How can Google grow?

Google is supposed to be going public soon at some sort of fantastically high valuation.  A friend asked “How can they possibly grow into that?  What can they do besides search?”

If Google is to reach and sustain a Microsoft-style valuation perhaps the best way for them to do this is by providing alternatives to what Microsoft provides.  Microsoft is the kind of desktop applications.  You buy software from a store and install it on your machine.  If a new version comes out you figure out how to buy and install an upgrade.  If you get a new computer you spend several days reinstalling all of your applications, probably buying new copies of the ones whose installation CD-ROMs you can’t find anymore.  If you’re traveling and need to edit a document or spreadsheet, tough luck.  All of your data is trapped on your home or office computer.

In the Internet enthusiasm of the 1990s various people predicted that desktop applications would be replaced by Web-based applications  For most users this has come true in the case of email.  If you’re a Hotmail or Google Mail user you can read email from any Internet-connected computer in the world.  There are a fair number of Internet-based photo sharing and database services.  What is then left on one’s PC?  Word processing, spreadsheet, and PowerPoint documents.  If Google were to offer a private database service and a suite of reasonably powerful application programs usable from a Web browser, this might be a serious competitor to Microsoft Office.

So that’s my prediction:  while Microsoft is trying to replace Google with MSN Search, Google will be trying to replace Microsoft Office with Google Web-based Office.

27 thoughts on “How can Google grow?

  1. “If Google were to offer a private database service and a suite of reasonably powerful application programs usable from a Web browser…”

    It seems like everyone and his brother has tried this and they always hit the wall. HTML+CSS+Javascript+Flash+Acrobat+Server Side Scripting+SQL based applications (and you really need just about all of this to design a halfway decent application) just don’t present a nice enough interface compared to Mac/Windows/Swing/X-Windows interfaces. To get an application even reasonably nice you have to do a horrendous amount of work and then it still blows up on every fourth browser. Creating a simple app that lets you traverse a hierarchical set of records and edit them (think a tree of the organization’s employees on the left and a detail screen on the right) takes a decent programmer about a half an hour to do in VB6 and it is hard has hell, requires custom controls, four different programming languages (HTML, Javascript, SQL and a scripting language on the server side) and you can’t even work with half of the programmatic events that Windows allows you to capture. To get this to work reasonably well as an HTML application can take half a day and then, again, it blows up in a quarter of the browsers out there, doesn’t work as nice as Windows, and doesn’t respond to user’s desktop preference settings or color choices.

    The best thing that Google or anyone could do now is come up with an integrated, standards based, development environment for browsers that doesn’t require the programmer to be constantly thinking about security, round trips, form variables, browser versions, and fifty other things. Then the experience of online apps would be better for users and programmer alike and many more applications would be built to do exactly what you call for.

    And while I’m ordering, I would like the interface to look more like Panther than XP by default and include a more robust set of APIs than .NET.

  2. Nah…Google doesn’t need to try to horn in on Microsoft’s market. The road to success is not to follow others but to blaze your own trail. Google is the only “internet search engine” company that seems to realize that the field is really just a subset of a “how the heck do you automatically organize data?” company.

    In many ways, what Google is doing is a lot harder, and a lot more interesting than building an office suite, or an operating system. They’re trying to build systems to organize arbitrary data. One could argue that a true success in this area would be the biggest advance in information science since the computer.

  3. Many growth companies fail because they spread themselves too thin. It took Microsoft 20 years to grow into the company they are. Google has done quite well, until this last year, in pacing themselves.

  4. I agree with ucblockhead; I don’t see why Google would try to develop a web-based office suite. Their targetting of gmail is intended to prop up their user base, get synergies, and attack hotmail, which is a profit center for MSN. It’s not about dominating office apps IMO.

    Speaking of web-based office suite, I was using one every day (I didn’t even have Office installed on my machine) more than three years ago. It was called Netdocs, and in many ways the experience was better than office, since everything was integrated in a single “universal canvas” that included e-mail, spreadsheet, word processor, and presentations. We decided to cancel Netdocs for various reasons, but it was good enough for my daily use and could have shipped, IMO. So the idea is not crazy, and is actually technically feasible.

