There's no denying it -- Google is an Internet powerhouse. It's such an influential presence on the Web that when Yahoo! partnered with Google to put Google Ads on Yahoo! search results pages, people began to worry that Google would monopolize the search engine advertising business. Even the U.S. Congress began to question the allegiance [source: Hart]. Google has certainly come a long way -- the company grew from a haphazard collection of computers networked together in a garage to a global corporation worth billions of dollars.
The backbone to Google's business is its search engine, but that's not the only service Google offers. Do a little digging on Google's site and you'll come across everything from productivity applications to an instant messaging client. Google developed some of these products and features itself. But in some cases, Google products started out as independent projects designed by other companies. If Google executives see an interesting application that helps the company achieve its goals, there's a chance Google will make an offer to acquire that company.
It seems that Google is reluctant to promote many of its projects from beta versions -- early releases that may still have problems with functionality -- to completed products. Even Gmail, Google's e-mail client that launched in 2004, is still in beta. But some of the company's initiatives are less finished than others. Google allows users to try experimental services at the Google Labs Web site, but admits that the services "aren't quite ready for prime time" [source: Google Labs].
Let's dive right into the diverse world of Google products. We'll start by taking a closer look at Gmail.
1. Google E-mail
In 2004, a Google press release revealed that the company wasn't satisfied with dominating Internet searches -- the second-most popular online activity. Google wanted to tackle the biggest online service on the Internet: e-mail. To that end, Google announced it would allow a select number of people to test a Web-hosted e-mail service called Gmail [source: Google].
Gmail started out as Google's internal e-mail service. When Google decided to make Gmail available to people outside of the company, it chose to take a gradual approach. At first, the only way to get a Gmail account was to receive an invitation from someone else. Nearly three years after announcing Gmail, Google opened up access to the public at large. Now anyone can create a Gmail account.
Just when you thought the Internet had its fill of instant messaging clients, along came Google Talk. Introduced in 2005, Google Talk is an application that lets users send messages to each other. Unlike Gmail, the Google Talk client isn't entirely Web-based. Users must first download an application to their own computers in order to access its full set of features.
Those features go beyond simple messages. You can send unlimited files -- of unlimited size -- to other users. Just remember that if you choose to send someone a big file, it's going to take a while to transfer to the other user, especially over slower connections. Also, if you have a cap on how much data you can transfer over your network, you might face some hefty fees from your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Google Talk is also a voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) client. That means you can make PC-to-PC calls to other Google Talk users. You and your contact will both need microphones and speakers, but Google Talk handles the rest. Real-time voice transmission can take up a lot of bandwidth. Just like file transfers, you might risk going over your data cap with your ISP if you use this feature a lot.
Users can also download the Google Talk Gadget, a Web-based application that allows users to access many (but not all) Google Talk functions from a personal Web site like a blog or an iGoogle page. That means you can use any computer connected to the Internet to navigate to the right site and use Google Talk. Right now, using a Google Talk Gadget is the easiest way Mac owners can access any of Google Talk's features.
3. Google Checkout
Many people use the Internet to shop. One of the drawbacks of online shopping involves transmitting your personal information over the Internet. If you want to purchase items at different Web sites, you have to enter all your information multiple times. Google saw the opportunity to create a tool that would allow merchants and users to take advantage of a universal checkout system.
Here's how it works: first you create a Google account. If you already have a Google account, you'll need to enhance it by providing a credit card number, billing address, shipping address and a phone number. Once you complete this step, you can go shopping.
4. Google Calendar
In April 2006, Google released a free online calendar application called Google Calendar. If you have a Google account, you can create a Google Calendar. If you don't have one, you can register for a free account.
You can use Google Calendar to schedule events and invite people to participate. By sharing folders, you can compare your schedule with other users. If everyone keeps his or her calendar up to date, it's easy to avoid conflicts. A single user can open multiple calendars and view all the scheduled events in a single window. Since this can get confusing, Google displays each calendar's events in a different color.
Google includes its search feature within the Google Calendar system. You can search for specific calendars. Calendar owners can choose to keep a calendar private or share it openly with everyone. It's also possible to create multiple calendars with one account. That can come in handy for organizations that have multiple customer bases. For example, a theatre might have one calendar for the general public that shows the times of performances and a second calendar for actors to let them know about auditions and rehearsal schedules.
