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Notes from a Senior Editor: Google: Best... Keynote... Ever! (CES Day Two)

Jan 07, 2006, 22:00 (11 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by James Turner)

By James Turner
Senior Editor

I actually arose this morning feeling a bit more in touch with the world and not quite so ready to consider amputation of my feet as a viable pain management option. I headed over to the convention (blowing off the morning keynote from Yahoo!, which I was prepared to believe was not going to be anything earth shattering (and from all reports, wasn't) I started with a booth tour over at Casio and then at Philips, at which no items of particularly Linux-y content were found. On a whim, I swung by Intel to find out what their whole Viiv campaign was about. It turns out that it's basically a badging program where manufacturers who produce systems that meet a certain spec of Intel specifications (including their new Duo processor) can claim to be Viiv systems. Intel claims that Viiv will ensure that retail purchases will know that the system they buy can handle heavy duty multimedia tasks like HDTV. Initially (like, for the next two years) Viiv will only be available for systems packages with Windows Media Center, but the Intel spokesperson I talked to said he didn't believe there was an reason that non-Windows systems couldn't apply for and be Viiv certified in the longer term.

Getting the vibe about Viiv
Getting the vibe about Viiv.

Interestingly, I also talked to one of their folks manning a laptop display, and he told me that the laptop vendors were pretty unanimous in insisting that Intel have Linux device drivers available for all the new Duo chips and boards before they would incorporate them into the next generation of notebooks. If really true, it means that Linux or the desktop is starting to get some real traction in the mind of the manufacturers.

Vendors are pushing Intel for Linux drivers
Vendors are pushing Intel for Linux drivers.

I headed over to the press lunch, same crowd as yesterday but I did see someone I had missed, graphics board manufacturer S3. I talked to one of their reps (who gave the impression of being fairly senior in the company), and he cast some interesting insight into the whole Linux graphics driver issue. According to him, it's not an issue of revealing cool high end features to the competition that is keeping them from releasing the high-performance 3D drivers into the kernel. It's that the drivers will reveal flaws in the hardware that could be used against them by their competitors. According to him, all graphics chipset have flaws in them, that it's inevitable given the complexity of the silicon. The vendors code work-arounds in the drivers. By open sourcing the driver, they would reveal their flaws to the other guys, and they could use it as negative marketing ammo. On the other hand, he was not antagonistic to the idea of open sourcing his Linux drivers, he just needs to have a better grasp of what the upside would be for him to doing it.

Nobody's perfect, even when they're a high performance graphics card...
Nobody's perfect, even when they're a high performance graphics card...

The final stop was over at Paris (the hotel) for a brief with US Robotics. A couple of cool products that will be coming out over the next few months, including a network storage device that includes NFS and CIFS support (and which is running over Linux) and a media appliance which can stream HDTV content from a (currently Windows only) server. They're supposed to be getting back to me about whether the API for the data stream will be opened up so that a Linux version could be created.

A network storage device and an HDTV media appliance, both with Linux Inside (tm)

A network storage device and an HDTV media appliance, both with Linux Inside (tm)
A network storage device and an HDTV media appliance, both with Linux Inside (tm).

Now we move on to the real treat of the day, a keynote by Larry Page of Google. The presentation started with a display of recently executed Google searches and a map of where the searches were occurring. The press enjoyed themselves noting some of the more bizarre or humorous queries that had been run.

Note the search for Paris Hilton Sex Video
Note the search for Paris Hilton Sex Video.

After a short movie where Google Earth bounced all over the planet, ending in the ballroom of the Hilton, Larry Page emerged being borne on the back of Stanley, the Standford DARPA Grand Challenge winning Volkswagen. This was apparently mostly a chance for him to congratulate his alma mater for winning the challenge, but it also was a spectacular entrance.

The conquering billionaire is carried in by one of his robotic minions
The conquering billionaire is carried in by one of his robotic minions.

