Earth's surface, but they are also used to show abstract quantities, such as CO2 concentration, temperatures, rainfall or even demographic variables like population density, per capita income, mortality rates and so on. You can use Google Earth as a killer viewer to present your data by using Manifold to create surfaces, to view them in context and to export them using a quick, one-step conversion to images for use in Google Earth. The surface examples above use this technique. Wow!

Benefits: Show abstract data, like gradient maps or shaded relief surfaces, in Google Earth.

(Detail, left): A typical surface with synthetic coloring by height using a spectrum palette, seen in Manifold.

What does Manifold Look Like in Real Life?

If you like online videos, see the following videos. (Right-click on the links to save the files, as they can take a while to download otherwise before starting up in Windows Media Player.)

  • Can the Flashy Demo really be done in ten minutes as claimed in Help? See a live demonstration in a 12 MB WMV file as Dr. Arthur Lembo of Salisbury University takes the ten minute challenge.
  • See the Manifold and SQL Server 2008 demo video to see Manifold in action with SQL Server 2008 spatial while simultaneously using Microsoft Virtual Earth. Similar techniques can be used to work with data from spatial databases that we wish to export to KML for use in Google Earth.
  • Manifold can even store large images in SQL Server 2008 spatial! See how in the Storing an image in SQL Server 2008 demo video.
  • See the Manifold Supercomputer GIS presentation and demo video to learn why NVIDIA CUDA is so fast and to see Manifold in action using NVIDIA. See a one minute task get done in two seconds! Amazing! Manifold is the only GIS in the world that can use NVIDIA CUDA for supercomputer performance.

Manifold is a Universal Tool for Creating KML and KMZ Files

Manifold System is not only the most intense and serious GIS analytic tool ever created, with killer Enterprise skills, it is also a blast to work with on a purely personal level. For example, in the cheap thrills department, if you have Google Earth installed please download some sample KML files created, in seconds, with Manifold. click here to download a sample collection of KML files created with Manifold. Unzip the archive and then double-click on a KML file and watch Google Earth do its "zoom from space" thing to see the GIS data. Wow! Google Earth is a great "free viewer" for GIS data and Manifold System is the quickest and easiest way to publish for Google Earth.

(Detail, right): Roads, railroads, trails and water features for Placer County, California, from the Census Bureau's TIGER/Line 2005 data set, viewed in Google Earth with custom colors and re-projection by Manifold.

Getting Started

Want to get going? Here's how:

  • Visit the Manifold Online Store and buy a copy of Manifold System Personal x64 Edition for $145. Manifold is downloadable so as soon as your order processes (same business day on orders placed before 10:00 AM PST) you can begin using Manifold.
  • Download the StarterPak.zip starter package. Unzip the zipfile so the contents are placed in your Manifold System installation folder (C:\Program Files\Manifold System by default).
  • Read the Manifold Tutorial for Google Earth document to get started.
  • Read the User Manual (the link is to the online version on the web site - Manifold also includes the full manual as a built-in Help file) to learn more about Manifold.
  • Get training products from GISAdvisor.com to learn how to use Manifold in a more expert way.
  • Participate in the online forum for the international Manifold user community.

The tutorial in the Manifold user manual will get you going fast but it only scratches the surface of what can be done with Manifold. Manifold System is a really intense program, probably the largest, most full-featured program you will ever have on your computer. Like any serious application, such as PhotoShop or Illustrator, after getting started with the tutorial you'll need to keep reading the Manifold Help system to learn how to get the most out of Manifold. Enjoy!

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Options

People who are seriously into GIS or who want to do street address geocoding will probably want to order Universal x64 Edition for $296. That provides all optional extensions, and the Internet Map Server so you can GIS-enable your own web sites. But you don't need Universal Edition just to read data from zillions of sources, do editing and then create KML files. See the Products page for a list of products and the What to Buy page for advice on which product to get.

Organizational customers who need many licenses for KML export should consider using the License Server Edition of Manifold for centralized administration of floating licenses.

(Detail, right): The Manifold Tutorial for Google Earth provides step-by-step instructions to use the pre-built starter project to show locations of interest in Google Earth, like your favorite restaurants, locations of properties for sale, civic assets or any location of interest.