5. Google Docs
The Google Docs suite marks Google's attempt at getting into the online productivity software game. The free suite includes a word processor, a spreadsheet editor and a presentation application. In short, it has the basic software applications many businesses need. Instead of saving all your data to your computer's hard drive, you save your Google Docs files to a remote Google file system. Because the files are hosted on the Web, you can access them from any computer connected to the Internet. Your documents aren't tied to a specific device.
Another feature of Google Docs is the ability to share documents and editing capabilities with other Google users. Multiple people can make edits to the same document at the same time. With traditional desktop applications, a project manager might have to handle multiple copies of the same file as various collaborators make edits and additions to the document. With Google Docs, everyone can make his or her changes directly to the file saved on Google's servers. Google Docs also keeps track of earlier versions of the document -- project managers don't have to worry about someone accidentally deleting an entire section.
6. Google Maps
Google launched its online map feature in 2005, nearly 10 years after MapQuest's online debut. Like its competitor, Google Maps lets users view maps of specific regions and get directions from one location to another. Google Maps allows users to view street maps, topographical terrain maps or even satellite views. For some areas, Google also has a traffic map feature that can alert you to any snarls or bottlenecks.
The Google Maps feature relies on digital map images from NAVTEQ. NAVTEQ provides map data to many different clients, including in-vehicle navigation systems. A company called deCarta -- formerly Telcontar -- provides the applications that power the mapping features. Google employees create the applications that combine the images from NAVTEQ and the mapping capabilities provided by deCarta to create the features you see in Google Maps.
In 2008, Google added a new feature to Google Maps. Now you can get walking directions from one location to another. Previously, Google Maps only plotted out driving directions, which have to take things like one-way streets into account. Now users can find the shortest walking route between two points.
7. Google Earth Maps
Google is always looking at new ways to organize and present information. One of those ways is to geotag data. Geotagging is a way of linking information to a real-world location. You view geotagged information on a map. While Google Maps could serve as a way to provide geotagged information to users, Google decided to go with an alternative. Google chose a digital globe and called it Google Earth.Google Earth, a digital globe that gave users the ability to zoom in and out of views ranging from a few dozen feet from the surface of the Earth to the equivalent of orbiting the planet. Google Earth gives the user dozens of choices, from viewing satellite images of the planet to overlaying maps, three dimensional terrain features and even fully-rendered cityscapes.Google Earth also allows developers to create applications to link information to specific locations on the globe. Users can elect to view geotagged information ranging from general news reports to customized data. Google Earth makes it possible to illustrate news stories in a new way. For example, a news agency could illustrate a story about wildfires by plotting out the damage on Google Earth.
8. Google Desktop
Have you ever had to search for a particular file on your computer? How about an e-mail that's somewhere in the middle of a folder that has thousands of messages in it? The experience can be frustrating, and those of us who are organizationally challenged can endure a lot of stress while trying to dig up a particular piece of information.
That's where Google Desktop can come in handy. It's a downloadable application Google offers free of charge. Once a user downloads and installs the application on a computer, Google Desktop goes to work. It searches and indexes the files on the user's computer. It does all this during the idle time when the computer isn't working on other things.
You probably have a small number of Web sites or applications that you use more than others. What if you had a way to collect those Web sites so that you could go to a single location on the Web to access all of them at once? That's the concept behind iGoogle, a free aggregator or portal Web service.
The iGoogle service allows users to select multiple applications and news feeds from across the Internet. Each user can customize his or her own iGoogle page. For example, sports fans can add applications that grab the latest scores and statistics of their favorite teams from the Internet and display them in a dedicated window on the iGoogle page.
Google lets users organize their own iGoogle pages using a set of simple tools. One of those tools is a series of tabs at the top of the iGoogle page. Account holders can create tabs for specific categories of applications or news feeds. This makes it easier for users to find the information they want when they want it. Once the user sets up his or her iGoogle site, the application does the rest of the work.
10. Google Health
Changing doctors isn't always a smooth experience. On top of all the normal stress of dealing with unfamiliar people, you also have to find a way to get your medical information from your previous doctor to your new one. That usually means you have to rely on other people and hope that they respond. Transferring your medical data is important because the more information your doctor has about your medical history, the more effectively he or she will be able to diagnose and treat you when you need it.
Google's solution to this issue is to create an electronic, centralized location for your medical files called Google Health. Your doctors would transfer your files to Google's databases. Instead of having to track down the physical location of a paper file, your doctor would be able to log in to a computer and pull up your entire medical history. You don't have to worry about remembering which doctor has your file