Six Easy Pieces: Google CEO Eric Schmidt Talks with Boston Journalists

There must be some new force pulling West Coast tech CEOs to visit Boston. Last month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was in town; yesterday it was Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

To mark the unusual occasion, Google invited a raft of journalists to its offices in Cambridge for an open, on-the-record roundtable discussion with Schmidt. Google’s Cambridge site director Steve Vinter served as moderator. Many of the questions tossed Schmidt’s way focused on specific Google projects such as Chrome, Wave, and Android 2.0, and when they’ll evolve into major consumer-facing offerings. While some of that was interesting, I thought Schmidt’s comments on a few of the bigger strategy and policy questions revealed more about the company’s outlook on the world.

Below are some of the high points from the discussion—including Schmidt’s thoughts on strategies for economic recovery, why people fear Google, and what role the company may play in the survival of journalism.

Google is growing fast in Cambridge.

Vinter said Google’s Cambridge office, which handles a variety of projects from Google Friend Connect to Google Book Search, has passed the 200-employee mark and will be “hiring very aggressively” in the coming months. (That’s in stark contrast to Microsoft, which reduced its headcount yesterday by some 800 people, including some here in Cambridge.) “Virtually every project we have is scaling up,” Vinter said. Schmidt (who attended both Princeton and Berkeley) said Google was attracted to Cambridge in the first place because it “likes cities with extremely good technical universities.”

Many more people will be getting a look at Google Wave in the near future.

Up to now, Google has been carefully parsing out invitations to Google Wave, its experimental real-time e-mail/chat/collaboration/document sharing platform. Schmidt said the company is “getting ready for a broader distribution very soon—weeks, not months.” He said feedback on the software from early users has been positive, but the company has been slow to invite in more users for fear of outages. “So far the experiment has yielded a very innovative model and a lot of buzz, and now we want to see if it can scale,” he said.

Google has very big plans for the Chrome browser and its bigger cousin, Chrome OS.

Adoption of Google’s Chrome Web browser is progressing “very well,” Schmidt said. But for Google, Chrome is “more than a browser,” he said. “It’s a platform for powerful Web-based apps that you can’t really deliver in cloud computing without having a browser that can support cloud apps.” Making Chrome work fast, maintaining a clean separation between applications running in different tabs or windows, and supporting the new HTML 5 standard “are central to making the apps model work,” Schmidt said. “And Chrome’s success is a necessary precondition to the success of Chrome OS,” he said, since the one is derived from the other. “We have a lot riding on Chrome.”

The first public version of Chrome OS will be coming out by the end of 2009, Schmidt said. But the operating system won’t be a serious competitor for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, or other operating systems until … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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