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This week in Google

Company generates a buzz with its new products--and in many cases the search giant actually transmitted the discussion.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
2 min read
Google generated a buzz this week with its new products--and in many cases the search giant actually transmitted the discussion.

Google launched an instant-messaging program that allows text chat and computer-to-computer voice connections, a move that highlights the search giant's increasing competition with Yahoo, Microsoft and America Online. Google's Web site provides a link to download Google Talk and stated that the software "enables you to call or send instant messages to your friends for free-?anytime, anywhere in the world."

Google's messaging program is linked to the company's Web-based e-mail program, Gmail, and both are in beta. Google Talk currently works only on Windows, according to Google's Web site. People need a microphone and a speaker to take advantage of the voice capabilities.

Message boards are teeming with tips and gripes, and scores of screenshots have gone up since Google released the beta of Talk. Across the Web, many consumers hailed the software's quick download time, which takes a few seconds over broadband and about three minutes over a typical modem, according to the Google Talk Web site. They also applauded its minimalism.

However, CNET News.com readers were mixed in response to the new release. "So Google has entered the IM space--woohoo," wrote reader Toby Barrick in News.com's TalkBack forum. "Where is the innovation that Google is famous for? Heck they don't even offer video from what I've seen."

But some applauded Google's move. "I won't deny that it's extremely Spartan in its appearance, but the presentation is textbook Google elegance," wrote Christopher Hall in TalkBack. "I'm not interested in emoticons, skins, and file transfer. I need this to communicate, not fancy up like a 12-year-old girl's Trapper Keeper."

Google also rolled out a beta version of its desktop software, adding such features as "Sidebar," which offers a personalized panel of information such as e-mail, stock quotes and news. The software also includes a scratch-pad style tool for taking notes and tools for searching one's desktop and Microsoft Outlook in-box. Called Desktop 2, the software can be downloaded for free from Google's Web site.

Both offerings, notably Sidebar, have the potential to lure away current Microsoft users, analysts said. But Google--in a technique perfected long ago by Microsoft--has made software developers an important target audience as well. As with nearly all its services, Google is supporting standards and providing hooks intended to let outside developers create add-on products.

Of course, the ever-widening array of Google products has some people wondering whether the company is out to create the rough equivalent of an operating system. Strictly speaking, Google's products are not a replacement OS, but the collection of Google products serve the same purpose, said analysts. Even products that run on Windows PCs, such as Google's Picasa photo-editing software, could tie back to Google's online services.