Google co-founder's speech fails to match all the hype
Google doesn't need an introduction at the Consumer Electronics Show — the industry follows its every move — but co-founder...
Seattle Times technology reporter
LAS VEGAS — Google doesn't need an introduction at the Consumer Electronics Show — the industry follows its every move — but co-founder Larry Page is a stranger.
Page attended CES for the first time a couple of years ago, but he has never spoken here. In fact, he doesn't say much publicly at all, leaving much of that to Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, a technology-industry veteran.
So Page's keynote speech Friday was one of the most anticipated of this year's show; some people waited in line for more than an hour to hear him.
Wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a white lab coat — a favorite outfit of Page and co-founder Sergey Brin on the Google campus — the 32-year-old Page stood on the rear bumper of a robotic car and was driven onto the stage. His first words: "Wow. I've never seen so many cameras in my life."
And for all the rumors that preceded Page's speech, there were no blockbuster announcements.
Page said Google will begin selling videos for content providers, taking a small percentage of the fee for itself and presenting competition to Apple Computers' popular iTunes online music and video store.
The CBS television network has signed on as a partner, and will sell episodes of shows, such as "Survivor," and of past shows, including "I Love Lucy" and "The Brady Bunch." The National Basketball Association will sell videos of basketball games 24 hours after they take place.
Page said Google will also begin offering the Google Pack, a free bundled collection of its programs and those from other companies, including the Picasa photo-management system, the Virtual Earth online mapping program and a limited version of Norton AntiVirus software.
Reporters Brier Dudley and Kim Peterson will be online Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. to answer questions about CES and the technology unveiled there.
Page never mentioned Microsoft, but it became clear how much Google is doing to avoid using its rival's products.
Google developed its own video player for its video library, for instance, even though it could have licensed Windows Media Player. The video player uses Google's home-grown rights-management system as well.
Numerous other programs in the Google Pack also compete directly with Microsoft applications.
Page's announcements were a bit of a letdown after a week of speculation that Google might unveil a low-cost personal computer that doesn't run Microsoft's Windows operating system and could be sold at Wal-Mart.
Page wouldn't comment on whether such plans were in the works.
He brought comedian Robin Williams on stage with him during his speech and the question period, and Williams kept the audience giggling with a steady stream of risqué jokes. Williams had some fun at Page's expense, telling him he talked like Mr. Rogers and calling him "Mensa boy."
That last description wasn't entirely off-base. Page was charming in his complete and utter geekiness. Instead of reading from a teleprompter, as most keynoters at this show do, he typed out his speaking notes on double-sided paper and held the pages in front of him. Some of his sentences trailed off in mumbles.
He began his speech with what he described as a personal passion: the need for better industry standards and easier communication among electronics devices.
Why can't a Bluetooth-enabled cellphone be used to unlock your car, he asked. The hardware has made it possible, he said. He also wondered why you couldn't run a television by plugging it into a USB port, for example.
He asked the audience to work together to simplify standards and communication.
"I just sort of thought I'd throw this out as an interesting thing to get people talking about it," he said
Page's style was the polar opposite of that of Terry Semel, the polished chief executive of Yahoo! who spoke earlier Friday. Semel unveiled Yahoo! Go, a system that streamlines and synchronizes some of the company's Internet services.
With Yahoo! Go, users can access their digital photos, for example, whether they're on a computer, a phone or a television. New content they create, such as a new photo taken with a camera phone, would automatically synchronize across the rest of their devices.
"This is not pie in the sky," Semel said. "This is truly seamless."
The announcement was remarkable in that it also took users off of the Web browser, a market in which Microsoft's Internet Explorer holds about a 90 percent share.
Semel showed off a new Yahoo! Go Desktop that features on-screen "widgets," small programs that let you search online, check your e-mail and read news articles without opening a Web browser.
The e-mail can include messages sent to non-Yahoo accounts. A user of Google's Gmail service, for example, can have those messages sent to a Yahoo inbox. No Internet company has done anything like this before, Semel said.
"I think walled gardens are a thing of the past," he said.
Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or email@example.com