Google's plans for a $2.7 billion initial public offering (IPO) have generated frenzied stock market attention. But they have also led some experts to consider the company's long term ambitions to develop technologies that go far beyond web searching.
"My overall sense is that they see a broader future than most people are talking about," says Dan Kusnetzky at US analyst firm IDC.
The IPO plans, announced on Thursday, have provided potential investors with their first glimpse of Google's financial records and the company's inner structure. Google rapidly grew to prominence after launching in 1998 because the "PageRank" algorithms behind its search service proved to be more efficient than existing services for locating information on the web.
Since its debut, however, Google has moved in new directions, by developing new technology for itself or buying other innovative companies. For example, Google has refined its search algorithms to let users search for product images or news stories. Google also offers online diaries or "weblogs" as well as social networking through a site called Orkut.
The latest development came on 1 April when Google revealed plans for a free email service called Gmail. Google said it would provide each user with one gigabyte of storage space, vastly more than is provided by competitors, such as MSN Hotmail and Yahoo. Gmail will also let users search through all their email quickly and will provide adverts based on the content of a message - something that has raised privacy concerns. The company has revealed that 95 per cent of its revenue now comes from advertising.
This announcement prompted some technically-minded observers to suggest that Google's long term strategy may be to provide other functionality normally associated with desktop computing. Some have speculated that Google may be working towards providing web users with an account on a massive distributed platform that would carry out tasks more usually carried out by a desktop operating system like Microsoft's Windows.
"More and more we expect to see applications that are hosted on the network and accessed thought a constellation of devices," Kusnetzky says. "And my sense is that Gmail was the first attempt to come up with a service that will be accessible from a range of devices as well as the desktop."
The IPO plans have revealed a number of intriguing facts. One is that co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page do not in fact own the patent for PageRank. This belongs to Stanford University, although Brin and Page have exclusive rights to it until 2011. Another is that Google says it is aiming to raise $2,718,281,828 from its share sale, a number identical to the important mathematical constant e, which is the base for natural logarithms.
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