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Monday, January 16, 2006

European companies develop search engine to rival Google

In his New Year's address outlining his administration's plans for 2006, French President Jacques Chirac focused on plans for a European search engine to rival US internet companies such as Yahoo and Google. Some of the top tech labs in France and Germany are reportedly working on the 'Quaero' (Latin for 'to search') search engine.

Those involved in the Quaero project, including Thomson, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, have said that it will be much more than a typical search engine. It will provide an array of multimedia tools for identifying and indexing images, sound and text. Quaero will also reportedly include a powerful translating tool which will be able to 'understand' audio as well as text. The developers plan to make Quaero available on all platforms, including PCs, mobile devices and digital TVs.

The ambitious project will probably not be available anytime in the near future. Quaero is still in the earliest stages of development, so early that none of the major players have yet ventured a guess as to how much the project might cost. When Quaero does launch, it will have a great deal of catching up to do. Google currently has a tight hold on its position as the world's leading search engine, and it shows no signs of loosening its grip. The company is coming off its busiest year yet, with new projects in software offerings, VoIP and library digitisation.

The Quaero project is by no means the first attempt to dethrone Google. Companies like Microsoft and Yahoo spend millions of dollars every year to compete with the search engine. But for the Quaero project, more may be at stake, namely Europe's cultural identity in the information age. As President Chirac said in his New Year's address, 'Today the new geography of knowledge and cultures is being drawn. Tomorrow, that which is not available online runs the risk of being invisible to the world.'

Other European projects are currently underway to compete with the US' and Japan's technological dominance. The EU recently launched the first satellite of the Galileo constellation, which will eventually provide a navigation system to rival the US' Global Positioning System (GPS). Also, French broadcasters hope to launch CFII this year, an international satellite TV news channel aimed at competing with CNN.

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