Thursday, June 15, 2006

Google expansion

Google thinks big in search for worldwide domination

On the banks of the Colombia river, the company is planning to build a machine so powerful that none of us will need a computer of our own. Our correspondent reports on the race to beat Yahoo and Microsoft

James Doran

The Times 15 June 2006

IN LARGE black letters on a 50-foot-wide suggestion board hanging in the lobby of Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters is scrawled the message: Take Over The World.

Some of the ideas on the board are doubtless tongue-in-cheek, but this one sums up Google’s ultimate ambition.
Many of the seemingly outlandish suggestions are marked with a big red tick. These are the ideas that have come to fruition in the seven years since Google was founded.
A Google spokeswoman insists with no hint of irony that all the others are being worked on by some of the world’s brainiest boffins somewhere in the labyrinthine corridors of the futuristic university campus they call the Googleplex. Even the one about teleporting.
Google is locked in a race with Microsoft and Yahoo to dominate the internet. In turn, it is intent on transforming our lives into a series of digitised functions out of which it intends to make ever larger fortunes.
Imagine a computer so big and so powerful that none of us will ever again need a PC, just an internet connection to link us to the bit of that giant PC that contains all our data. That internet connection could either come in the shape of a very small, very cheap desktop screen and modem with minimal processing power, a mobile phone or personal digital assistant, or even a television.
Such a world is not so far away. In fact we are three quarters of the way there already and many tech-savvy computer users take advantage of similar services already offered by Google and others.
But to achieve this goal for computer users worldwide Google would need a supercomputer, or supercomputers, the size of, say, two football fields — coincidentally the size of the complex Google is building on the banks of the Columbia River.
Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, said recently that would take about 300 years at current rates to index all the information in the world.
“To be better at what we do we need to have more servers, to be bigger and to be faster,” Urs Holzle, Google’s senior vice-president for operations who is responsible for developing the company’s computing power, told The Times.
But what will it do with all that power and information, once it comes online? The denizens of Google Labs are charged with coming up with life-enhancing inventions that Google can turn to its financial advantage.
Already Google has the rudiments of an internet telephone service called Google Talk. With enough capacity to roll out a reliable service worldwide it could easily take on the likes of BT.
Froogle is the company’s online shopping tool. But imagine being able to order from your mobile phone your groceries from Tesco, a new suit from Selfridges, and a bunch of flowers from your local florist and have them delivered to your front door as you sit on the bus on the way to work.
These are ideas that have been bandied about since the internet was in its infancy. But with a series of giant supercomputers powering its searches and related services Google hopes it can bring these ideas into the everyday.

Books, newspapers and magazines would be things of the past if Google had its way.
If all published material were digitised and stored by Google, anything written by any author anywhere in the world could be downloaded and read at any time. The same goes for scholarly theses, school curriculums, training manuals and bluprints. Students from Southend to Somalia could study together in a forum where class size would be no problem.

Once a student has downloaded a curriculum or textbook he or she would need a word processor or a spreadsheet program to do their homework.
But Microsoft Word and Excel are expensive. Enter Google once more. The company has recently put its own word processor and spreadsheet program online that anyone with an internet connection can use for free.
All these ideas have Bill Gates, the Microsoft chief, Yahoo and countless other high-tech and software companies squirming as the Google juggernaut gathers speed on the information superhighway.
Talking of highways, if you have ever been stuck outside a rainy pub on a Saturday night in need of a cab, Google’s latest invention is for you.
The company is testing a mobile tracking device that will help to find a vacant taxi, the right night bus, or indeed the appropriate Tube train or tram to take you home.
These are just a tiny proportion of the ideas being mulled over inside the Googleplex. The Mountain View campus is an astonishing place. The atmosphere of intellectual discussion and invention, the quiet hum of all those brains, makes one think of a university in Renaissance Florence, or 15th- century Rotterdam. The chief difference is that the Googleplex seems to be populated by several thousand Star Trek conventioneers.
The company has created a café society with dozens of outdoor tables where nutritious vegetarian and organic food is served free around the clock. Clutches of young Indian men earnestly sip fruit and vegetable cocktails, locked in debate about whichever of the life-changing ideas they happen to be working on. Inside, young people in student garb sit in massage chairs or on exercise bikes or stand around pool tables; one even plays the piano. All of them, the company insists, are deep in thought. There is a free laundry, several dry-cleaning drop-off boxes, even an onsite mechanic. The mundane is taken care of so the Google boffins can concentrate on their inventions.
Louis Monier, the founder of the former Google rival Alta Vista and the godfather of internet search engines, can be found wandering around the corridors, rubbing his beard in professorial contemplation.
“We need to keep thinking up ideas to make people want to use Google instead of using Yahoo! or MSN or another search engine,” he said. Mr Holzle, who also resembles a college professor, agrees — but he has a grander vision for Google.
“I see in the future that the massive global community that the web inevitably creates will break down all borders,” he said with a true zealot’s quiet intensity.
“National borders, ideological borders, technological borders and so on. The internet will bring about great things for the world and for people.”

