A decade ago yesterday (7 September, 1998), a new company called Google was incorporated in Menlo Park, California. Google's 10th birthday has an ironic mathematical resonance. Google was named by its two young Stanford University electrical engineering graduate students in misspelt homage to the word "googel" – an infinity-like number denoting 10 to the power of 100 (that's the number one followed by a hundred zeros).
But the irony is that, in its first 10 years, Google has achieved googel-like growth, ratcheting up the ones and zeros faster than any other company in the history of global capitalism.
The company has gone from a start-up with zero revenue to the best-known brand in the world with almost 20,000 employees, a market cap of around $150bn, annual income in 2007 of $16bn and a truly ubiquitous search-engine which indexes tens of billions of web pages, serves billions of daily requests and fields 66 per cent of all web searches. This pre-adolescent Silicon Valley company has become both the lead actor and the most complex metaphor of our digital age.
So what's next for Google? Like a child genius, has the company peaked early? Will its teenage years be anti-climactic? Where will Google celebrate its 20th birthday?
One clue to the future of Google lies in the release last week of a beta version of Chrome , its new open-source web-browser. On a prosaic level, Chrome is a classically minimalist Google product – a fast, stripped-down alternative to Firefox, Safari and Microsoft Explorer, which offers a number of new browser features such as a wickedly intuitive new search bar, significant improvements for storing web information and downloading rich-media files as well as major upgrades to online security.
Currently, only available on Windows XP and Vista, I'd advise all internet users – particularly the 75 per cent of internet users who, for one reason or another, are currently stuck with the pedestrian Windows Internet Explorer – to at least download Chrome from www.google.com/chrome and give Google's 10th birthday present to itself a test drive.
But, on a deeper, googel-like level, Chrome symbolises the future – both of Google, the internet and the wider technology industry. It is perhaps no coincidence that Chrome was released on Google's 10th birthday. The browser is an augury of the coming grand synthesis of old fashioned desk-top computing and the new world of always-on internet computing.
Chrome enables users to run applications which have traditionally relied on local personal computers. It is, therefore, a web-browser which is simultaneously an operating system.
As Google co-founder Sergey Brin said at the Chrome's press launch: "I think operating systems are kind of an old way to think of the world. They have become kind of bulky, they to have to do lots and lots of different (legacy) things."
In the long run (say, in another 10 years), Chrome will probably make traditional operating systems redundant, thereby consigning Microsoft, Google's only real rival, to the dustbin of business history.
In Silicon Valley, this next great revolution is called "cloud computing" and it signifies the migration of all information-technology to the web-browser, where everything will become a "service" distributed from the internet. In 10 years time, therefore, my guess is that Google will, both literally and metaphorically, celebrate its 20th birthday in the clouds. By 7 September, 2018, Google might not quite be like a god – but if it forces the demise of Microsoft – it might have to rename itself Googel.