The Economist has a nice backgrounder on Google, with a look ahead:
Google now faces a three-way fight with Yahoo! and Microsoft, which have both vowed to dethrone it as the dominant internet search engine. Yahoo!’s strategy is to interconnect its various online services, from search to dating to maps, in increasingly clever ways, while Microsoft’s plan is to integrate desktop and internet searching in a seamless manner, so that search facilities will be embedded in all its software, thus doing away (the company hopes) with the need to use Google. Both firms are also working to improve their basic search technology in order to compete with Google.
In response, Google has gradually diversified itself, adding specialist discussion groups, news and shopping-related search services, and a free e-mail service, Gmail, which is currently being tested by thousands of volunteers. It has also developed toolbar software that can be permanently installed on a PC, allowing web searches to be performed without having to visit the Google website, and establishing a toe-hold on its users’PCs.
Google’s technical credentials are not in doubt. The question is whether it can maintain its position, as search, the activity where it is strongest, moves from centre stage to being just part of a bundle of services. Yet the example of Gmail shows how search can form the foundation of other services: rather than sorting mail into separate folders, Gmail users can simply use Google’s lightning-fast search facility to find a specific message. So the technology that made Google great could yet prove to be its greatest asset in the fight ahead. Let battle commence.