  5. Taking on MS in the office suite arena would be kinda like rushin a machine gun.

    I think that if google wants to gain an attractive application market then is should go after an area where the big players are targeting fortune 500 co’s and MS is just getting its feet wet.

    How about some financial apps that scale from my checkbook to a mid-sized business (and nifty hooks into ebay and bill-pay services too).

    And an hr piece that could handle that 5-250 employee market space (send the payroll through adp, and offer plenty of interfaces to web-enabled insurance co’s)

    Then to top it off, tie it all together with the existing search and gmail only soup it up with a nice workflow engine…

    Gee, where could they pick up some nice open source pieces to this pie?

  6. I don’t know the anseer, but, I think that by promising to “not be evil” as part of their corporate motto, they can rest assured they’ll be doing something that MicroSoft never bothered to do. MicroSoft makes things that are big, annoying and slow. has all sorts of stupid ads everywhere, you have to follows a maze of text between blinking ads. Google has a nice clean interface, and there are ads there, but they’re not getting in your way. Also, HotMail gives 2MB of storage, and charges for anything more, whereas google realized, hey, it’s really not that big a sacrifice for us to give 500 times that amount to people, so why not do it? Instead of trying to nickel and dime people, like MicroSoft, they try to delivery a genuinely superior product, and guess what — it works. Contrary to popular opinion, the same can’t be said for Apple, which knows how many slaves they have and go ahead and overcharge as much as possible.

  7. Google has an edge: it knows how to make products that people *choose* to use. I think Google could afford to stick a few engineers on OpenOffice and figure out a decent revenue model that’s different from 450 bucks a head.

  8. When our company’s Exchange server crashed, we lost so much data. A trusted mail service like Gmail would offer so much value by just doing the backups for us.

  9. hmm. i think, nowadays, in time of free and open-source software AND in time of mobilisation (more and more people buy notebooks), it is faster to download openoffice, install it on your hardware (and open office runs on many systems) and carry your data with you.
    it would be a nice idea to store your office-data at google and access it through their web-based office, but i don’t know whether this software could get adaquate (esp. in speed) to current software you can buy at stores.
    and: as gun nut says, how often will a browser crash…!

  10. It’s worth pointing out that while you might describe the valuation as microsoft-style, Google’s valuation is something like 1/10th of Microsoft’s and 60% of Yahoo’s.

  11. Nobody has mentioned where the money comes from, or in other words, what business Google is in. It isn’t software, it’s advertising. Just as with television, radio, newspapers, and magazines — in short, any media — content will take a back seat to the real driver, advertising revenue. Microsoft isn’t a major player in the media business, but apparently they’d like to be. Long term, we’ll see that Microsoft isn’t Google’s real target.

    If we think of Google as a media company, then certainly there is potential for scalability, as media is a huge business worldwide. I’m not sure of the timing or the precise business model, but I am certain that the Internet and its technological successors are going to be money-making media eventually.

  12. I too vote for wimpy point. Oops, where are my wimpy presentations? … on the AD web site. No problem I have copies. As to Google, anything to give MS a small hurdle is good. But surely there is some room in this whole mess for another SCO lawsuit!? Maybe they will sue Phil!

  13. Some of the comments have missed the gist of the technology. Don’t run the app inside the browser but develop an app which has an IP connection to a server with a SQL database. A three-tiered Direct to Java Client application. Swing, started poorly, still needs improvement, but can get close to the native look and the feel of the platform.

    The larger problem is that when M$ killed Java and left developers with no cross-platform language to use the market for three-tier applications collapsed.
    Two things make me angry beyond words (in order), 1) the M$ criminal monopoly and 2) the idea that software should be free, an idea mostly fostered by those hiding behind their academic salaries.

  14. You want a platform-independent document format? Use notepad. Store your TXT files on iDrive.

    You want a rich, interactive application that makes document-related tasks easy? That simply is not possible given the current incarnation of the Internet and HTML. HTML was never designed to be an application framework. It was built to disseminate hypertext, and it does so efficiently. But the moment you start trying to trap events or interact with the user in any way, the infrastructure just buckles and comes crashing down.

    And besides, no serious individual will store his/her private documents on Google’s server to be scanned and indexed for advertising purposes. At least not ME.

