Google celebrated its fifth birthday a few days ago. Google is the World Wide Web's killer application, just as the World Wide Web is the Internet's killer app. It's the only killer application I can think of that is a means of getting to somewhere else. The very unobtrusiveness of Google is a measure of its success—it's just there, always available when you need it.
Google's leading position stems from its innovative PageRank™ technology, which essentially measures the value of a page based on the number of links to it. Pages that are themselves high-ranking, correspondingly add more to the ranking of pages they link to. It's such a sensible idea that it's surprising no one thought of it before. Google runs on a vast network of commodity Linux PCs (some 15,000 last time I heard), achieving not only power, but reliability through redundancy of whole computers rather than components within a computer. Another aspect of their success is the fact that search results are served quickly and with the minimum of fuss and distraction.
I remember that when I first had access to the Internet in about 1996, AltaVista was then the search engine of choice or perhaps Yahoo! Everybody thought that the search engine sector was saturated and pretty much sewn up. Google blew their competitors out of the water to the extent that nowadays it's almost inconceivable that the majority of people would want to use anything else. The phenomenon of computer users replacing their Web browser's bookmarks with a reliance on the consistency of Google's search results is well known. People are now so used to being able to find what they want quickly and easily, that search technology will be a key part of Windows “Longhorn” (the successor to Windows XP).
Apart from its high-quality search results, one of the things that I like about Google is that there seems a sense of fun about the company. I can imagine that it's a great place to work. I enjoy seeing the customised versions of the Google logo during public holidays and anniversaries.
So, happy birthday Google and here's to the next five years of being the de facto gateway to the Web. Don't take your eye off the ball!