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Free 3-D For Google Earth

Now you can build your dream home for free. Or, rather, render a 3-D version of it and place it on Google Earth using Google SketchUp, the company announced today.

Today's release is the fruit of Google's acquisition of @Last Software two months ago.

Google offers versions of SketchUp. SketchUp Pro 5 includes an updated user interface, added file import and export functions, improved DWG/DXF handling and enhanced sketching abilities. SketchUp Pro runs $495.

Then there's the free version for 3-D enthusiasts addicted to rendering buildings and loading them into Google Earth.

But free isn't usually a good business model.

After the original acquisition, analysts wondered if Google should focus more on its primary revenue stream, advertising, and stop acquiring technologies simply for their potential "gee whiz" factor.

But Brad Schell, SketchUp product management director who went to Google with the purchase, isn't worried about monetizing Google SketchUp or Google Earth right now.

He may be new to Google but he already sounds like a true believer, because @last shared the same philosophy.

"We're so aligned," he said, because "that really is a wonderful philosophy. Innovate and make the best possible user experience and we'll worry about monetizing it later."

Cynics should take note. It's a model that's worked for Google before.

Advertisements didn't appear with Google's search results until several years after its launch. The company waited until users grew habituated.

The company followed the same pattern with Google Earth's product sibling Google Maps.

Google officially launched Google Maps as a part of Google Local in March 2005, but it wasn't until last month that it started placing ads in the service.

Offering Google SketchUp for free could attract new users. That would mean more content to peruse in the already immensely popular Google Earth. That would also mean more clicks for advertisers if Google were ever to offer the space.

Former Keyhole CEO and current Google Earth and Google Maps product manager John Hanke told internetnews.com he understands the eventual need for monetization.

"It is really expensive to collect all this satellite data and provide all the data," he said.

Hanke also said Google Earth could eventually use Google Maps as a model. But he, who like Schell is a converted true believer, insists that any advertising would be a value add for the consumer first and foremost.

"We present our ads and people find that they do value them," he said.

Google's