Google's position as one of the world's best-loved brands is incredible when you remember that the company has only just celebrated its 10th birthday.
Back in 1998, finding information on the internet could be a painstaking process - and yet we accepted it. The web was new and exciting and we'd never experienced the wonders of an efficient search engine. I remember regularly switching between tools in search of the service most adept at finding relevant information quickly - there was Alta Vista, Ask Jeeves, Lycos and Yahoo, to name a few. But looking back, none was particularly good.
In just a few short years, Google has become a dominant force online and is now by far the world's favourite website. Indeed, many conclude that if Google can't unearth a particular piece of information in seconds, then that information doesn't exist on the web.
The company has changed considerably in the past decade. In the early days, Google's business plan wasn't immediately obvious - making money took a back seat to the pursuit of technological greatness. Now the aim is clear: to earn revenue from advertising. All the products it's launched encourage us to view more Google websites, and thus increase our exposure to Google advertising.
But we don't complain because so many of the company's products have proven invaluable. Gmail has replaced Yahoo Mail as my webmail service of choice; I switched from Streetmap.co.uk to Google Maps; Google Desktop took over from Windows XP's built-in search tool; and I use the Google Sidebar instead of Microsoft's alternative. We even use Google Calendar in the PC Advisor office as a group diary.
But Google's newest launch, Chrome, could be its most important project yet. First and foremost, it's a great web browser - and our initial tests show it to be faster than the likes of Internet Explorer and Firefox. But there's more to Chrome than meets the eye, and many of its features suggest it's designed to encourage us to replace Windows with a web browser.
As this month's cover story explains, Chrome is the only browser that's been built from the ground up to be a front-end to web-based applications. Many of its features are designed to make using online email, office and photo-editing tools as easy as using their offline equivalents. The browser allows you to build application windows, so web-based applications such as Gmail or Google Docs can be launched from the Start menu or Quick Launch bar. Those applications then load in their own browser window, meaning they appear on your desktop in much the same way as third-party applications stored on your hard disk. Support for Google Gears, which allows you to access online applications even when you haven't got a web connection, further backs up Chrome's position as potential threat to Microsoft.
We go into more detail about this, and much more, in our December issue – which is on sale today. As well an in-depth review, including analysis of how Chrome tackles the five most important features in any web browser, we look at Chrome's 10 best ‘secrets'. Meanwhile, our tutorial will help you get started with the free download, and includes some handy tips and tricks.
Whether or not you're ready to start experimenting with the new world of online applications, Google Chrome is worth a look. In its most basic form, it's a great web browser. Potentially, it's much, much more.