Tag Archives: Google

Just how good a defence are those Motorola patents, again?

Susan Decker for Bloomberg:

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), the world’s largest software maker, began arguing its U.S. trade case that Android- based smartphones made by Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. use technology derived from Microsoft inventions.

In a trial that began today before the International Trade Commission in Washington, Microsoft accused Motorola Mobility of infringing seven of its patents and requested a halt to imports of certain Motorola phones. The ITC has the power to stop imports of products that violate U.S. patent rights.

Lots of people seem to have missed this in the discussion of why Google bought Motorola: Motorola’s patent pool hasn’t protected it from being sued. There’s no reason to suppose that it will protect Google (or any of its other licensees) now.

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On Google’s “openness”

If you want to start a flame war, post something about whether Google is truly “open” or not. Nothing in the world of technology – not even comments on the state of Steve Jobs’ health – is more likely to get people shouting at each other.

Amongst sections of the Mac community, Google gets a lot of stick over its openness. Some criticise Google for putting “open” above “usable”. Others claim that openness is nothing more than a marketing bullet point for Google, and point to its failure to release source code for Honeycomb or its total silence over the core algorithms that power search and ads.

I don’t think Google’s openness is “just” a way to mislead – I genuinely think that internally, there’s a lot of commitment to being as open as is commensurate with being a profitable company.

Some of their efforts are extremely valuable: for example, while I think WebM is crapola, it’s valuable to have a freely-licensable codec that will (hopefully) be widely supported. I doubt that MPEG-LA would have been as generous with the terms for H.264 as they are currently had Google not waved the big stick. And that’s an area where there’s little direct revenue implication for Google.

Having said that, it’s clear that at some point internally, the idea got floated that “we are open” was a good marketing point, and that’s where things began to go wrong. It’s almost impossible for a company which creates code, delivers online services, or (for that matter) makes hardware to be genuinely open. Google could never be open about its search algorithms, not simply because Bing would instantly be as good as Google but also because people would use that information to game the system.

And that’s the issue: Having invoked the magic “open” word, you’re a hostage to fortune. Any time that the rational decision is “don’t be open” (as it is, arguably, with Honeycomb’s source) sneering naysayers like me will be on your case, whacking you over the head.

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Why Microsoft bought Skype

Cringely thinks it’s simply to stop Google getting it:

“Were Google to buy Skype they’d convert those 663 million Skype subscriptions to Google Voice and Gmail and in a swoop make parts of Yahoo and MSN irrelevant. They’d build a brilliant Skype client right into the DNA of Android, draining telco revenue and maybe killing smaller players like Windows Phone. They’d cut deals with equipment makers like Cisco (Linksys) and NetGear and steal voice revenue from telcos and cable companies alike.  That’s all Redmondesque behavior and if anyone is going to be behaving that way, Ballmer feels, it had darned well better be Redmond.”

That sounds like a perfectly Redmondian argument to me.

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Apple is dead in the water, redux

Charles Arthur, reporting for The Guardian on an IDC/Appcelerator survey of developers:

“App developer interest is shifting back toward Apple as fragmentation and “tepid” interest in current Android tablets chips away at Google’s recent gains in momentum, according to a new survey of more than 2,700 developers around the world.

In the survey, 91% of developers said they were “very interested” in iPhone development, and 86% said the same for the iPad. For Google, interest in Android phone add development fell 2 points to 85%, and for tablets – particularly Honeycomb – down three points to 71%, after having risen 12 points in the first quarter. The figures are within error margins for the survey, but don’t match the growing interest that has been seen in Android over the past year.”

Seems like developers didn’t get Fred Wilson’s memo, or heed the advice that iPhone was “dead in the water” from Henry “Screw the SEC” Blodget.

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Google’s “proprietary information” (or, what makes Google money stays in Google)

From Steven Levy’s marvellous new book on Google:

“[Google] was becoming less a research project than an Internet start-up run from a private university. Page and Brin’s reluctance fo write a paper about their work had become notorious in the department. ‘People were saying ‘Why is this so secret? This is an academic project, we should be able to know how it worked’ says Terry Winograd.

