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Did Google's Schmidt Lose Control?

Google's decision to name Larry Page to replace Eric Schmidt as CEO caught me and everyone else who follows the company off guard. After all, Google was showing quarter-over-quarter revenue and profit growth that most companies would kill for. But in retrospect, the handwriting was on the wall.

While there are rumors they weren't on the same page, Google insists there was no friction between Schmidt and the two co-founders, Page and Sergey Brin. Putting aside Schmidt's controversial comments on privacy and the decision last year to pull out of China, Schmidt had his own ideas for how the company should develop technology and bring products to the market.

One example involves the genesis of the Chrome browser and Chrome OS -- Google's vision for replacing typical PCs with computers that rely on the cloud for everything they do. The company last month launched a controlled beta of the Google Notebook, dubbed Cr-48. Schmidt pointed out he wanted no part of Google being in the browser or OS business. As CEO, Schmidt earlier on had put the kibosh on it.

At least so he thought. That's when the end run happened as Schmidt explained at last month's Chrome OS launch event:

"Larry and Sergey wanted to be in the browser and OS business and I absolutely was not interested in being in either, and I said no... They sneakily hired a number of people who were very clever, to work on Firefox browser which we helped fund through an advertising deal, and ultimately that core team was able to build this phenomenal browser called Chrome, which finally broke through the architectural frameworks that people had with respect to security and speed."         

While Schmidt was apparently trying to portray it as a beneficial rebuke of his authority, nevertheless, it raises questions as to how much control he had.

Whether Schmidt really is on board today with the decision to build Chrome and Chrome OS is a moot point. Page and Brin did it without him. And perhaps the two decided it was time to stop "sneaking "around and take control of their company's destiny -- for better or for worse.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/25/2011 at 1:14 PM


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