The scale of Google's ambition

Rhys Blakely

The Times 15 June 2006

The size of Google’s secret computing complex in Oregon – as big as two football fields – sheds light on only a fraction of the company’s ambitions.

The three big internet companies – Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft – are locked in a battle that will shape our behaviour for decades to come. The key to victory is how information – ranging from the addresses of local restaurants to television schedules to sophisticated data on, say, the workings of the world’s stock markets – is handled and distributed. This will be the overarching problem the PhDs (Google has for some time been engaged in a global recruiting drive, seeking out only the very brightest) who work in the Oregon "Googleplex" will be working on.
Google recently hinted at the scale of the task when Eric Schmidt, the company’s chief executive, revealed its own analysts have worked out that it would take 300 years to make all the world’s information searchable.
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are all working on the premise that if information can be searched it can – in Silicon Valley jargon – be "monetised". So far, this has meant that adverts can be attached to it.
Google makes the lion’s share of its revenues – the company's sales came in at more than $2 billion in the first three months of this year – by adding ads to search results on its flagship website. But it is worried that these revenues will eventually – and inevitably – slow. To counter this it is using its vast $10 billion cash pile in a breakneck drive to diversify.
Among other things, the company also wants to be a television station (Google Video), a telephone company (GoogleTalk), a classified ads site (Google Base) and an online retailer (Froogle). Yahoo and Microsoft have ambitions along the same lines.
Among the seemingly more outlandish ideas seriously considered by Google have been the construction of a "space elevator" – a massive conveyor belt that would take payloads into space.
But Google’s competitors will be far more worried – for the time being – about its ambitions closer to home. In particular, Microsoft, the world’s largest software developer, is under threat after Google recently added to its suite of software products by revealing a spreadsheet program, a rival to Microsoft’s market leading Excel, and a word-processing package, Writely, designed to wean users off Microsoft’s near ubiquitous Word.
This new generation of "web-based applications" use
huge "server farms" – massive clusters of machines that can harness far more computing power to solve a problem than a single PC can. These farms – the Oregan site is almost certainly home to one – are used to store and process data and a user's PC effectively becomes a dumb terminal, used to access the supercomputer "brain" through the web.
Google has also been busy entering markets by proxy. It is the source of a massive amount of funding for the Mozilla Foundation, which makes the Firefox internet browser – the main rival to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Mozilla is an open "source company" – which means it shares the blueprints – or "source code" of its products with anybody who wants them.
Microsoft regards these sort of companies as public enemy No 1. It is hard not to see Google’s activity as calculated to irk Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman, the world’s richest man. The ploy has probably worked – Microsoft’s share price plunged earlier this year after it said it would spend $2 billion in an effort to keep up with Google.
There are even suggestions that Google wants to build its own version of the internet. Already the company has offered to make San Francisco into one giant "hotspot" – where people with a wireless connection can access the web for free. But it has also advertised for experts in "dark fibre" – the thousands of miles of optical cable that were laid at the height of the dot-com boom but which have since gone unused. It could conceivably use these as a kind of super-internet, capable of transmitting much more information at much higher speeds than currently possible on the web. The Oregan site could play a key role in such a project by allowing Google to host vast amounts of data there.
Taking all these projects - just a taste of Google's portfolio - in aggregate, a picture forms where one day in the future Google will not only help you find stuff on the web – for free. It will also bill you for using its voice and data network (a senior BT executive last week identified Google as the major threat to his company). You will not even need to visit to buy a book, since the entire canon will be available online through Google Print, the controversial plan to digitise the world’s great libraries. If you get lost away from your PC, Google Maps will help you find your way – probably through your mobile phone, a gadget on which Google has its sights firmly set.
And if you need to urgently send a payload into space, there’s even a chance it will be able to help you there as well.

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