TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Google Morphs Into Multifaceted Juggernaut

Google Morphs Into Multifaceted Juggernaut

Michael Liedtke (
Mon, 3 Oct 2005 14:39:15 -0500

By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer

SAN FRANCISCO - In just seven years, Google Inc. has morphed from a
bare-bones online search engine into a technological octopus that
seems to sprout another intriguing tentacle every other week.

The Mountain View, Calif.,-based company, with $7.1 billion to spend
thanks to zealous shareholder support, is now positioned to head down
a variety of different paths. And that's spurring an almost-daily
guessing game about where Google's flurry of innovation might lead.

Internet and software rivals like Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news) and
Microsoft Corp. aren't the only ones tracking Google. Big media and
telecommunications companies also are on the lookout, realizing they
too may face a looming threat.

The theories about Google's next move are all over the map.

Is Google cobbling together an Internet-driven computing platform that
would challenge Microsoft's stranglehold on the personal computer? Is
the company preparing to build a wireless network that would provide
free Internet access nationwide? Will Google dip into its huge hoard
of cash to pull off a blockbuster deal?

There's a consensus on one overarching point: "Google wants to be
everywhere that people are," said Danny Sullivan, who has followed the
company closely as editor of the industry newsletter Search Engine

But Google's long-range objectives remain obscure. Is the company
simply exploring different ways to distribute the ads that generate
virtually all of its revenue? Or is Google pursuing a much grander
plan that ultimately will transform the way people work, communicate,
shop, read and even watch TV?

Former Stanford University graduate students Larry Page and Sergey
Brin have never been shy about sharing their ambitions to change the

But they have never been keen on discussing the specific implications
underlying the company's stated mission "to organize the world's
information and make it universally accessible and useful."

Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who makes all the key decisions with Page and
Brin, isn't about to start divulging any secrets now.

"You can't know what we are really up to until you are in the bowels
of the company," Schmidt said during a recent interview with The
Associated Press.

John Battelle, the author of a recently released book on Google's
impact and potential, thinks the company's mystique has turned it into
the equivalent of a Rorschach inkblot -- an amorphous object that's
defined by the hopes and fears of whomever is looking at it.

"When we see a remarkable new company that redefines the technology
industry, we either fear it because of all the things it might do or
we expect more from it than it can possibly deliver," Battelle said.

Some previous theories about Google's maneuvering already have turned
out to be off base. For instance, last year, it was widely believed
that the company planned to introduce its own Web browser. Schmidt has
since thrown cold water on that idea.

There's little doubt that Google is going to get much bigger.

The company made that clear last week when it announced plans to build
a 1-million-square-foot campus just a few miles away from its
915,000-square-foot headquarters, known as the "Googleplex," on the
grounds of

NASA's Ames Research Center. Google needs the space for thousands of
new workers and plans to draw on the brain power of NASA's rocket
scientists. The new hires will join a payroll that already has nearly
tripled in the past two years to 4,200 employees.

For all its growth, Google remains a relative midget alongside
Microsoft, which employs 61,000 workers and holds nearly $38 billion
in cash.

But few companies spend more time worrying about Google than
Microsoft, and not just because its rival has been raiding its work
force to lure away talented engineers. The defectors include Kai-Fu
Lee -- currently prevented from working on search technology because
Microsoft sued him for jumping to Google -- and Mark Lucovsky, a key
architect of the Windows operating system.

Since 2003, Google has rolled out an assortment of software and
services that could coalesce into a challenge to Microsoft's Office
suite of applications, says Stephen Arnold, whose recently completed
electronic book, "The Google Legacy," examines the company's ambitions
beyond online search.

After studying the details of the patents that Google has obtained
during the past two years, Arnold is convinced the company plans to
build upon the sophisticated computer architecture that drives its
search engine to offer a Web-hosted alternative to Windows.

"They have the infrastructure to challenge a company like Microsoft,"
Arnold said.

All of this hasn't gone unnoticed at Microsoft headquarters, where CEO
Steve Ballmer vowed to kill Google in an obscenity-laced tirade late
last year, according to a sworn court declaration submitted by
Lucovsky in the lawsuit targeting Lee.

Ballmer has described Lucovsky's recollection as a "gross

Google does seem to have designs that extend well beyond the turf of
the world's richest and best-known technology company.

While gearing up for its looming showdown with Microsoft, Google also has:

. Launched an effort to create digital versions of entire
brick-and-mortar libraries, triggering copyright infringement
allegations from the publishing industry, which fears Google won't be
able to protect the contents.

. Unveiled a system for talking over the Internet, spurring
speculation about a potential Google-branded telephone;

. Dabbled in wireless Internet access at a handful of connection
points near its Silicon Valley home and now wants to extend the
service throughout San Francisco, inspiring predictions about a
nationwide network that will enable people to get on the Web for free;

. Confirmed the development of an online payment system that hints at
company designs on electronic commerce;

. Started to stockpile video and transcripts of previously broadcast
material, fueling theories that Google wants to play a bigger role in

. And raised $5.3 billion in two separate stock offerings, providing
ample financial ammunition for a major acquisition or investment in
other projects that might open even more doors.

Industry analyst Lauren Rich Fine suspects Google might use some of
that money to buy a stake in its biggest business partner, America
Online -- and thus thwart Microsoft's reported attempt to form an
alliance with AOL.

Google declined to comment on that possibility.

There's already plenty on Google's plate, so much so that some
industry observers suspect the company will become a 21st-century
Icarus, a high-flying Internet company brought down by its own hubris.

Others believe Google possesses the technical dexterity to wrap its
arms around all of its disparate projects.

But even the optimists like Battelle have their doubts.

"There are no guarantees for Google," he says. "The biggest question
is whether they can accomplish everything they want before someone
else comes along with even better ideas."

On the Net:
John Battelle's Web log:
Stephen Arnold's "Google Legacy" book:

Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press.

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