Google launches direct challenge to Microsoft

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The Independent Online

The rivalry between Google, the internet upstart, and Microsoft, the computer titan, moved to a new level at the weekend as the search engine unveiled a package of services that could break Microsoft's stranglehold.

It launched Google Pack, an alliance of companies that will offer a package of personal computer programmes that will be free for internet surfers to download.

It also announced plans to enable consumers to buy downloads of television programmes such as popular entertainment shows and professional basketball games under a Google Video Store brand.

Both initiatives will be seen as a direct challenge to Microsoft's dominance of the home-computing market and its plans to make inroads into the market for television and video content over the internet, rather than merely over cable and satellite.

Larry Page, Google's co-founder, used the closing address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, seen as the trend-setting event for the coming year, to unveil his plans. His speech was even more closely watched than usual after Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman, disparaged reports of new Google products saying: "I hear they are coming out with a robot that will cook hamburgers too."

Google Pack will include Google's desktop search feature, the Firefox browser, anti-virus software from Norton, a media platform from Realplayer and Adobe Acrobat's document reader.

Josh Bernoff, a media and internet analyst at Forrester, a technology research company, said: "This is a direct action to challenge Microsoft. Google is saying, 'We can manage the browser and other elements of the computer-desktop experience better than you'."

The video service will allow content providers to post videos for downloading on Google's online store. Providers will decide on pricing and copy protection, but video would be viewed via Google's media player.