Google wants to make the information it stores for its users easily portable so they can export it to a competing service if they are dissatisfied.
Making it simple for users to walk away from a Google service with which they are unhappy keeps the company honest and on its toes, and Google competitors should embrace this data-portability principle, said Eric Schmidt, the company’s chief executive, at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco.
"If you look at the historical large company behaviour, they ultimately do things to protect their business practices or monopoly or what have you, against the choice of the users," he said. "The more we can, for example, let users move their data around, never trap the data of an end user, let them move it if they don't like us, the better."
Schmidt, who answered questions from conference chair John Battelle and from audience members, also championed the hosted, software-as-service model, calling it superior to the packaged software model, a clear swipe at rival Microsoft.
He has believed this for 20 years but only recently has PC and server technology and data-centre infrastructure become solid enough to make it feasible for people to access an application and its data remotely via the internet, Schmidt said. "Finally now the architecture works," he said.
The hosted application model provides a more convenient experience for users because it’s more robust and reliable and simpler to maintain. It also makes it easier for users to search for data across applications and share documents with each other, he said. Users also like that these applications are free, as opposed to the fee-based packaged software, he said.
This is why Google has entered this market with its word processing, calendaring, webmail and spreadsheet hosted applications, Schmidt said. The company recently bought hosted wiki provider JotSpot.
However, he cautioned that Google's hosted applications aren't "an office suite" in the style of Microsoft's ubiquitous Office, and that Google isn't trying to offer a replacement for the Microsoft suite. Google's hosted applications are intended to be an organic part of people's everyday lives, he said.
Regarding Google's acquisition of YouTube, Schmidt said it is very likely Google will keep the video-sharing site as a separate service, instead of merging it with the similar Google Video. The reason is that YouTube is very focused on the social-networking and community aspect of video sharing, and Google wants it to retain that emphasis.