MS’s World Wide Telescope released today

By Phil Plait | May 13, 2008 8:38 am

Microsoft has finally released their long-awaited World Wide Telescope software today. It uses vast amounts of data from telescopes across and above the world, allowing you to pan and zoom across the cosmos much like Google Earth lets you view our own planet.

I’d love to post a review of it, tell you about its flaws and successes, but I have a Mac, and I don’t have Bootcamp. So for now I’ll go the safe route and assume it simply has huge software security issues, and running it will triple your spam, crash your computer, and give away your social security number to hackers. :)

If I have time later today I’ll download it on Mrs. BA’s PC and see how it goes. Stay Tuned.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Humor

Comments (42)

Links to this Post

  1. WorldWide Telescope at AntiTerra | May 13, 2008
  1. Jason

    Alan Boyle’s Cosmic Log at MSNBC has a good review…

    Sounds like a memory hog – but what MS program isn’t?

  2. Sounds like you need a visit from the software equivalent to the Bad Astronomer. Making baseless and technically unfair accusations is the realm of those who you fight against everyday.

    But, I’m sure you were just joking…

  3. madge

    I have been looking forward to this. Memory hog or not (I’ll just uninstall my husband’s life support system I guess :) interested to read your take on it when you get it going.

  4. Quiet Desperation

    Try Parallels?

  5. I wonder how it’ll compare to Starry Night Pro…
    Now if they’d make a version that could be accessed through a browser, like Google Maps and its “satellite” view, then I’d check it out.
    Bet you’re right about the memory hog business. It’ll slow even the fastest PC to a crawl…
    Richard Drumm the Astronomy Bum ūüėÜ

  6. Evan

    I use Stellarium. But then, I’m a Linux user. ūüėČ But it is also available for Mac and Windows if you want to try it out.

  7. Clayton Summers

    I played with it a bit this morning. It is neat to be able to switch between different views (visible, IR, X-ray). The scrolling is a bit weird, but not unusable. The tours are a nice touch; the most “planetarium” like of the planetarium software programs I’ve used (which does not include $tarry Night Pro).

    Overall, it looks like Beta software, as is has a few rough edges, but is a nice addition to Stellarium, Celestia and Cartes du Ciel.

  8. anonymous

    Don’t let him do Mrs. BA! :)

  9. anonymous

    Rather that was supposed to read “Don’t let him do it Mrs. BA!”

  10. Bort

    Trying it out right now. Seems head and shoulders above Google sky, but I haven’t tried Stellarium or Celestia. It definitely has a lot to play with. So far, my favorite view is the Cosmic Microwave Background view.

  11. Rowsdower

    This seems to be a combination of several programs. It’s like Stellarium in that it’s a planetarium. But it’s also a little like Celestia in that there are tours and other things (including add-ons) except that you never leave Earth.

    A quick look reveals an aspect I don’t like. If you zoom in on a planet the background stars turn into blurry blobs. The stars should never zoom into blobs. This just shows the background is just a big backdrop image.

    If you look at Sirius there’s a big blue blob near it. Zoom into that and it looks like some alien artifact. I have no idea what it is, but it’s got straight lines and circles and other shapes. Weird.

  12. ~

    Just installed it, its a pretty nice piece of software, though it does have the typical beta-bloat.

  13. Requirements for Mac:

    #1: Microsoft¬ģ XP SP2 (minimum), Windows¬ģ Vista¬ģ (recommended) with BootCamp

    Huh? I thought with ‘Mac’ you should refer to Mac OS, not just ‘Apple hardware’‚Ķ

    And why do Mac users need more resolution (1440 x 900 or higher) than PC users (1024 x 768 or higher)???? O_o

  14. madge

    I use Starry Night, Redshift and stellarium! But then I can never get enough of this stuff. Bring it on!

  15. elgarak

    “System Requirements:
    For the Mac:

    Microsoft XP2, Windows Vista (recommended) […]”

    ??? Pretty ballsy of Microsoft, isn’t it? Just releasing ONE version, and just put the OS into the system requirements for the Mac, instead of writing a native Mac OS X version.

