Google Earth never ceases to delight me. I use it frequently in my family history research to find cities and towns associated with my ancestors. It can be used to search the surrounding areas for cemeteries, towns and probable migration paths. In many cases, the image quality is so good that you can see the headstones in cemeteries and if you know which stones belong to your family, you'll quickly locate them.
A couple of years ago I enjoyed touring the 1906 San Francisco earthquake on the USGS website using Google Earth. You'll enjoy seeing the fault lines, before and after photos and the areas that will be impacted by a similar quake today.
I use Google Earth on one of my websites to track the events in the lives of my ancestors and extended family. Additionally, I have most of the cemeteries they are buried in marked in a Google Earth file that takes me on a visual flight around the world, zooming in to a cemetery and then hopping to the next and then the next. This is very useful to me in helping me visualize the migration path of my ancestors.
Microsoft's Live Search Maps is equally wonderful and in some locations offers higher quality images than Google Earth. This isn't a definitive statement, because both of companies are constantly adding new images, features and 'whiz bangs' to their sites and applications.
Download either or both of these free applications and take them for a spin. You'll quickly discover the downside of having them installed on your computer though. Several hours after you launch them, you'll look up and realize that your entire household has gone to bed while you toured the pyramids of Egypt, flew up the canals of Holland and followed the trails that you've hiked over the years.
Addictive? No, they aren't addictive, but during these cold winter months here in the northern hemisphere, they let you vacation on Bondi Beach in OZ or hike Table Mountain in Cape Town and enjoy, at least in your mind, their warm weather.
If you use PAF but don't think you are utilizing all of the tools in it, take the free and excellent tutorial offered by BYU by clicking here.
I've mentioned several free online Office type programs in earlier postings, but they need to be mentioned again. I use them all of the time as I'm working and researching on the go. I don't carry a laptop with me most of the time but rather use the Internet connected computers at my destinations. My documents go with me because I keep a copy of them online.
If you haven't given these applications a try yet, here are two that I use and recommend. ZOHO and Google Docs
Write your documents and save a copy of them on line. They will be there when you need them and can be saved locally as a Word document or in other formats.
Lastly, if you aren't searching for information on your ancestors in Google Books, quit reading this and start searching for them now. I have used the numerous Vital Records of Massachusetts cities and towns frequent over the past year for additional primary sources for my records. Additionally, I've found gold in many of the family genealogical and town history books on the site.
Our research quivers continue to fill with these free but excellent web-based tools that allow us to stretch our family history budgets.