Put the World in Your Pocket with Marble

KDE's Marble breaks free of the desktop—and it knows where it's going.
Education or Navigation?

Marble became well known as an educational desktop globe along the lines of Google Earth. After all, it was developed as part of the KDE Education Project. However, Marble's 1.0 release, part of KDE Software Compilation 4.6 released earlier in 2010, has brought both its navigational features and mobile interface to maturity, and the developers now prefer to say that Marble is the free software that lets you “explore the world and find your way”.

Even when work on Marble first started, Torsten's goals were ambitious: to produce a map widget that would “become for geo-browsers what KHTML/WebKit is for Web browsers”. The aim always was very much more than just the production of an educational globe. Torsten explains: “We took the education focus as a starting point, and since then, we have explored more and more use cases and have widened our scope.”

Marble also has found a place in many other applications, from scientific mapping and weather-tracking applications to photo management, sensor data visualization and even Linux distribution installers. It goes beyond Earth too, with map data for the moon and solar system planets available for download.

Figure 6. If you get bored with planet Earth, there are plenty of other worlds to explore.

For Dennis, the development of Marble into a mobile navigation system has fulfilled a long-felt need: “My wish to use a free navigation assistance goes back quite some years. I started to look into open-source navigation solutions, but the software available at that time wasn't really capable of what I wanted.” Nonetheless, he began contributing to Marble. “Once I had an N900 and heard that there was a Marble port for the N900 already, the idea pretty much was there.”

So, what is Marble now, an educational desktop globe or a personal navigational tool? For Dennis, the answer is easy: “To me, they are not contradictory—it is both, and even more.”

Stuart Jarvis is a scientist and member of KDE's Marketing Working Group. Lacking a Marble-capable smartphone, he spends a lot of time getting lost in unfamiliar places.