Is this the company Microsoft was so afraid of? Seriously? An amateurish presentation by Google co-founder Larry Page late Friday at the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) revealed that the multi-billion dollar corporation still has a lot of work to do before it can be taken seriously as a tech superpower. Although few would argue that Google's Internet search technology is anything but top notch (I certainly use it regularly enough), virtually every other product and service it has announced has been lacking in some way. That's doubly true of the products the company announced Friday.
Page, often appearing to read verbatim from notes, first admonished the consumer electronics industry for not conforming to open standards as do Web developers. He then launched into a product pitch for a bundle of software that was quickly gathered with little regard for usability, and an upcoming video service that--get this--doesn't use any of the established video format standards or Digital Rights Management (DRM) schemes. None of the lofty pre-CES predictions for Google, including a possible Google PC that would compete directly with Microsoft and Apple, were anywhere to be found.
So what did Google announce, exactly? First, the company has released a downloadable software suite for Windows PCs called Google Pack. This suite consists entirely of free software--12 applications and a set of desktop wallpaper. Of these 13 offerings, only six were developed by Google in house (Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer, Google Desktop, Google Pack Screensaver, and Google Talk) or purchased by Google (the Picasa photo editing application and Google Earth); the other offerings are from third parties. The remaining applications are Adobe Reader 7.0, Lavasoft's Ad-Aware SE Personal, GalleryPlayer high definition (HD) imagery from GalleryPlayer Media Networks, Mozilla Firefox 1.5, Norton AntiVirus 2005 Special Edition, RealNetworks' RealPlayer 10.5, and Cerulean Studios' Trillian.
Google bills the suite as a set of "essential" products that are safe and useful. That's debatable, but it's a fact that the security products found in this suite are woefully out of date: The version of Ad-Aware that Google bundles includes spyware definitions that are more than 120 days old, while the Norton AntiVirus version expires in 6 months and includes antivirus definitions that are an astonishing 4 months out of date. Other applications, such as RealPlayer, also need to be manually updated to the latest version for security reasons. As a result, users who actually install this suite will not be safe.
As with virtually all Google products, Google Pack has entered the perpetual beta mode for which the company is famous, so it certainly has the opportunity to improve over time. I hope that will happen before the Norton AntiVirus version in the pack expires in July. For complete details about Google Pack, see my review on the SuperSite for Windows.
The other Google offering announced at CES is Google Video--a paid video download service that will include content from CBS, NBC, the National Basketball Association (NBA), and a smattering of smaller content providers. Unlike similar offerings from Apple and others, Google Video won't enforce a pricing policy. Instead, content providers can simply determine which price to use and then upload the content and make it available to customers. Paid video content on Google Video will be viewable only on PCs (although iPods and Sony PlayStation Portables will be supported for free video), according to Page, who provided no details about the video format or DRM scheme the company would use.
This much we know: Google is developing its own DRM scheme and foregoing established formats from Apple and Microsoft. Clearly, doing this is a mistake: Not only will Google need to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, when it comes to protecting content from thieves, but users will need to be online to watch any video downloaded from the service. Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff describes Google's decision to go its own way with video as "arrogance." He might just have a point.