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Google's trojan horse

January 07, 2006

After Google's Larry Page finished his CES presentation in Las Vegas tonight, he reportedly headed over to the Venetian Hotel to take a ride in a fake gondola down an artificial canal in a shopping mall disguised as a great city. "Cool," he said. "This is just like the internet."

OK. I made that up.

But what exactly does a Do No Evil guy do in Sin City? One thing he does is get up to a little competitive devilry by unveiling the Google Pack, a parcel of software programs that you can download for free (if you have a Windows PC). There's nothing particularly interesting or surprising about what's in the Pack - it's something of a dog's breakfast, actually - but that, I'm pretty sure, is by design. Google wants the initial version of the Pack to be inoffensive because the overriding goal is to get as many Windows users as possible to download it. (If Google stuck Open Office in it, for instance, a lot of users would be nervous, both about the size of the download and about the possibility of screwing up their existing applications.) The Pack is a preemptive strike against Microsoft, which Google knows will use its upcoming updates to Windows, Internet Explorer, and Office to lead users as far away from Google as possible. The Pack will enable Google to get its two desktop search tools - Google Desktop and Google Toolbar - onto more PCs and, in the process, to install a little trojan horse named Google Updater. Updater, Google says, "helps you discover new programs and keep your current software up to date." In other words, it gives the Googleplex a direct channel into your PC, bypassing Microsoft's operating system and updater.

Why's that important? Because, among other things, Google desperately wants to avoid ceding to Microsoft control over a PC's default software settings, particularly those controlling the desktop-search and web-browser applications (Pack also includes the Firefox browser, with embedded Google search). It's worth remembering that one of Google's top advisers is Hal Varian, the Berkeley economist, who has studied what he calls "the power of the default": the tendency of ordinary people to stick with what they're given, rather than spend time actively seeking alternatives. Defaults have a big influence over how people operate their computers and thus over which browser and search engine they use - and defaults are often set when you install or update a program.

Updater gives Google an opportunity to counter, to some degree, at least, the advantage that Microsoft holds through its control of the operating system. How well the tactic will work remains to be seen, but it's certainly worth a shot.


The only problem with this scheme is that, by default, Google Updater is not installed on the machines that most people buy or are assigned. This means that until the Google Updater itself is installed "by default" (say by Dell or the IT department at your company) it experiences the negative effects of "the power of the default". That's quite a nice little catch Microsoft is working . .

Posted by: Gilbert Pilz at January 7, 2006 02:01 AM

Welcome Evil Empire 2.0

Guess you can expect Google to bung in Search Ads into all the pieces of software that make up Google Pack

Frankly, I though Google folks have better than average IQ, with this move, theu have proved themselves to be morons !

Posted by: Murali at January 7, 2006 05:46 AM

The Google value pack reminds me of a collection of coupons I get in the mail every week. The offerings range from a dollar off a cheeseburger combo at A&W Root Beer to carpet cleaning for $39/room. All of these offerings are aimed at individual consumers rather than businesses or large enterprises.

Firefox and now Google also face this issue. Few large enterprises, with the exception of IBM, have formally embraced an alternative to Microsoft products. We know that Google is "improving" Open Office, but that is mostly for internal use to wean itself from Microsoft Office products. I don't think you will see OpenOffice in the Google download bundle regardless of quality due to its size.

While Google markets its search engine separately to large enterprises, I wonder how this "value pack" fits with that strategy. If I'm the CIO of a major enterprise do I really want my employees downloading this stuff on to 10,000 desktops?

Also, most of the products in the bundle already have their own updaters. This is especially true for Symantec with its sometimes tricky "Live Update" product. Adobe aggressively updates its free reader software and bundles it with the Yahoo toolbar. Hello?

I wouldn't call the Google folks "morons," but it smacks of PC User Group shareware 101 rather than a 21st century company. Cheesy. Now where is that root beer?

Posted by: Ohadi Langis at January 7, 2006 10:45 AM

I gave it a try. It actually seems to be pretty well implemented.

It's "apt-get" for Windows. This is a big deal.

PC makers will install this just to get on Google's good side.

Posted by: BC at January 8, 2006 12:06 AM

Superb, Nick!

It's actually preemptive strike No. 2: Winning the AOL negotiation was preemptive strike No. 1, in which Google saved it's largest revenue source from leaving and partnering with psychopaths.

Your Hal Varian reference is apt.

Posted by: Sam Hiser at January 8, 2006 07:33 AM

Oh, and Nick.

This Trojan Horse idea is a theme of which I'm personally quite fond. It's a Classic!

See "Storming the Microsoft Edifice". It's old (Oct 2004) and about OpenOffice & Firefox...so let's just mentally add in your bit about Google Pack now, shall we?

Posted by: Sam Hiser at January 8, 2006 07:40 AM

It's even more of trojan horse...a data trojan horse.


Posted by: David Henderson at January 8, 2006 11:20 AM

Actually, it's a mess.


Posted by: Roger Dennery at January 9, 2006 10:40 AM

Any update on this trojan horse article?

Posted by: Malok [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 4, 2007 06:52 PM

Reckon theres not an update then for the trojan horse article. I'll see if I can find additional information elsewhere.

Posted by: Malok [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 25, 2007 10:34 AM

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