Google's greatest hits and most spectacular misses

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Google's Greatest Hits

It's not all lying and spying in Googleland. The search/advertising giant wouldn't be the behemoth it is today if it didn't do a few things right. Like the following:

1. What's up, Docs

Google's suite of online apps -- free to educators and consumers, $50 a year for business users -- has been a boon for budget-strapped school districts and individuals. Over the years a fairly limited word processor and spreadsheet combo has grown into an impressive set of tools, including data storage, site creation, messaging and more. Better yet, G-Docs has caused Microsoft to completely rethink how it delivers software, and that's good news for everyone.

2. Howdy, Doodle

They started life as simple illustrations; now the Google Doodle has become a Web phenomenon, more creative and entertaining than any session of Angry Birds or Farmville. Cases in point: Last year's fully functional Pac Man game, and the recent animated tributes to Les Paul, Freddie Mercury, and Lucille Ball. Just what the world needs -- new ways to slack off when we should be working. This is one pointless Google project Larry Page shouldn't kill off.

Google Doodle guitar gallery: Songs galore!

Wael GhonimREUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

3. We are all Wael Ghonim

No, Google can't take credit for the Arab Spring. But it does deserve kudos for encouraging one of its executives, Wael Ghonim, to take a leave of absence to become the face of the revolution that toppled Egypt's president-for-life-and-beyond Hosni Mubarak. Ghonim created the "We are all Khaled Saeed" Facebook page that helped spark the popular uprising. He has since left Google to work full time on ensuring that the changes he helped bring about don't get unraveled.

4. Pwning Microsoft and Apple

In the late 1990s Microsoft squashed Netscape like a bug after it tried to introduce a browser-based operating system. In the late 2000s Apple's iPhone seemed to make all other smartphones irrelevant. But that didn't stop Google from taking them both on. Starting with zero market share in September 2008, Android is now the most popular smartphone operating system in the US, besting Apple's iOS and obliterating Windows Mobile. Now Chromebooks may threaten Microsoft's hegemony over desktops and laptops. Is there anyone Google won't take on?

5. Search us

Remember when Google was simply the Web's best search engine? It still is -- and two thirds of the US Internet population agrees. Not that Google's perfect, by any stretch. Over the years the elegant simplicity of Google search has been riddled with spammy ads, skewed by personalization, polluted by "instant" results that are more annoying than helpful, and routinely gamed by SEO firms and content farms. At the same time, other search engines have gotten much better: Bing is a surprisingly nimble competitor. But when's the last time you heard anyone say "Let me Bing that and get back to you"? We still feel lucky.

Life Before Googleflickr/Brett Jordan

Now read: Apple's greatest triumphs and worst failures

This article, "Google's greatest hits and most spectacular misses," was originally published at ITworld. Read Dan Tynan's Thank You For Not Sharing blog and follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook for the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos.

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