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March 14, 2006

Google Buys Maker Of 3D Modeling Software



Courtesy of TechWeb News

Google Inc. on Tuesday said it has bought 3D modeler @Last Software, the second acquisition announced in less than a week by the search engine giant as it builds out its expanding Web services platform.

Financial details were not disclosed, nor were there any indication as to Google's plans for @Last's sole product called SketchUp, which enables people to build design concepts in 3D.

The tools are meant for a general audience, not just design professionals, and include a plug-in for Google Earth, the company's desktop software for viewing satellite images of geographical locations. The two companies had worked together on the plug-in, which was released this year.

In a posting to customers on @Last's Web site, Brad Schell, co-founder of the 7-year-old, Boulder, Colo., company, said it would continue to develop and sell SketchUp, which costs $495.

"Google's resources will allow us to serve our current users better, and Google's reach will allow us to expose more people to SketchUp in one year than we could have touched in 10 years on our own," Schell said. "'3D for Everyone' is becoming a reality; we're bringing the '3D' part; Google's contributing the 'Everyone.'"

Indeed, acquisitions of small companies like @Last could increase over the coming months as more of the major portals, including Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, look to add services to their Web platforms. For many small Internet companies today, a "building-to-be-bought" strategy is their best chance for survival, Allen Weiner, analyst for Gartner Inc., said.

"I don't see how a lot of these smaller niche vendors are going to survive," Weiner said. "They're going to have to be swallowed up by the bigger companies in the food chain."

For Google, @Last will certainly add value to its mapping platform by enabling designers to overlay SketchUp models on Google Earth, Weiner said. The technology is also likely to be used in other Google services.

Acquisition talks started when the companies worked together on the Google Earth plug-in, Schell said. "It quickly became apparent that we could really stir things up together."

Without providing any details, Schell hinted that Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., intended to do more integration between @Last's technology and Earth.

"We do not have any announced plans regarding the integration of this technology with current Google products and services, but we can say that we’re tired of all those grey boxes in Google Earth," he said.

@Last's headquarters would remain in Boulder, and it would continue to have offices in Munich and London, Schell said. The company's name would change to Google, but the product would still be sold as SketchUp.

The acquisition was the second for Google this month. The company bought startup Writely, an online word processing service that allows users to store and work with text documents on the Web.

Google has declined to discuss its integration plans for Writely, which places the search engine in direct competition with Microsoft Corp.'s plans to eventually make all its software, including Office, available as a Web service.

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