09 January 2006


Note: This is a fruit-free article.

A few weeks ago, Tim asked here about what I thought about Google. I think my answers were a bit weak, and I would readily admit to having poorly-formed opinions on Google. But Google was in the news lots last week at CES for a couple of things they did and one thing they didn't. I'll leave most of the comment to others on the web who I think covered things well.

What Google did:

1 Google Video. Google announced a video store which provides various types of content from paid-for-tv to user-supplied free video. There is a new Google DRM to go with it (of course - just what the world needed). Here's what Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg had to say:

Without a good mobile device to support it and the lack of ways of getting video from the PC to the TV, it's hard to see how this is going to work.
where's the advertising stohttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifry? The whole thing is a little puzzling. The content can work on your PC with a Google player but only un-protected content can go on your iPod or PSP. Want to guess how much of that premium content will be un-protected?

And, the hard-to-impress Register chimed in with this to say on Google DRM.

As far as I can see there are several other problems with this implementation:
a. variable pricing. I think this is NOT a good idea early on. The model will be confusing to the public.

b. variable usage - material may be for online viewing only, for rental, or for purchase - ditto (a) but even more so. This is going to cause problems. People want to hit "download" not review terms and conditions everytime they want something!

c. change to the Google-user "implicit contract". The public wants to like Google because it's free (and it "does no harm"). They don't put many demands on it. If it doesn't give what you want, then who cares? It hasn't cost you money. Do you even think about emailing Google and telling them that something didn't work? Your "relationship" with them is very clear. But at the point you start paying Google money, everything changes. Expectations change. Boy, had they better be ready for that. The 50cent download that doesn't work? The DRM failing when a user does something they weren't supposed to do, but didn't understand? It even affects your free relationships. So expect complaints about Google's searches to get more vociferous when they start charging customers for other parts of Google (and let's face it, search is not as good as it used to be).

2. Google Pack. A free package of software - not just from Google - to keep your computer working well and less dependent on you-know-who. I'm going to leave it to Paul Thurrott to show how badly they've got this wrong today (of course, they'll claim it's a beta again). I like Paul's style and I've always found him thorough. Paul's article is quite damning, and here are a few choice bits:

....this bizarre collection of applications, each with its own distinct user interface, level of quality, and method of updating, actually does more to credit Microsoft's integration strategy than it does to prove the notion that Google knows anything about creating software.
...it's worth noting that many of these applications feature annoying upgrade advertisements aimed at getting you to purchase the full versions
...But most problematic, many of these applications aren't even up-to-date. For example, the free version of Norton Antivirus includes virus definitions that are, as of this writing, an astonishing four months out of date
...When the installation process is complete--a full install took about 13 minutes on my test system--the Google Pack Installer will note that you can now manage the application suite from the Installed Software tab......Despite what the Google Pack Installer says, however, you're not done. Oh, no, not even close. As you launch each application, you'll discover that various other installation tasks still need to occur. For example....Norton Antivirus has to be updated three times, each of which requires a reboot. Ad-Aware SE Personal and RealPlayer 10.5 both need to be updated, and the latter will optionally install even more crud on your system if you let it, plus you'll have to register with RealNetworks to get the update
...But it still took me about 90 minutes from start to finish, along with several system reboots, to get this suite of applications up and running on my test PC.
...Not only is Google human, buts the flaws in Google Pack suggest that this company has a long, long way to go before it can ever justify its insanely lofty stock price. Google Pack is a mixed bag of applications, some useful and some not, though virtually all are deficient in some way as packaged here
...It's just a mess.

Oh dear!

Sure, Paul is a Microsoft fundamentalist but it is an article written by somebody who has thoroughly used the Google Pack rather than someone who's just read the specs. It is hard to fault Paul on the points he makes.

But now onto what Google didn't do...

3. The Google PC

There were some strong rumours leading up to CES that Google would announce a PC. While officially denied by Google, in questions after the keynote with Google co-founder Larry Page.... that denial didn't seem wholly convincing.

I have to say that if Google gets into the hardware business then I think they've truly lost the plot. Google's model is wonderful in it simplicity today. And it has huge potential to grow that market. But trying to make the consumer a paying part of that model is going to be very difficult indeed and risks destroying the relationship model they have. And, attacking the markets of people who Google still needs as friends (eg Dell) does not strike me as very clever. Of the three initiatives, I think Google Pack is the most interesting (and the least ambitious). But I think their delivery on the new items (and some other recent introductions) shows a large amount of immaturity, as indeed did their CES performance.

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