Google cofounder and president of technology Sergey Brin made a surprise appearance at the Web 2.0 Summit on Thursday, answering a variety of questions on hot-button issues affecting the search company.
Interviewed on stage by conference chairman John Battelle, Brin lamented Yahoo's decision to enter into a search outsourcing deal with Microsoft.
"I think it's a shame Yahoo plans to abdicate that area because they were doing interesting things," Brin said about the deal, which calls for Yahoo to turn off its back-end search crawling and indexing systems and instead use Microsoft's Bing to power its search engine.
Brin declined to say whether he thinks government regulators should or shouldn't approve the Yahoo-Microsoft deal, but he complimented Yahoo on what he called interesting innovations in search.
Since announcing the deal, Yahoo executives have gone to great lengths to say the company will remain a player in search by continuing to innovate at the user interface level, competing even against Bing for users.
Asked for his opinion on Bing, which Microsoft launched in May, Brin said he has used it, just like he uses all search engines, and that it also has interesting features.
"Bing has reminded us that search is a very competitive market," Brin said.
A big disappointment for him has been Google's delay in releasing a Mac OS version of its Chrome browser. "This delay is something many of us suffer through," Brin said.
The Mac OS version isn't even at a beta-test level yet, but rather at a much earlier stage of development, he said.
Brin reiterated his surprise at the acrimonious controversy that has surrounded the company's Book Search service since Google started scanning and digitizing millions of books from library collections without always obtaining permission from copyright owners.
Google hammered out a settlement a year ago with US authors and publishers, who sued it for copyright infringement in 2005, but the settlement came under heavy criticism and is being reworked, particularly because the US Department of Justice recommended it be rejected by the judge overseeing the case.
"I'm surprised at the level of resistance," Brin said.
However, he remains optimistic that the revised settlement, which is still in the works, will be approved and that Google will be able to proceed with its plan to make tens of millions of books available online.
Brin also said he takes exception to criticism from the publishing industry that Google has unfairly profited from the content of newspapers and magazines.
To pin the blame on Google for the publishing industry's problems is unfair, he said. How people consume content is changing across the board, a shift that isn't due to Google but to a larger technology evolution, he asserted.
"I don't agree with their conclusion but I hear their pain," Brin said, adding that it's important for major publications to remain financially healthy and to have sustainable business models.
Asked about Google's deal with Twitter to crawl and index its messages, Brin had little to add, but made a point of complimenting Twitter CEO Evan Williams. Williams also created Blogger, which helped launch the blogging revolution and was acquired by Google.
"To see him go out and succeed even more dramatically a second time" reaffirms the impact tech entrepreneurs can have, Brin said.
Williams is also part of a network of Google "alumni," which makes it easier for Google to strike deals with the companies they go to and which fosters more trust between Google and those companies, Brin said.