Google Inc. is distributing a free software startup kit designed to make computing safer and easier – a move driven by the company’s desire to be a force on personal computers as well as online.
The software bundle, unveiled Friday in Las Vegas during a speech by Google co-founder Larry Page, represents the Internet search engine leader’s latest jab at industry kingpin Microsoft Corp.
The suite of programs is designed to make it easier to install and maintain basic applications that have helped turn the PC into a hub of information, entertainment and communications.
Six of the programs in the package are owned by Google, which had previously offered all but one on a piecemeal basis. Most of the seven other applications in the Google Pack are already available for free on the Internet, the exception being a Norton antivirus program that is being offered in a free six-month trial.
The Google Pack includes Adobe Systems Inc.’s Acrobat Reader, RealNetworks Inc.’s media player, Mozilla’s Firefox Web browser and Cerulean Studios’ Trillian instant messaging program.
Notably missing are word processing and spreadsheet programs, though Google pledged in October to work with Sun Microsystems Inc. to promote an open-source version of those applications.
Although cobbling together a bunch of free software isn’t revolutionary, the move could foreshadow bigger things to come as Google’s maneuvres to gain more influence over the products people install on their PCs while diminishing Microsoft’s power.
If the Google Pack proves popular among PC owners, more software makers are likely to be lining up to be included in future versions – a phenomenon that would give Google even more leverage in its slugfest with Microsoft, said Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li.
“This has the potential of giving Google more control over the software supply chain,” Li said. “They in effect could become the arbiters of software taste, determining what’s good and bad.”
For now, Google is primarily interested in making personal computers easier and more enjoyable to use, said Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice-president of search products and user experience.
Neither Google nor the other participants in the Google Pack are paying each other any money, Mayer said.
If people spend more time on their computers, Google believes it will receive more Internet search requests – an activity that generates the highly profitable ads that has catapulted its stock and spawned more than $100 billion in shareholder wealth during the past 18 months.
Google’s shares surged $14.42 Friday to close at $465.66 on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The stock price reached a new high of $470.50 earlier in the session.