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Google amid recession: Separating wheat, chaff

The search giant's job cuts and product parings demonstrate that it is growing up, and likely to continue to grow at its competitors' expense in the downturn.

ZDNet's Larry Dignan couldn't be more spot-on than he is in calling Google's announcement of layoffs, office consolidation, and product retrenchment a sign that Google is maturing and that it is prepared to be a grown-up company now:

Why does Google's spate of disclosures in the last 24 hours constitute a positive development? Now we get to see what Google is really made of. You don't earn your corporate chops in a boom. Let's face it. When the profits are flowing, Google could burp, and people would fawn over it. A stock price north of $700 makes everyone look like a genius, and you can go on engineering benders. In a downturn, companies show what they are about.

For me, the clearest indication of this at Google is the shuttering of a range of products, including Google Video (or, at least, the ability to upload new content there), Google Notebook, Google Catalogs, Dodgeball, and others. Google understands that products have to be profitable to persist. Closing out the clunkers is a very good sign for Google's product vision.

At the same time, Google becomes ever more aggressive in its use of open source, most recently releasing an open-source site map generator.

Why does this matter? I think it demonstrates that Google understands that it needs to replenish the "commons" from which it has derived so much value, so as to ensure that open source is a renewable resource. This is a grown-up attribute: thought for the future, not merely the present.

Google already has 69.5 percent of the search market. As it prudently manages growth through the downturn, companies such as Microsoft won't be able to pretend to be unconcerned with data points like Gmail's 43 percent growth in 2008, as TechCrunch reports.

Google, in short, has long won by default. Now it's winning because it's managing its business prudently, not simply throwing ideas at the wall and hoping that a few stick.