I’ve had the MicroImages Dashboard Widget installed on my MacBook Pro for some time, but today, jazzed with my new understanding of WMS from FOSS4G, I put it through its paces. It rocks. It takes the pain away from building WMS requests. Most importantly, it makes it easy for an unskilled user to put any WMS layer into Google Earth.
The widget set is 5 linked widgets that query WMS servers for layers and capabilities, build the requests, preview the layer. One widget presents a list of known WMS servers, grouped by theme, provider, and reliability. Someone at MicroImages is apparently doing some editing and organizing, so that you aren’t left with a list of dead links. A dynamic GUI lets you choose layers. Once you have your layers chosen, the toolkit will launch TNT (the MicroImages flagship GIS) or Google Earth with those layers enabled. Google should buy this from Microimages and make it part of Google Earth.
Download the widgets from http://www.apple.com/downloads/dashboard/information/tntmap.html. A two-page overview is at http://www.microimages.com/documentation/cplates/72TNTmapMacintosh.pdf. Since Dashboard is a Macintosh-only technology, Windows users are out of luck.
I’ll add that I am not a huge Dashboard fan. But this kit is one of the few really compelling Dashboard Widgets I’ve seen.
MicroImages does make a light version of their GIS available for free download. It runs on MS-Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X. They also offer a standalone, supported X11 server for MS-Windows.
What the heck is WMS and why am I excited? WMS (Web Mapping Service) is a standards-based way for a server to provide an image of a map, in a cartographically correct and platform-independent way, so that it can be incorporated into a client mapping app. Paul Ramsey of Refractions Research publishes an automatically-derived list of WMS servers. The standard is defined by OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium).