There's a new sheriff at Google

Google CEO Larry Page

Today Google cofounder Larry Page officially resumes the role of chief executive, a position he abdicated to Eric Schmidt 10 years ago. The elder technologist will remain as chairman, in part as Google's ambassador and as grandaddy to Page and other cofounder Sergey Brin. The question: What next for Google?

It's a question I've been asking during the transition phase, which started with the January 20th announcement. Something certainly is different at Google. Two recent Android pullbacks are evidence of that, and I can't help but wonder how much they reflect Page's influence, because of timing.

Nine days ago, Google said that it wouldn't immediately release Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" to the open-source community, claiming the operating system isn't ready. Oh yeah? Why is it shipping on the Motorola XOOM? Google claims special case, which rings more like an excuse for releasing prematurely, or simply backtracking on oft-hyped "Open Principles" for business reasons.

Google also is cracking down on Android 2.x, which is supposed to be open source, too. Handset manufacturers will now need Android chief Andy Rubin's blessing before receiving the operating system's newest version. That's not exactly open. But the change also reflects Google taking more parental control over Android, which could reduce fragmentation and even improve applications. Early last month, OpenLogic claimed that many open-source apps, including a few distributed through the Android Market, violate open-source licenses.

Fragmentation is a huge problem for Android. As of April 1, only 2.5 percent of Android devices ran the newest versions -- 2.3 or 2.3.3, according to official Android Developers stats; that's up from 1.7 percent two weeks earlier, by the way. The others: 63.9 percent Android 2.2; 27.2 percent v2.1; 3.5 percent v1.6; and 2.7 percent v1.5. Android 2.3 released about four months ago.

I must assume the Android crackdown reflects Page's influence, simply because of timing. But does it mean greater leadership over Android, a step back from so-called Open Principles, or both? The questions may soon be answered, now that Page is officially CEO.

Schmidt is leaving just as Google enters stormy regulatory seas. Last week, Google agreed to stunning 20 years oversight by the Federal Trade Commissions for violations related to the launch of Buzz. Hell, Microsoft only got five years from the Feds, starting in 2002, for Passport privacy problems. Who brokered 20 years? Geez Louise.

Two weeks ago, a federal judge overturned Google's controversial $125 million settlement with book publishers. The U.S. Justice Department was among the parties opposing the deal, which let Google digitize books for search without checking whether copyrights were valid.

In December 2010, the European Union's Competition Commission started a formal antitrust investigation into Google's search business. Last week, Microsoft joined in, filing a complaint in the case. Ohio and Wisconsin are considering launching formal Google antitrust investigations.

Page is inheriting one helluva lot of legal problems, which can only grow with Google's influence.

Looks like Schmidt got out when the going was good -- with Google in good shape before the crap hits the fender.

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