    I’m on a Mac also, but have XP in boot camp, plus Vmware Fusion, but I’ll probably pass on it until they have a native Mac version.

    Sorry, M$, too little too late. There are already good programs out there that do similar stuff.

  16. Edward

    The lip sync could be improved. Otheerwise an interesting concept.

  17. Doc


    What makes you think his accusations are baseless? The bit about tripling the spam and giving away your SSN were obviously tongue-in-cheek (hence the smily caption for the humor impaired), but speaking as someone who has used both Macintosh and Windows systems for many many years, I’d say he was pretty much right about the security issues and crashing the computer.

  18. elgarak

    I just looked over the webpage, and frankly, it sucks. Or does anyone find anywhere on the webpage (without downloading the program) what the program actually does? Where the data comes from? How it looks?

    There are no screenshots. No videos of the program in action.

    There’s a link labeled “Experience it”. That shows you a video of kids reacting to it, but not the program itself. There are also “tours”, but those tours don’t do anything — just a small thumbnail of a telescope picture, and some yadda-yadda that does not tell you anything. I was hoping for a video or animation of the program, but no.

    So, M$, tell me: Why do I want to use your program? What does it offer? Your webpage doesn’t tell me.

    I know M$ is run by sales people right now — but how do they sell when their sales pitch SUCKS?

  19. David Harrison

    Very interesting stuff. I wouldn’t call it a planetarium in the true sense; it certainly lacks the dynamic generation of the sky that programs like Starry Night feature. No looking at the universe from the perspective of Alpha Centauri here. Nor is there any animation of the sky from the perspective of the ground, or display using alt/az coordinates. In short, most of the defining characteristics of planetarium programs are missing here.

    This is really a very sick bitmapped “sky map” program with embedded pictures and some solar system objects thrown in for completeness. It does feature telescope control (using ASCOM, which is stunningly open of MS) but I can’t see serious amateurs using this over a more specialized tool.

    It does pose interesting competition for Starry Night Pro Plus’s “AllSky” feature, in that you get not one but many bitmapped skies from different surveys and at different wavelengths, and without a 12GB+ installation – provided that you have net access or have already visited the areas of interest.

    The UI has some rough edges (particularly some flashing of property dialogs on my system) but otherwise is elegant and easy to grasp. It has a nice feel of interactivity to it; more than any other astronomy program I’ve tried, it really gives the feel of just “grabbing” the sky and moving it around.

    It’s certainly an interesting tool for the toolbox. As educational freeware (for kids and adults alike), it’s a very nice complement to Stellarium (pure planetarium, and very well executed) and Celestia (tours around the solar system and such). I can’t see it having much of a role as a serious amateur tool, but it obviously wasn’t intended as such.

    I’ll definitely keep it installed at home alongside Starry Night. For the price, it’s definitely a keeper.

  20. Kevin

    Isn’t anyone else scared that Microsoft now has the Universe?

    Are we going to be the citizens of a buggy universe? Will hackers and virus writers attack the Bug Nebula? And will Microsoft themselves charge “upgrade prices” for new eyepieces? Or larger telescopes to see farther?

    “Yes, you can see the detail in QSO 3c273. You just need the upgrade. That will be (insert large number of monetary units) for your license key.”

    “I’m sorry, but ‘Windows to the Universe Genuine Advantage Validation Tool’ has determined your Universe to be a pirated version. To receive a key to a genuine Universe, please click here.”

    And what happens if you are observing something important, and the stars disappear and the sky turns blue? That brings the phrase “Blue Screen of Death” to proportions no one wants to think about. And just how would we go about rebooting the Universe? Would there actually BE a ctrl-alt-del?

    Yes, be afraid people. Your existence could end at any time. When Microsoft gets involved, the Window to the Universe will be unstable.

