Google is a tech big now, however was that inevitable?


A glowing white Google logo on the side of a brick building.
A view of the Google constructing in Dublin, Eire. | Artur Widak/NurPhoto through Getty Photos

The story of Toolbar, Chrome, and Android — three makes an attempt by Google to outlive in a quickly altering world.

In the present day it might sound that Google’s energy and success have been inevitable — because of Larry Web page and Sergey Brin cracking the search code — however the actuality is sort of completely different. Google was born in a state of struggle within the early 2000s, topic to the whims of Microsoft, a tech goliath whose Web Explorer browser was on 90 % of all computer systems on the time and primarily managed most individuals’s entry to Google’s search engine. And despite the fact that Google gained that battle, it’s confronted new ones ever since.

Within the second episode of Land of the Giants: The Google Empire — our new seven-part podcast concerning the firm’s ascent to a world behemoth — we study how Google, which is at the moment being sued by the Division of Justice and a number of other state attorneys common over antitrust points, has needed to combat for survival all through its existence.

Google reached its present heights solely by adopting a survivalist mentality — first clawing its solution to sustained relevance, after which ultimately to dominance in areas like search and cell working methods. The corporate’s early worry of failure nonetheless appears seen in lots of its present choices, resembling when it pays rivals (like Apple) to make it their working system’s default search engine, or when it fills its search outcomes with its personal merchandise.

Google’s survivalist story begins at a time when Web Explorer reigned supreme and Microsoft might have simply displaced Google as its browser’s default search possibility. Again then, you didn’t sort search queries in your browser’s deal with bar. To look with Google, you’d both sort www.google.com within the deal with bar or hit the browser’s “search” button (which took you to Google’s webpage). Microsoft, if it so desired, might construct its personal search engine and make that the default, or it might allow search within the deal with bar with one thing apart from Google. If Microsoft had performed one thing like that, it possible would have been the top of Google. So Google knew it wanted a workaround.

That workaround was Google’s Toolbar, a browser extension that added a Google search bar proper beneath the browser’s deal with bar. Just a few years after Google launched it, tons of of thousands and thousands of individuals have been utilizing Toolbar, thanks largely to Google signing distribution offers with corporations like Adobe to place it of their set up packages, and likewise its ease of use. Google, for a second, felt prefer it solved its drawback.

However as Google began creating different web-based packages that may develop into core merchandise, like Gmail, Docs, and Calendar, the notion of permitting one other firm — particularly a competitor like Microsoft — to manage folks’s expertise of the net made Google uneasy. Google noticed Microsoft creating its personal search engine, first referred to as Dwell Search after which referred to as Bing, and determined it couldn’t depend on its Toolbar alone to encourage folks to make use of Google search over rivals. The corporate wanted its personal browser. That’s what led it to create Chrome.

Google Chrome took off as a result of it was quick, easy, and straightforward to make use of, and likewise as a result of Google used comparable distribution offers from Toolbar to push it out to the lots. However whereas Chrome was a smashing success — it’s now the dominant desktop browser on the earth — it supplied solely momentary aid. As a result of simply as Chrome established itself on desktop, the cell revolution took off, leaving Google uncovered but once more in a brand new space.

Google didn’t need one other firm — whether or not it was Microsoft or Apple — controlling how folks accessed the net and its merchandise from their telephones and different handheld units. It additionally knew it could profit from some form of standardization of the cell internet. And that grew to become the muse for Android, the cell working system it acquired in 2005 and developed inside its firm. In the present day, Android powers nearly 85 % of the world’s telephones, that means Google is the pathway to the net for most individuals, not merely an internet site the place you go to seek out stuff.

With out Android and Chrome, Google, “would have been relegated to in all probability irrelevance,” Brian Rakowski, a Google VP of product administration who works on each Chrome and Google’s cell efforts instructed us. “We in all probability would have been both stamped out or a really, very tiny, in all probability turning into irrelevant firm if we weren’t in a position to.”

All these battles obtained Google, as soon as a scrappy startup making an attempt to not get crushed by Microsoft, to the place it’s at the moment — on the prime of the tech world, but in addition dealing with allegations that it’s grown too huge and is illegally stifling competitors.

For extra tales about Google’s unbelievable rise, overlaying all the pieces from the cell phone wars to the corporate’s inside tensions to its present antitrust battles, subscribe now to Land of the Giants: The Google Empire. And please inform us what you suppose: We’re on Twitter at @kantrowitz and @shiringhaffary.

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