  15. See “What is this platform that Google is building? It’s a distributed computing platform that can manage web-scale datasets on 100,000 node server clusters. It includes a petabyte, distributed, fault tolerant filesystem, distributed RPC code, probably network shared memory and process migration. And a datacenter management system which lets a handful of ops engineers effectively run 100,000 servers. Any of these projects could be the sole focus of a startup.” I believe web searching and mail are just demo apps for a “GoogleOS”

  16. Google will be fine. They always buy these small startups with good people who can build things. That gives them a certain growth right there; these companies they are buying aren’t incompetent. With all the money they get they should be able to buy bigger companies. Should be interesting either way. There is plenty of work left to make search better.

  17. Google will be fine. They always buy these small startups with good people who can build things. That gives them a certain growth right there; these companies they are buying aren’t incompetent. With all the money they get they should be able to buy bigger companies. Should be interesting either way. There is plenty of work left to make search better.

  18. Phillip when do we get to see your pix from South america? we’re dying here. You say you’ve got 1500, please don’t say you’r quitting your generous photo-sharing?

  19. The windows desktop application market is much more subtle and difficult than it looks. I don’t think Google will go there for quite a while. I think they will concentrate on the business of indexing and contextualising information rather than getting involved with the presentation and collaboration end (i.e., office apps).

  20. Google rocks, in so many aspects. We all know that, so let’s see where it sucks.
    Froogle sucks. Compared to Froogle is a bad joke.
    I am surprised. Maybe Google should not be moving towards making the same mistake others did – trying to be all things to all people and stay more focused? They do not see in danger, yet, but Froogle sucks, indeed 🙂

  21. Google’s strategy looks very much like Microsoft’s strategy of 20 years ago. They already have the virtual monopoly on search and are trying use it to extend into other markets. First, they pick on the leading email platform out there (Outlook), and are poised to take a big chunk out of the market. Obviously, they plan to attack other products with large populations of users. I think Gary, above, hits on another market they must be eyeballing. So, while attacking Excel might not be the best next move, due to technical considerations and possible market resistance, MS Money / Intuit would make a great target. Intuit is already doing it with QuickBooks online. Integrate with some banks, and financial planning services. Saving for a boat? Here’s one that’s in your range! Kids going to college? Here’s a great investment product.

    Don’t think Google is going after the collaberation market? What do you call blogger? What would it take to extend blogger into Project management? Add a rich text editor and you have universally accessible word pad, good enough to start eating into Word?

    Google is definately working at stealing MS Office customers, using the same strategy MS used to steal those customers away from WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3.

    The only question is how successful they will be.

  22. Didn’t ThinkOffice try to do this to MSFT already? I think you can still buy their product, but it didn’t work, right?

    I tried it. I remember being impressed. You could have your web-based stuff sync up to the computer you work on. So it was portable, but centrally located most of the time.

    Clever. Apparently not clever enough (or well-marketed).


  23. Also note that Google has recently acquired for the blogs, for the desktop photo management software, and along with Picasa comes, a Peer-to-peer image sharing software that also posts to your site.

    Maybe something else is going on. Microsoft just purchased an email searching plugin for Outlook (, and Yahoo just purchased

    Does all this spell that email is the next killer app (again!)?

  24. This post is a real piece of history, try to keep it up as long as you can and come back to it once a year, it will be fun to look at this “Google Time Capsule”.

    Well, three years later and Google is still trying to replace something. So far they’ve only succeeded in replacing AltaVista for your Web search. No, wait, that had already happened five years ago. That was achieved during the time before anyone could even imagine they’d aspire to do anything beyond search. I think this is where the real issue is: they are going at it too broad, trying to do everything at once and maybe are too busy actually earning money. They’ve grown up now, you know, gotta feed the family – VCs, stock holders.

    So, I predict that in one year time frame people are still going to prefer to keep their office applications to themselves on a local PC and they are still going to use Google for Web search.

    Also, I predict that in one year from the time of this post Google will have their own anti-monopoly lawsuit and won’t be all much different from Microsoft in public’s eyes.

    In fairness, Microsoft is still trying to get into Web search business and making every mistake they can to not create a competition to Google in Web search. At least not in one year time frame.

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