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Google wants to make the information it stores for its users easily portable so they can export it to a competing service if they are dissatisfied, the company's chief executive officer has said.

Making it simple for users to walk away from a Google service with which they are unhappy kept the company honest and on its toes, and Google competitors should embrace this data portability principle, Eric Schmidt told the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco yesterday.

"If you look at the historical large company behaviour, they ultimately do things to protect their business practices or monopoly or what have you, against the choice of the users," he said. "The more we can, for example, let users move their data around, never trap the data of an end user, let them move it if they don't like us, the better."

Schmidt, who answered questions from conference chair John Battelle and audience members, also championed the hosted, software-as-service model, calling it superior to the packaged software model, a clear swipe at rival Microsoft.

He had believed this for 20 years but PC and server technology and datacentre infrastructure had only recently become solid enough to make it feasible for people to access an application and its data remotely via the internet, Schmidt said. "Finally now the architecture works," he said.

The hosted application model provided a more convenient experience for users because it was more robust and reliable and simpler to maintain. It also made it easier for users to search for data across applications and share documents with each other, he said. Users also liked the fact that these applications were free, as opposed to the fee-based packaged software, he said.

This was why Google had entered the market with its word processing, calendaring, webmail and spreadsheet hosted applications, Schmidt said. The company recently bought hosted wiki provider JotSpot.

But Schmidt warned that Google's hosted applications were not "an office suite" in the style of Microsoft's ubiquitous Office and that Google was not trying to offer a replacement for the Microsoft suite. Google's hosted applications were intended to be an organic part of people's everyday lives, he said.

Discussing Google's acquisition of YouTube, Schmidt said it was very likely Google would keep the video sharing site as a separate service, instead of merging it with the similar Google Video. YouTube was very focused on the social networking and community aspect of video sharing, and Google wanted it to retain that emphasis.

Juan Carlos Perez writes for IDG News Service