    (I originally wrote this on my blog back in February when it was announced. I still haven’t changed my mind) :)

  21. Kevin

    Oh yeah, I just went to the site, and it won’t let me in. It says I need a “real” browser.

    Apparently it doesn’t like Firefox. Anyone else have this problem?

    (I have Flash and JS, despite what their site says)

  22. David Harrison

    Yeah, FF doesn’t work – but it’s not nice enough to do a proper browser detect and tell you that that is the problem.

  23. Michael Lonergan

    Downloading it to Mrs. BA’s computer. I can assume you’ll be sleeping on the couch tonite after destroying your wife’s computer?

  24. Richard

    Jebus, there are apparently fundamentalists on the software front.

    @elgarakon See the demo shown at TED
    @Kevin +1 Troll in the M$FT=evil flamewar

    Those complaining about it being Windows-only, where’s my Vista version of iLife? Hell where’s my Windows version of Logic or Shake? Ah – App$e killed them. Guess big evil corporations are self centered. Like the OS flame wars. ;-D

  25. elgarak


    But that’s not on M$’s webpage. It’s not that I WANT to see demos — I’ve seen them.

    I criticize the way their webpage is set up. As your link shows, there are videos out there. Why not put them on the webpage? Or links to them? Why fill the webpage with tons of useless (for me) business-presentation-like blurb?

  26. I’ve been playing with it all afternoon. Although I could of done without Phil’s snarky comment on Microsoft’s security record (which is far better than Apple’s), and the other silly baseless comments about Microsoft (honestly it’s so 1990s).

    Anyway a quick review, it is fantastic and far far above Google Sky which feels clunky in comparison. It isn’t really valid to compare to Celestia or Stellarium as they don’t pull down actual images of the sky and assemble them into the view, and as such WWT can’t let you view the sky from half way around the galaxy as we don’t have sky surveys from telescopes over there. ūüėČ

    To quickly comment on Rowsdoweron’s point about stars being blurry – again these are real images not simply drawn ones like Celestia or Stellarium the default view is with the Digitized Sky Survey, if you give it time to download the stars will sharpen up, the large blue blobs near bright stars, satellite trails etc are part of the DSS, don’t like it? Use one of the other three dozen or so sky surveys available, which span X-rays to radio. This is hardly a criticism of WorldWide Telescope.

    It’s got really high-resolution views of the Earth, Moon and Mars too, with other planets like Jupiter and Venus available, the tours that come with it at the moment are actually quite good. Performance is pretty good, if you’ve used Virtual Earth its quite similar to that. My laptop was doing fairly well (Low-end Core 2 Duo, 2GB of RAM and a low-end GeForce) driving a 1080p TV. My main system with a Radeon 3870, 4GB of RAM, Core 2 Duo 6600 rips through it without any problems.

  27. aiabx

    I have an analog universe that I look at for nothing, and it’s platform independant too.

  28. James

    I just installed and spend an hour with the WWT.
    It looks amazing! It uses many surveys that I didn’t see available on-line like TYCHO or USNOB. I don’t think it even worse to compete it with GoogleSky (correctly call it GoogleEarth with quick Sky hack). The DSS survey processed MUCH better than Google’s version. Many areas even better than WikiSky’s version. Especially I like ability to see object details and external links to SIMBAD anad ADS similar to WikiSky’s interface (by right-click).
    The only drawback I see it PC/Windows platform limitation.
    The next step for Microsoft I see is to release on-line version with similar functionality. As mainly Linux user I really looking forward to see WWT on-line

  29. Zeugnitz

    Lykaon: Quite obviously his response was based on two things – one, he didn’t represent the group of users who relied on Microsoft products, and two, he joked about how Microsoft-specific products being too reliant on people using Microsoft products specifically to get current data.

    Personally, I have neither a strong like nor dislike of Microsoft as a provider of products or a source of data, but to the extent that they don’t provide data for products other than their own – considering their current position in the market – they’re acting unreasonably, favoring their market position over the advancement of science.

