Short bio: Computer Scientist, FOSS supporter (read more)
Tux Machines (TM)-specific
If you've ever followed KDE 4 development then you've probably heard about Marble. Marble is a virtual globe which displays the earth. So Marble can be used as a nice digital replacement for your desktop globe at home where you can look up places.
But wait! There's more to it: Actually these days Marble can also display flat maps (thanks to Carlos Licea), can show different "map themes" and can serve as a Qt4-widget as well as an application! This means that as a programmer you can use Marble in your very own project as a map widget (License: LGPL). Marble was designed to run on any device and on any operating system supported by Qt4 without any further requirements. You can download the latest version of Marble together with KDE 4.0.1 here (It's part of the KDE-EDU module).
How Marble stores texture data
If you start Marble you might realize that the startup time is pretty good: It usually takes maybe 2-5 secs to start Marble (and we are working on improving that dramatically). If you zoom into the earth you might notice that Marble doesn't get slower while zooming in. Looking at the amount of memory being used up you will also see that memory numbers don't change either. No matter how much you zoom in it's as little as 65-100MB which is pretty lean compared to other virtual globes.
Among other concepts this is being accomplished by loading the map piece by piece. Marble uses a concept that is very popular among virtual globes: Quadtiles. In fact we are using the most simple form of Quadtiles compared to other more sophisticated solutions. We decided to do so for reasons of pragmatism and in order to keep things easy to understand for people who want to contribute to Marble.