Page, it seemed, had a conflict about information. On one hand, he subscribed heartily to the hacker philosophy about shared knowledge… But he also had a strong sense of protecting his hard-won proprietary information.” (My emphasis)

This pattern of sharing everything except the information and code which actually makes you money was set very early, and continues to this day. You can see it with Android: The bits which Google gives away aren’t the ones which define “the Android experience” for customers, like Gmail, YouTube and Maps, but the code which allows geeks to tinker. And, of course, the algorithms and data which makes Google its money via advertising remain very, very securely under lock and key.

I should say at this point: There’s nothing morally objectionable about this approach. But I think that this tension between what’s open and what’s closed at Google will, sooner or later, be something that forces the company to redefine itself.

Levy’s book, incidentally, is full of gems like this, and I’d highly recommend it.

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Google, Larry, And Social

Scoble gets it:

In yesterday’s Gillmor Gang I argue that Google and Facebook have completely different cultures. Google is very much about finding information while Facebook is all about helping people “waste time.” Think about why Zynga, a company that helps us “waste time” playing games built on top of Facebook’s culture instead of Google’s. These cultures are like oil and vinegar and if you force one to be another it could turn bad.”

An example of this? Google’s decision not to sponsor an NPR quiz show:

“To figure out where we might find talent like that already inhabiting our cube farms, I surveyed our engineering employees, asking what media outlets they tuned to. Unsurprisingly public radio news programing was high on the list. More than half of the engineers listened to Morning Edition or All Things Considered. Third on the list with 36% was the NPR quiz show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” (WWDTM ). So it seemed like a match made in heaven when NPR offered us a sweet deal to become exclusive sponsor of that show. I loved the idea. WWDTM was quick, funny, and news-based and NPR told me the show’s producers used Google to research their quiz questions.

Unfortunately, Larry was not a fan. “I just think the information content is low,” he told me. Well, yeah. It was a quiz show, not the BBC World Service. More surprising to me was that Sergey agreed. He didn’t listen to NPR for entertainment, just news.”

And Larry is now back in charge. Has he changed? I doubt it. Does he have a Facebook profile, a Twitter account? No.

Photo by niallkennedy

Why “evil” is the most over-used word in tech

One of the things which you often hear reading tech blogs, and particularly the comments, is that such-and-such a company is “evil”. What this usually means isn’t that they’re deliberately employing children or forcing workers to work in polluted factories which damage their health.

Instead, the cry of “evil” is used to describe companies that are trying to maximise their profits. That could be by destroying a market by giving away products to undercut competitors. It could mean locking customers in to platform so they face barriers if they want to switch to something else. Or it could mean trying to take a slice of income off every transaction made on their products.

This is a fundamental error, and it misunderstands what companies are designed to do. In a post on his blog, BBC business editor Robert Peston sums this up in relation to multinationals trying to minimise how much tax they pay:

“But given that company law obliges company directors to give greatest weight to the interests of their shareholders, criticising company boards for striving to minimise tax is a bit like attacking gravity for making the rain fall down rather than rise up.”

The same is true of tech companies. Apple isn’t “evil” because it is attempting to squeeze money out of publishers. Microsoft wasn’t evil when it tried to tie Office and Windows. Google isn’t evil because of its practice of giving away stuff which its competitors make money on.

They’re all just companies, trying to make the best returns for the only people that matter, legally, to them: The shareholders.

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Bing: Why Google’s Wrong In Its Accusations

Danny Sullivan on Bing: Why Google’s Wrong In Its Accusations:

“Meanwhile, I’m on my third day of waiting to hear back from Google about just what exactly it does with its own toolbar. Now that the company has fired off accusations against Bing about data collection, Google loses the right to stay as tight-lipped as it has been in the past about how the toolbar may be used in search results. Google’s initial denial that it has never used toolbar data “to put any results on Google’s results pages” immediately took a blow given that site speed measurements done by the toolbar DO play a role in this. So what else might the toolbar do?”

I can understand Google’s annoyance at what it sees as “copying”. But if it’s going to throw around accusations like that, it had better make sure (1) it is right, and (2) it’s not doing the same thing itself.