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Anticipation is running high for Larry Page’s speech to the Consumer Electronics Show on Friday, but Google watchers already had plenty to talk about after several sources claimed to have scooped the contents of its co-founder’s presentation.
Online reports speculated that Google will be offering up videos for sale on the internet and going into content partnerships with CBS, ITN and the National Basketball Association.
Bloggers were unsurprised at the move as Google had said previously that a pay-per-download video service - dubbed the Google Video Store - was part of the plan.
B2Day, the Business 2.0 blog, said the move would put Google on collision course with Microsoft and Apple in attempting to build a distribution platform for digital content.
Nicholas Carr, on his Rough Type blog, described the service as a “landmark move, as it will open a new revenue stream beyond advertising”.
But B2Day said there were no details on how users would pay for the service.
“It is not clear yet whether Google will be taking a cut of the download fees, thus opening a potentially serious e-commerce revenue stream for the first time.”
Ken “Caesar” Fisher on Ars Technica echoed many others when he commented that many questions about the service remained unanswered.
“Will Google be streaming shows, or offering them for download? Currently Google only supports streaming. Will Google stick with a Flash-based video delivery system? Will this mark the unveiling of the mysterious Google Wallet? (an internet payment system Google is working on that could rival Ebay’s PayPal).
The BBC’s Ben Metcalfe pronounced the video move a “firm strategy” but was also wondering about the streaming vs downloading conundrum.
Several bloggers were worried that Google was compromising its open and independent approach to content.
Mike at Techdirt warned that the pulling in of big name content providers was already being done by others and would prove restrictive for users.
“Simply copying what others are offering with broadcast content really is kind of boring and not that interesting. As we’ve seen, the power of online video is that it gets around the broadcasters and lets more people create and share their own content,” he said.
He was more worried still by news that Google intended to create its own digital rights management software to protect downloaded videos from piracy, forcing users to download a new Google video player to view footage.
“Google obviously felt it needed to do so to convince the big content companies to take part – but what it probably means is that we now have yet another incompatible copy protection system that is likely to lock people in (while also opening up new security holes),” he added.
Mr Carr continued the Techdirt riff in his response to a report on FT.com that, according to sources, the search engine was hoping to create an “open digital content marketplace - a place where owners of video content can make as much of their material available as they want”.
“How ‘Open’ will this…be?” he asked, adding that the combination of a Google “player” and the DRM software would lead to “yet another closed system and yet more headaches for consumers - so much for media convergence”.
More criticism was reserved for another piece of speculation ahead of Larry Page’s speech - that Google is about to launch a package of desktop software called the Google Pack, in a bid to rival Microsoft’s own desktop offering.
This will is expected to combine Google products such as search, Google Earth and Google Talk with a suite of third party software including the Firefox browser, Norton Antivirus, Adobe Reader, Trillian - software that allows different instant messenging services to speak to each other, Lavasoft anti-spyware and Real Player. The applications will be made available for download in a single installation bundle.
“Who is this ‘pack’ being packed to? Is Google about to become a kind of CD-style aggregator of one-off products? Is that how badly it wants to piss Microsoft off?” said Paul Kedrosky on his Infectious Greed blog which focuses on the money culture behind technology.
“Seeing how Google is becoming a company that buys startups for their superior product ideas and plans to create CD-ROMs of software that is readily available on the web…you could forgive me for thinking that Google is run by recent MBA grads, and not, say, by the iconoclastic, quasi-genius engineers I keep reading about,” replied one of Infectious Greed’s readers.
Mr Kedrosky was also running a poll on whether Google “had jumped the shark”.
The inclusion of RealPlayer came in for particular approbrium, as the once popular digital video player is now more associated with bloatware and considered technically inferior to its rivals.
“RealPlayer could be described as significantly unpopular among savvy users, with few of us even having it installed on our systems. Furthermore, the RealPlayer suffers from less penetration than either iTunes or Windows Media Player, giving it the feeling of a third wheel,” said Ken Fisher.
“God help us if google picks up/starts pushing RealPlayer. Unless they googlize the thing with “do no evil” who needs it,” said a reader on Gizmodo, referring to Google’s “don’t be evil” credo.
Ben Metcalfe said he wasn’t sure if the average user would find the bundle “appealing or a simply a put-off”.
Some were worried that RealPlayer might form the basis of its video store.
“Why Google would opt to include this annoyingly pushy media player in a bundle of software like this is beyond me. Could it have something to do with the new video service?,” asked Good Morning Silicon Valley.