It immediately became apparent that this was not going to be the standard slick CES keynote. Larry was working off a printed set of notes he was holding in his hand. No teleprompting here. He spoke casually, with a sense of pride in Google but not in any way a self-serving way. In fact, one of the early segments of his speech had nothing to do with Google, it was a plea to the manufacturers to put more thought into how they design products. In specific, he asked why they couldn't standardize on a single power standard for devices, so that one cable could recharge any device. He also suggested that the same cable should be able to sync or connect the device to any other device. Why, he asked, couldn't his car with a Bluetooth system use his Bluetooth phone to call the car manufacturer to download updated information? The general plea was for standards, rather than chaos.

Larry has obviously seen the floor of my hotel room
Larry has obviously seen the floor of my hotel room.

Also demoed early was version of Google Maps for in-dash navigation systems and mobile devices. He also announced that with the AOL deal in place, GChat would soon interoperate with AOL Instant Messenger. As it turns out, that was the least of the things announced today. Before moving on, he took a moment to talk about the lack of Internet accessibility in the developing world, especially Africa. He called on the industry to work on changing this, and showed a mock-up of the Media Lab $100 laptop.

Not too many folks doing Google searches in central Africa, it appears...
Not too many folks doing Google searches in central Africa, it appears...

This lead to the first blockbuster announcement, Google Pack. Essentially, it's a lightweight installer you can download from Google, which in turn will install and keep updated a suite of powerful tools with a single click. Included in the pack are Firefox, Ad-Aware, Picassa, Norton Antivirus and Adobe Reader, all free of course.

Looks like a Pack of trouble for Microsoft, and a real boost for Firefox
Looks like a Pack of trouble for Microsoft, and a real boost for Firefox.

Now came a real piece of fun. Larry announced that Google was developing a new telepathic version of Google, and brought out a helper to demonstrate. It rapidly became clear that the "helper" was Robin Williams, who proceeded to riff off of whatever topic Larry mentioned, to the tune of about 15 minutes of side-splitting material. It was pretty obvious that this wasn't rehearsed, it was just Larry saying a term like "firewall" and Robin going off in his own unique way until he'd run out of steam. People literally had tears in their eyes.

Goooooood morning Las Vegas, Robin Williams is your search engine
Goooooood morning Las Vegas, Robin Williams is your search engine.

Before people had time to blink, Larry had moved on to the real stunning announcement of the day. Google Video was moving from just searching video content to actually being a video content provider. With the new Google Video Store, people could download free and premium content from a variety of source, including WGBH (Nova, Masterpiece Theatre), several record companies, every NBA game 24 hours after it was over, and most significantly of all, CBS. Starting pretty much immediately, choice CBS shows such as Survivor, CSI, NCIS, and The Amazing Race would be available for a $2 fee, and could be played on the PC using the new Google Media Player. Although the player is currently Windows only, Page indicated that the intent is to quickly roll out the player for other platforms. The new chief executive of CBS came onstage to comment on how excited he was to be partnered with Google, and the buzz in the audience was noticable.

Could this be the first serious multiplatform video on demand application?
Could this be the first serious multiplatform video on demand application?

After the dust had settled from that announcement, which included a demo of just how easy it would be to purchase content from the Google Video Store (and mention that anyone would be able to sell content in the store, for payments as low as 5 cents a pop), Larry moved on to questions and answers. He brought Robin back on to "moderate," which essentially meant that he heckled the questioners, Larry's answers, and life in general. It was clear that Robin actually knows quite a bit about the technology, as he started to answer a few of the questions before stopping himself and handing off to Larry. If anything, this was more hilarious than the first segment had been. He seemed to be in rare form, but never got so out of control that Larry couldn't provide the answers to the questions.

Who dares face the biting humor of Robin Williams?
Who dares face the biting humor of Robin Williams?

Nothing of note this evening, I went out for diner with some folks I met at the show. Not sure I'll be seeing much Linux-worthy tommorow, but if I do, you'll hear it here. Expect a show wrap-up tommorow night, then I'll be winging my way back home.