    Note that I don’t claim that this makes competitors any better – it’s all entirely situational, and I have to consider who I’m going to trust situationally in any case. The only consistent winner is open source as a movement, where profit and exclusiveness is a secondary motive at best.

  30. I can’t even get their site to work. Haven’t tried the software yet. Didn’t we decide flash websites were NOT cool before we decided that Y2K was funny?

  31. Zoltan Blum

    Didn’t work using Parallels (build 5600), XP Pro SP2, MBP 15, 2.4, 4GB; installation was smooth, but the application kept launching an endless series of error messages.


    @Richard: “Jebus, there are apparently fundamentalists on the software front. ”

    Yup, fundamentalist here: freedom, in software as in speech and indeed, in general, is fundamental. Microsoft is evil, isn’t just a figure of speech. It’s a convicted criminal enterprise, guilty of monopoly abuse and political corruption. They’re not alone, but at least there are ways to avoid supporting them, which also happen to save you a buck or two.

  33. LaCreption

    Vista Business here, up to date. I see a black sky with some colored lines. When I click a thumbnail these colored lines move and a single not-that-hires picture comes up.

    Sorry I am not impressed. Browsing NASA or Wikipedia is easier. Google sky shows things I recognize and let me zoom in without selecting thumbnails first, special images are shown automatically.

  34. Kevin — I use Firefox, too and I don’t seem to be having any problems with the website.

  35. elgarak

    Well, I tried it.

    First off, the webpage works in Mac/Safari and Mac/FF3b5. The webpage had bad trouble in Win/Safari and killed the network connections in my XP2 VM.

    After restarting, everything worked. I downloaded WWT with IE7. Installed and ran without a hitch in XP2 with VMware Fusion.

    Didn’t have time to extensively test it, but it runs fine (with measly 512k RAM assigned to the VM). Looks like a flashier version of the old NASA WorldWind.

  36. rex27

    Just to say that I tried running it on Parallels (it works Zoltan Blum, all you have to do is retry after enabling directx and giving your virtual machine enough video memory).

    I don’t know if it’s just me but the imagery isn’t working that well – pictures of eta carinae don’t appear when i click on the link…seems like another one of those betas that are just neutered of what they’re advertised to be…

  37. Walabio

    Oh Bad Astronomer, try Wine:

    The It emulates the APIs so that WindowsApplication can run.

  38. Tom

    @Walabio: Wine Is Not an Emulator. WINE. Custom coded reproductions of the Windows API, not an emulation of it.

    Also, I was really impressed with the WWT to be honest. The Register article linked about is typically poor. Because I have played a game on my PC in the last 2 years I already had DirectX 9.0c, and I already had .NET 2.0 because I write software in it. Obviously this doesn’t apply to most users but since both packages are relevant to some aspects of modern computing on Windows, dismissing those downloads as the “obligatory Redmond bolt-on download hiatus” shows their typical tendency to whine rather than learn.

    I didn’t find it to be a resource hog on my year old machine either.

    Maybe I’m just lucky. Or don’t pack my machine full of malware and porn so it actually still runs well.

  39. Scott S

    I installed WWT last night and I was really impressed, especially when compared to Google Earth/Sky. Google Earth/Sky has the icons scattered all over the view, which tells you where to click but distracts from the beauty of the night sky. WWT guide tours work much better for me, the ones so far flow pretty nicely.

    I have used Celestia, which is great to view space from anywhere, and plan to try Stellarium tonight.

    For me, am happy using Celestia and maybe Stellarium, but for my 10 year daughter who has just started asking questions about the night sky, I think WWT will be great. Eye candy has a certain appeal to her.

    The whole memory/network hog issue, yea WWT does suffer from that, but for my hardware and broadband, I think it is manageable.

    What will be really interesting is my wife how has returned to college is taking astronomy next fall. I wonder which, if any she will find useful?

  40. MKR

    It’s running great on a laptop that’s about 1/3 of the minimum requirements. It looks great too. Hopefully this will create a space race between Microsoft and Google. :)

    Now, back to looking at Mars panoramas…


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