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Searching for new conquests


The faces of Google and Nasdaq executives appear in a video image blown up on the giant wrap-around screen above the NASDAQ Marketsite as the company went public on Aug. 19, 2004. Money raised from going public has vastly increased Google's potential for expansion. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
The faces of Google and Nasdaq executives appear in a video image blown up on the giant wrap-around screen above the NASDAQ Marketsite as the company went public on Aug. 19, 2004. Money raised from going public has vastly increased Google's potential for expansion. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Michael Liedtke Associated Press

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. 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 Watch.

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 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 world.

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.

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.

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.

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