For Enterprise Customers

You may have teleported into this page from a link just looking for a cool way to share data via KML. Manifold is that and infinitely more. It's the world's most sophisticated enterprise GIS as well, perfect for use in organizations where thousands of people must be concurrently editing drawings that could be terabytes in size, using enterprise DBMS packages like Oracle, DB2 or SQL Server.

(Detail, right): Advanced users can pull data from spatial DBMS to show polygons with attributes in Google Earth. The example shows two gerrymandered congressional districts from the sample gerrymanders.zip file. This example file contains two KML files: a KML with 84 really awfully Gerrymandered congressional districts and a shorter KML with just the absolute worst 22 districts.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ),

How hard is Manifold to learn? Manifold was designed for people who are familiar with Microsoft Office applications, feel comfortable around computers and can read instructions. If that is you, you'll be up and running very quickly for simple things by using the StarterPak.zip starter package and the tutorial. Getting beyond simple things will take a day or two of reading in the user manual to learn more advanced techniques. If you can invest the time to read detailed documentation and to work through step-by-step examples you'll do just fine.

What kind of computer do I need? Any reasonably modern Windows PC with a few hundred megabytes of free space and plenty of RAM will do fine. Doing 3D visualization (yes, Manifold does that too!) requires a reasonably modern graphics card.

Does Manifold come in Mac or Linux versions? No. Manifold runs in almost all reasonably modern 32-bit and 64-bit editions of Windows, including Windows 10. Manifold provides true 64-bit editions of Manifold System for full 64-bit operation in 64-bit Windows editions.

Is Manifold copy protected? Yes. Manifold uses a software copy protection mechanism based on a serial number that identifies the license. For the first 30 days after the serial number is issued you can run Manifold on as many machines as you like. After 30 days, Manifold must be activated, which locks it to a particular computer. You get five activations with a serial number. These activations are not intended to allow you to run Manifold on five different computers: the five activations are spares so that if your computer fails or if you want to upgrade to new hardware or to a new Windows edition you'll have spare activations.

Can I run Manifold on more than one computer? For the first 30 days, yes. This is intended as a free running period to allow you to sort out any computer hardware or software issues before activating your license and thus committing it to a single computer. After that, your license allows you to run Manifold only on a single desktop computer and also on a laptop that is used primarily by you so long as the desktop computer and the laptop computer are not used to run Manifold at the same time.

What is street address geocoding? That's using a GIS to add latitude and longitude locations to records in a table that only have a street address, like "123 main street". See the About Geocoding topic in the online version of the user manual for more.

I just want to do simple things and think this may be overkill. Do you have a simpler program? No. It's easy to do very simple things in Manifold, like clicking to create points and giving them names and descriptions for subsequent export to Google Earth via KML. You don't have to learn very much about Manifold to do that, and the starter project will get you going fast. Beyond that, people usually want to grab data from other sources, like AutoCAD drawings, "shapefiles" and all sorts of other formats to use in Google Earth. It may seem simple, but all those files out there have all sorts of technical issues involved in their possible use within Google Earth. Manifold has a lot of features to help you deal with any issues that arise. GIS people have been doing this stuff for a long time and have evolved sophisticated ways of whacking just about any data into shape using tools like those in Manifold.

For the same reason PhotoShop has more features than Microsoft Paint, Manifold has more features than toy cartographic or entry-level consumer products. We feel it is often easier to learn to use a professional program with serious capabilities than it is to learn a consumer program that may be trivially easy to learn but then annoys you with limitations at every turn because it ends up being useful only for trivial things.

Do you have a free trial or demo? No. We don't do limited trial versions. Instead of a free trial, we provide a low-cost 30 Day Lease. Ask around online and you'll see that Manifold is the real deal.

Are there any forums online for Manifold System? Yes. See the GeoReference forum at http://georeference.org - thousands of users from all over the world participate.

Does manifold.net provide training? Manifold does not sell training products, but other companies do. Users provide especially glowing reviews of the Manifold training products sold by GISAdvisor.com. Manifold.net is not affiliated with GISAdvisor.com, but we do recommends their products based on comments by Manifold users.


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No other GIS comes close to Manifold for applications development.

Click to watch the user-contributed video: How forms in Manifold System GIS allow creating applications like this in an hour or two.

About Manifold

Manifold products deliver quality, performance and value in the world's most sophisticated, most modern and most powerful spatial engineering products. Total integration ensures unbeatably low cost of ownership. Tell your friends!