When we released Google Earth 5 earlier this year, we packed it full of amazing new features. We opened up two-thirds of the planet to exploration by letting you dive into the oceans; with historical imagery, we added the ability to go back in time to see how our planet has changed over the years; with touring, we made it easy for anyone to create and share guided, narrated stories; and with 3D Mars, we made it easy to leave Earth's orbit and explore the Red Planet.

But here at Google, we've realized that one of the most important features of all is speed. One of our key design principles is "fast is better than slow." So for the newest version of Google Earth, we've been hard at work making it faster.

We've made a lot of adjustments under the hood, like improving memory utilization so we can show more buildings, layers, and user content. We improved our shaders (that's graphics-speak for small programs that run inside your graphics processor) to make the atmosphere draw faster. We also worked to reduce stuttering (known as frame drops) to provide an even smoother experience as you fly around the globe. When we draw imagery, we now use compression technology to use less memory and graphics resources. We know that waiting for a program to start-up can be really frustrating, so we improved our start-up time by 25%. In our Google Earth API (which allows developers to include Google Earth right in their websites), we have made API calls significantly faster, which means that our developers can now do even more.

What does all of this mean to you? A faster, smoother experience when you're flying around the globe. Download the latest version (Google Earth 5.1), head on over to Paris, and turn on the road layer without fear of slowing things down. Or turn on one of the Rumsey Map layers from our gallery and see the world as it was drawn by Cassini in 1790 without missing a beat.

We've also made another exciting change with the release: our browser plug-in is automatically included when you install Google Earth (PC-only for now.) This means that once you've downloaded Google Earth 5.1, you can explore all of the exciting Google Earth sites that our developers have made without having to mess around with another installation. You can learn about endangered marine species, or perhaps practice landing a lunar rover before your next big expedition. Now these and many more Google Earth web applications are just a click away.

Download the latest version of Google Earth at http://earth.google.com, and fly around the globe faster than ever before.