Google Launches Free Version of SketchUp

26 Apr, 2006 By: Sara Ferris

As predicted by some, the Internet giant makes the 3D modeling tool available to all, but says it 'has no intention of getting into the CAD space'

"It's a good day for 3D," says Google's Brad Schell. Late last night, Google launched Google SketchUp, a free version of the SketchUp 3D modeling product it acquired with its purchase of @Last Software last month. The move followed much speculation about whether Google's intention was to make SketchUp a free product -- a path it took with previous acquisitions of Keyhole (the predecessor to Google Earth), the Picasa photo organizer and a blogging tool from Pyra Labs.

Schell, who was cofounder of @Last Software, says the free version of SketchUp is not "some watered-down thing intended to frustrate users so they buy something else." Licensed for personal use only, it offers basic 3D modeling tools but lacks "workflow features," Schell says: support for export to different file formats (DWG, DXF, 3DS, OBJ, XSI, VRML and FBX), AVI and MOV export capability, and large-format printing.

SketchUp Pro, which Google is selling for $495, includes the Sandbox Tools for organic modeling of terrain and the Film & Stage Tools. SketchUp Pro customers also receive two years' free technical support via e-mail and can use the product for commercial purposes.

New 3D Warehouse
Google is also introducing what it calls the 3D Warehouse, a repository for sharing 3D content. Users can attach a description to their 3D models, and site visitors can search those descriptions to find specific content.

Google's 3D Warehouse lets users search image descriptions. This image displays results of a search on "stadium."

The Rose Bowl model in Google's 3D Warehouse includes keywords and details about the model.

The 3D Warehouse will hold both georeferenced (KML) and nongeoreferenced (SKP) content. Schell says that Google aims to be the "Switzerland of formats," so the company decided to support only content in SketchUp format, rather than pick and choose among the many other existing options. The warehouse will offer around 3,000 pieces of content when it launches.

By offering the free SketchUp tool, Google hopes to encourage users to populate Google Earth with 3D built models, Schell notes, adding that Google "has no intention of getting into the CAD space."

Schell anticipates all sorts of potential uses, from adding constructed features such as bridges and landmarks to more commercial purposes such as inserting models of homes for sale. (You can attach URLs to 3D models to link to additional information.) Google SketchUp features a Google menu item that provides direct access to models in the 3D Warehouse and also lets you import your current Google Earth view.

A link in SketchUp to the 3D Warehouse lets you download models directly into Google SketchUp, in this case one of the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Using Google SketchUp, we've added to the Luxor model our concept for a new hotel, which unfortunately looks a bit like a paint can.

Another attractive element is that Google SketchUp includes an API (application programming interface) that enables it to run Ruby scripts. The free version will run only unscrambled Ruby scripts. Schell says the Ruby forum on the SketchUp Web site features around 3,000-4,000 scripts.

Google SketchUp is available now for Windows 2000/XP; a Mac version is coming soon. Recommended system requirements for the Windows version are a 2GHz Pentium 4 processor or higher, 512MB RAM, 80MB of available hard drive space, an OpenGL-compliant graphics card and Microsoft Internet Explorer. The download is 19MB.