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Part of me feels that this is actually written to the general public, and the whole public/private thing is a cover up.

This is highly unlikely. This sort of internal conversation happens a lot internally. There's no need to take it public. What would it serve? Some sort of escalation of the problem? Unlikely. It's more likely to get you a stern email than it is to get it heard.

Steve has no problems getting the ears of developers. I can't see why he would want to make it public.

There's no need to take it public. What would it serve?

Well I can speculate: Because some issues seem like real debates when you have them internally, and then you tell a bunch of outsiders and they go "uh, it's a no-brainer" and that tells you something you didn't know before: that you can't see the wood for the trees.

The thing that surprised me most about the OP is that Google actually sees itself as a product company. With the exception of search and maps (and perhaps not even search so much now) they actually aren't strong with their products, and (aside from the gargantuan scaling issues that they have to solve) they don't give the impression of working to improve their products. How much has gmail evolved over the years? Calendar? Reader? Sure, for all I know they are all tinkering furiously under the hood, but that is not what the outside world expects from somebody positioned as a product company.

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