We live on a pretty cool planet, and there’s no better time waster than running through an atlas to see exactly where all the wonders of the world are located. Google Earth has pretty much dominated the digital atlas market for a few years, but now there’s a great alternative which uses open source maps and incorporates a ton of really useful features.
Marble is a free digital atlas which comes with just about every feature you might need to make your planet watching as fruitful and enjoyable as possible. The traditional globe is obviously a great starting point, and you get a default set of 10 map views to enjoy, including precipitation, night time and historical (from 1689) which is my favorite.
But what really sets it apart are the small touches which proliferate throughout the program. For example, when you double click any place name on the atlas, you get a pop up with a data sheet and embedded Wikipedia page on the location, which is a fabulous way to access and research different places on our planet.
The atlas also features a bunch of additional functions, some of which are available inside the program and some which you need to download as needed. There’s oodles of additional maps, as well as overlays for photos, earthquakes, weather and even postcodes. Great resource.
But we’re knocked out with the navigation tab, which you can use to plot a route from A to B, all the way down to street level. It’s full featured and can even run on your phone, which makes it the first real GPS navigation atlas in the world we’re thinking. The only slight problem is it’s not clear whether it runs on any platforms other than Nokia phones.
All in all this is a superb piece of free software which delivers a wealth of information and functionality which put many commercial products to shame. The program runs on Windows, Linux and Mac and also features full support via documentation and forums. Recommended.