Mike Isaac

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Larry Page Takes the Pulpit to Praise Technology, Snipe at Competitors

LarryPageTalk about a total head fake.

After writing a post on Tuesday about being diagnosed with a rare voice condition which has barred him from making many public appearances over the past two years, Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page made a surprise appearance at Google’s I/O developer conference on Wednesday.

The CEO, who has not appeared at the I/O conference in years, took about 10 minutes to deliver a sort of evangelist-like mission statement, thoughts on how he sees Google’s role in the world at large, and how the different parts of his organization — Android, Google X, Maps, Search — help people.

“Technology should do the hard work,” Page said, “so that people can get on with doing the things that make them happiest in life.”

Page’s appearance is noteworthy in that, unlike other technology CEOs — Zuckerberg, Cook, Bezos — Page has not often stepped into the limelight for new product introductions or company updates, aside from his appearances on the company’s earnings calls.

But unlike his quarterly appearances filled with balance-sheet numbers and chats with Wall Street analysts, Page’s talk today aimed to appeal to a more emotional part of his audience, even evoking a memory of a time he went to a technology conference with his father, when Page was a child.

At other moments, Page seemed to wax philosophical. “If I think back to a long time ago, all of humanity was basically farming or hunting all the time,” he said. “If you lived in that time, you probably hoped that you could feed your family. For us, we don’t worry about that … and the reason for that is technology.”

Indeed, a lot of the speech had a very “Kumbaya” feeling to it, with Page calling for an end to the animosity that inhabits much of the tech industry.

“Every story I read about Google is ‘us vs some other company’ or some stupid thing, and I just don’t find that very interesting,” Page said. “We should be building great things that don’t exist. Being negative isn’t how we make progress.”

Yet in the very same address, Page took some potshots at competitors like Microsoft and Oracle, both of which are involved in litigation over certain Google products.

When asked during a Q&A session about the fate of Android in light of Oracle’s court victories, Page seemed eager to snipe: “Money is more important to them than cooperation,” Page said.

Speaking of a lack of cooperation, just today The Verge surfaced a cease-and-desist letter from Google to Microsoft, demanding that Microsoft remove the YouTube app from its Windows Phone devices, citing a lack of in-app advertising. Funny timing.

Page is hardly the only Google executive — much less Google employee — to shoot down competitors. Google Maps VP Brian McClendon was eager to make a subtle dig at Apple’s less-than-lauded mapping product. And Google+ SVP and long-time I/O emcee Vic Gundotra has thrown quite a few competitive elbows at other tech companies in his time.

Regardless, the Street seemed to eat it up. Shares of Google reached an all-time high on Wednesday afternoon, hitting $916.38 per share, before edging back slightly to close at $915.89.

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google