Google ( GOOG) spent Wednesday's annual open house trying to downplay talk of a growing rivalry with Microsoft ( MSFT) for Web supremacy. "We obviously worry about competition, as any company should," said Larry Page, one of Google's founders, at the event for the press and industry analysts. He added that the Mountain View, Calif.-based company "tries not to be focused on what they are doing," referring to Microsoft. Chief Executive Eric Schmidt argued that the media shouldn't be obsessed with finding a winner and a loser. Besides, he says Google has "the luxury of time," thanks to its strong cash flow, to continue developing innovative products and services. "There is room for more than one winner," he says, adding that he was confident that Google would be one of them. Wall Street seems to think otherwise. Speculation is mounting about the rivalry between Microsoft and Google. The software company recently announced plans to crank up its spending on its MSN Web business, much to the chagrin of its investors. Google's desire to make nice with Microsoft has its limits. The search engine giant has raised concerns about Microsoft's plans to include an MSN search box on the latest version of Internet Explorer. Google says this will give Microsoft an unfair advantage in steering traffic to its MSN Web portal, a claim that Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft disputes. Google will watch Microsoft closely, since the software giant has "not necessarily played fair in other situations," Page says. He described Microsoft as a "convicted monopolist," referring to antitrust battles in both the U.S. and Europe. Page's blunt response stood in contrast to the mostly vague commentary from Google's management team. Google executives repeated many of the same arguments that they have made before, such as that click fraud doesn't have a material impact on the company's finances. As usual, few specifics were given.
Wall Street, which finds Google a difficult company to figure out, shrugged off the meeting. Shares of the company barely budged, falling $5.82 to $402.98. One area where Google is trying to change is how it deals with the public. Even fans of the top search engine have complained that it's too secretive. Google is trying to be more "transparent" about what it's doing in order to avoid "confusion in the marketplace," said Elliot Schrage, Google's vice president for global communications and public affairs. Google even made sure to end its meeting before 5 p.m. New York time so reporters could meet deadlines. But as Schrage said, there were limits to the level of openness that Google embraced. The company, which says it's obsessed with measuring data, still doesn't like to disclose much. Typical was the response of Alan Eustace, Google's senior vice president for engineering and research, to a question about how Google measures the quality of its search engine. "I believe we are doing very well in our search quality and I think it's best we leave it at that," Eustace said. Of course, press day wouldn't be complete without product announcements, including the much-rumored Google Health, a new version of Google Desktop, Google Notebook, and Google Trends, which lets people find out the popularity of search terms in given areas. Google Health is an area on the
search engine where people can find health information from various Web sites including WebMD . Google Desktop includes Google Gadgets, which lets people access services such as Google Video, from their desktop. It's similar to the layout of an Apple computer. Users of Google Notebook will be a able to cut and paste information from Web sites onto a digital clipboard. Google Co-Op will allow people to electronically label Web sites in their area of expertise and create specialized links that people can subscribe to.