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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. In the view of Google CEO Eric Schmidt, there's not a lot different in where Microsoft and the search giant are headed.
"The goal is to serve the customer, and all of us, including Microsoft, are trying to move to a Web model," Schmidt said during a Q&A session wrapping up the company's Atmosphere conference for CIOs here its corporate headquarters.
The difference, according to Schmidt, is that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) grew up on the Web while Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is trying to migrate both itself and its huge customer base there while also maintaining, by necessity, its desktop heritage that still generates most of its revenue.
Schmidt conceded that Microsoft legacy applications have a deep functionality and that Google isn't positioning its Web apps as matching all the features in Office.
"Our applications aren't full replacements to the incumbents," he said. "Our goal is 80 percent because then we provide value and the features most users want." The "value" Google offers over traditional PC-bound apps includes a fast iteration of new features, an emphasis on collaboration, low cost and Web-based access.
Schmidt said Google is winning thousands of new, albeit small, Google Apps customers every day and about once a week a large customer turns on twenty to thirty thousand accounts.
To win enterprise accounts, Google has focused on high reliability and security features considered essential by IT shops. Schmidt also said Google has learned a lot about enterprise needs both by its internal use of Google Apps and customer requests in the field. He admitted that Google has received complaints and feature requests that it never anticipated while Apps was in development, but touted the recent release of the Google Apps Marketplace as a source of solutions from developers that addresses the niche areas and specialty apps that are outside Google's core interest.
Just as in search, Schmidt said that Google engineers are working on complicated issues like linking spreadsheets and calendars to make collaboration and information sharing in the enterprise more effective.
"We run the company around information," Schmidt said.
Alluding briefly to what Google said was a cyber attack that appeared to come from entities operating in China, Schmidt said his company had shored up its perimeter systems. "We ultimately believe, and you should hold us to this, that Web services will be more secure," he said.
Mobile is where it's at
Schmidt said Google is making a bit bet on mobile. "What's really important now is that we get the mobile architecture right," he said. "I like to articulate it to developers that it's mobile first for all your applications."
Google is working with a number of computer and device manufacturers on a new generation of netbooks that will be powered by the company's Web-based Chrome operating system. These Chrome OS netbooks, due out later this fall, will boot up in about five seconds and feature ready access to Web applications and storage.
"These are essentially diskless devices," Schmidt said. Designed for the Web, the new netbooks are aimed at a new generation of users accustomed to real-time streams of information and the ability to work anywhere thanks to the device's inherent mobility.
On Google's future, Schmidt said the company is "blessed" by its ad business that funds the development of new projects.
"We're looking for the next incredible thing you can do inside the enterprise. I think that defines our culture," he said. "We're unusual in that we're able to frame [each new] problem around innovation. When we stop doing that, we're toast."