Google raises the ante in fight with Microsoft

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The Independent Online

Google has unveiled a raft of new software products that takes the search engine pioneer deeper into competition with Microsoft. The company took the wraps off a new version of its desktop software that includes a music and video player and organisational tools.

It also launched a new service that will help advertisers track the kinds of searches that are most popular on Google, helping them to plan effective online ad campaigns. This is aimed at heading off a challenge from Microsoft, which last week announced its own strategy for attracting advertisers to its MSN website.

The new Google Desktop software is linked to the internet and gives users access to hundreds of free programs and "gadgets". While some are frivolous - a computerised plant that grows or withers depending on how much attention it is given - others directly challenge organisational tools in Microsoft's ubiquitous Office software. Most importantly, Google Desktop will grow as the company begins to offer more free software. It has recently bought Writely, the online word processor that rivals Microsoft's Word.

Google's management team played down talk of a head-on challenge to Microsoft. Eric Schmidt, the chief executive, said there was room for different online strategy to be successful as the internet develops.

And Larry Page, Google's co-founder said: "We tried pretty hard not to be focused on what they're doing. We like to be innovators, and we don't get there by looking at what other companies are doing."

Among the gadgets is one allowing users to customise their home page using entertainment and information from the Web. That is akin to the service offered by Microsoft MSN.

Last week, a competitive Bill Gates promised MSN would claw back lost ground from Google, through attracting new advertisers and by improving the content available to users. "I think this is one occasion where people are underestimating us," he said. Microsoft shocked Wall Street last month by admitting it will invest $2bn (£1.1bn) more than thought in the coming year, mostly on MSN.

Google has been ploughing cash into the development of new products and online services. Other products launched yesterday include Google Coop, where search users note preferred websites to focus their search results.