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 Post subject: IT News: Google's small steps, giant leaps
PostPosted: Sun Oct 09, 2005 6:59 pm 
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Is Google taking over the universe? You may be forgiven for thinking so, given the events of the past couple of weeks.

In a short, seven-day span recently, Google revealed plans to partner with NASA on research, offered to provide free WiFi to the city of San Francisco and announced it would collaborate with Sun Microsystems in creating desktop software for office workers.

Seemingly every week brings a new announcement from the Mountain View Googleplex, each one bigger than the last and each provoking wide-eyed speculation -- and confusion -- about the 7-year-old company's ambitions.

Collectively, Google's unexpected ventures have elevated it into perhaps the most talked-about and influential company in the tech world. What Microsoft was to the PC era, Google is to the Internet era.

Speculation about its future abounds. Will Google blanket the Earth with free WiFi so it can serve targeted advertising to people and entice them into using its services? Will it upend Microsoft's business by releasing a Web-based competitor to Office? Is it headed to the moon?

``Their company mission is to organize all the world's information,'' said Peter Weck, chief technology officer with job search site Simply Hired. ``They take that seriously and in the broadest sense.''

Nearly everywhere

Google owns the most popular search engine, a highly regarded e-mail service and an Internet voice calling technology called Google Talk. It's digitizing and indexing the world's libraries and experimenting with video -- both amateur and broadcast. And it offers free downloads of photo-sharing software and access to a free blogging service. Rumors were flying last week that it would enter the classified advertising business.

Meanwhile, Google's 4,000-plus workforce is growing daily, as it hires some of the world's premier technical talent.

Although some see a Silicon Valley juggernaut swallowing up anything in its path, technology journalist John Battelle, who just wrote a book about Internet search and Google, sees threads that logically connect most of Google's ventures:

``Any application that can be served over a massive computing network and which can be paired with advertising,'' Battelle says.

Whether that definition extends to Google's most recent -- and most provocative -- initiatives is unclear. For instance, the recent Sun and NASA announcements -- long on flash and short on substance -- left many scratching their heads.

Insiders insist the company's motives are not always what they might appear to outsiders.

``People read too much into what we do sometimes,'' co-founder Sergey Brin said last week.

Experimental culture

With its riches -- it just raised more than $4 billion in a second stock offering and has $7 billion in the bank -- and its array of technical talent, the company has the luxury of experimenting in many different areas. Indeed, Google has intentionally created a loose culture of experimentation.

Much speculation, for example, centered on Google's offer in late September to blanket San Francisco with free WiFi. But the proposal was apparently spearheaded by just one Google employee. And although management signed off on it, the move doesn't necessarily signal a long-term strategy for Google -- not yet, anyway.

``Google can afford to play and dig around and find the opportunities and burn off some cash,'' said Bob Wyman, co-founder of New York search company PubSub.

Mike Homer, a former Netscape executive who is co-founder of video technology company Kontiki, agreed. ``What Google has said again and again is that they will experiment with things that they sort of understand may not become a main component of their strategy,'' Homer said. ``I think what Google's done brilliantly is they're willing to put stuff in play. It creates a culture of action.''

Whether Google intends to go after a piece of Microsoft's desktop software business is perhaps the most intriguing question.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy said last week that the two companies would work together on distributing and developing each other's software, including improving Sun's OpenOffice, the open-source competitor to Microsoft's Office, the word processing, spreadsheet and PowerPoint programs used by millions of people. But the duo were vague beyond that.

Nonetheless, many are convinced that Google intends to use its massive computing network to offer Web-based software now common on the desktop.

`Like an exoskeleton'

Stephen E. Arnold, author of an online book about Google based on interviews with company engineers, says it has built ``a great big parallel computer that wraps around the globe, like an exoskeleton'' that is perfect for ``hosting'' applications.

``I think we'll see some real probing to see if they can steal revenue from Microsoft,'' Arnold said. ``And if it doesn't work out, they can back off.''

Google's strategy of experimenting has not appeared to detract from its main business -- selling ads on its Web site and those of business partners. That business -- which accounts for more than 95 percent of its revenue -- is growing handily and will remain the company's main focus, executives say.

At a gathering of analysts earlier this year, Schmidt laid out the company's business model -- 70 percent focused on Internet search, 20 percent on related products and 10 percent on ``things that are truly interesting to us.''

``Every company that has forgotten to remain innovative has ultimately lost in the next technology change,'' Schmidt told analysts. ``So the 70-20-10 turns out to be roughly the right answer for us.''

Uncertainty about where Google is headed next hangs like a cloud over other companies that may find themselves butting heads with the tech giant -- much like the shadow of Microsoft in an earlier era.

When pitching business ideas to potential backers in the 1980s, entrepreneurs would invariably be asked, ``What's Microsoft doing in this space?'' said San Diego entrepreneur Brian Dear. ``Now it's `What's Google doing?' '' said Dear, founder of online events Web site, Eventful.

As powerful as Google has become, it's not invincible.

Its biggest threat

The biggest threat to Google once seemed to be that another start-up with a great idea would emerge to supplant it. But as Google extends its reach, that seems less likely.

There are obvious threats, such as the possibility that the online advertising world that Google relies on so heavily might shift underfoot.

Battelle sees another risk: Public trust in Google would be endangered if it were ever found to be using the information it collects from users for ill will.

``They could lose 30 or 40 percent of their traffic overnight if that happened,'' Battelle said.

On the other hand, Google could do nothing wrong and still fall victim to the same growth-and-decline cycle -- and loss of prestige -- that once affected IBM, some believe.

Battelle notes Google doesn't yet have the same advantage that allowed Microsoft to remain so powerful for so long.

``They don't have the same ability to suffocate people as Microsoft did,'' Battelle said. ``Microsoft could bake everything into the operating system. That's not the case with Google. If you don't like it, you don't have to use it.''

Mercury News

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 13, 2005 9:16 pm 
(Long Article)

I can't wait to see what Google comes up with over the next comign weeks/months/years, this is going to be really interesting to see howthis ties into all of the upcoming electronics.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 14, 2005 2:51 am 
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