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Google eyeballs Microsoft and Apple

Bundles free applications for download

Google has launched its latest effort to expand into desktop software with a bundle of freely downloadable applications.

The 'Google Pack' was announced at the same time as the company promoted its new paid-for video download service that will compete with Apple's iTunes, but one that also reportedly contains a copy-protection scheme.

The Windows-only pack consolidates several of Google's own desktop software applications - Google Earth, Google Desktop, Picasa, Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer and a new screensaver application - together with third-party tools such as the Mozilla Firefox browser, a version of the Ad-Aware anti-spyware application, a Norton Anti-virus trial version and Adobe Reader.

The applications use a single installation routine, and a tool called Google Updater keeps them all up to date. Users can choose which applications they wish to install, and if a program is already present the installer gives the option of updating to the latest version.

The bundle was introduced at the closing keynote of the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, in a speech by Google co-founder Larry Page. "We developed Google Pack to give users a way to painlessly install all the essential software they need - pre-configured in a sensible way - in a matter of minutes," said Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google, in a statement.

The bundle follows on the heels of a deal between Sun and Google in early October in which the two companies agreed to collaborate on StarOffice/OpenOffice.org, Java and OpenSolaris. However, Java and OpenOffice.org were noticeably absent from Google Pack - at least in its beta form - possibly because OpenOffice is a bulky download and Java is already ubiquitous.

Google Pack puts Google into more direct competition with Microsoft and its desktop-software empire. Google's Mayer even remarked that she could see plenty of room for improvement in Windows itself, although she stopped short of announcing the rumoured 'Google PC' running a non-Windows OS.

Google has become the new darling of the high-tech industry, particularly as it has created more than $100bn (about £565m) for its shareholders in the past 18 months, with its stock price hitting $470.50 (£265.80) during the day on Friday.

However, its success still depends on usage of its flagship search engine, and the resulting creation of lucrative advertising space. Google Pack is a step towards giving Google control of a piece of the desktop and the raw market power this brings, according to industry analysts.

The Google Video Store service, announced but not yet launched, will provide commercial video content such as television programmes, from providers such as CBS, the NBA, Independent Television News, The Charlie Rose Show, Sony BMG, Classic Media, HDNet and PorchLight Entertainment. The Google Video Player was announced as part of Google Pack but hadn't been added to the Pack as of today.

Google has previously offered video search, but only for freely available content. The new service may give Google access to the lucrative content-distribution market, an area currently dominated by Apple's iTunes.

Such services don't just bring in cash from content sales - companies are also using them to gain dominance in what could be a far more important area, that of copy-restriction technology, usually called DRM (digital rights management). Google has developed a DRM scheme of its own for the Google Video Store, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Sony BMG recently added to the bad press around DRM, admitting that two of the copy-restriction schemes used on its CDs created security problems for PCs.

This story first appeared on Techworld.com

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