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Chinese online search provider Baidu Inc. (BIDU) aims to develop software that lets users of smartphones and other devices navigate and perform other activities online via a search box on the screen, the company said Wednesday, in a indication that Baidu could be preparing to develop an operating system that would put it closer in competition with Google Inc. (GOOG).
Baidu aims "to obviate operating systems so that the user interface on any device, be it a personal computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone, is a simple, yet powerful box that does anything the user wants using conversational language," Chief Executive Robin Li told Dow Jones Newswires Wednesday.
Li began promoting its "box computing" strategy in 2009, saying the company should develop technology around the concept that all computing tasks--from Web search to starting other programs or even finding someone to date--should be available from a search box like the one on Baidu's home page.
When asked if Baidu will develop an operating system, Li said the company's plan will need the support of operating systems, but "someone else can do it or we can do it ourselves, (it) does not matter."
Baidu's long-term goal is for devices to be able to have the software open and ready to use within seconds of being powered on, spokesman Kaiser Kuo said.
Developing an operating system would put Baidu in closer competition with its main rival in the Chinese search market, Google, whose Android operating system is popular on mobile phones in China even though the U.S. company last year moved its China search service to Hong Kong amid concerns about hacking and Chinese government censorship.
Li last year said Baidu was in talks with mobile handset makers that use the Android operating system about embedding a Baidu search box on their phones.
The remarks come after the Financial Times reported that Baidu plans to develop a mobile device operating system, citing Li. Kuo declined to say if Baidu might design an operating system, though he said it wouldn't rule out that possibility.
Android has a large "first-mover advantage," but handset makers wouldn't shy away from partnering with Baidu on any operating system from the company given Baidu's large user base, said Jin Yoon, regional head of Internet research at Nomura in Hong Kong.
Having an operating system for mobile devices would unlikely have a large impact on Baidu's search revenue, but could allow the company to direct more users to other Baidu services in areas like video, music or gaming, Yoon said.
"Mobile search opportunity is very minimal," he said.
-By Owen Fletcher, Dow Jones Newswires; 8610 8400 7702; email@example.com