Google Year-End Report Card: B

Google is the Tetsuo of tech. It's already massive, but it grows uncontrollably in a million different directions and almost feels like it's on the verge of creating its own gUniverse. [Ed. note: "Gooniverse"?] At times, it's both amazing and scary to watch. 2007 was the biggest year yet for Google, but crazily enough, most of it seemed to be merely setting the stage for the total world domination that will occur in 2008.

For better, for worse or for Google, it sent the formerly locked-tight mobile-phone industry into an open-access hysteria. True, Android and the Open Handset Alliance are still (mostly) pretty logos and promises on paper. But for a bunch of talk, it's lead to some very real action, like helping nudge Verizon out of its ugly, red-walled garden. All this gesturing might actually change the industry.

Android aside, we can really give Google props for helping to break the mobile industry via its hard fight for open-access provisions in the 700MHz spectrum auction. The provisions themselves could change the game for all telecoms, and Google doesn't even need to win!

If anyone thought Google was approaching the limits of its growth earlier in the year, Wall Street proved 'em wrong when gPhone hype pushed its stock past the $700-per-share mark, making it the fifth most valuable company in America. It's comfortably resting now at the hype-free level of about $670, over $550 more than the initial price of around $120. (At the time, many investors say that was too high.)

Google kept up the "don't be evil" motto by pumping lots of money into green energy and green research. Maybe this is because they believe in a better tomorrow, but maybe it's just to power their Matrix-like server farms without resorting to turning runaway Microsoft employees into living batteries.

On the Google application front, its office suite is still no Office-killer, and we still have some kinks we wish could be worked out of the Reader, but Google did make our lives easier in a couple ways, like by dropping the invite requirement to Gmail, adding IMAP support and getting even more iPhone-friendly. Yay. And, just the other day, it threw down with Wikipedia by launching its latest collect-all-knowledge component, Knol, which'll pay contributors—with ads. (Surprise.)

Owning YouTube kinda caught up to Google, and we're kinda sore on that front—it got sued by Viacom, bitched at by other media companies and then had to implement a content-filtering system. But possibly even more egregious was its addition of overlay ads.

Now for even less palatable stuff: Google knows pretty much everything about you and everyone you've ever loved and that probably won't ever change, even if it is trying to be a little less creepy. For instance, Google will still have all the info you think you're erasing from Ask.com. And, it still plays nice with ethically dubious—to be generous—Chinese censorship regulations to ensure its grip on a chunk of the massive and growing market over there, which doesn't exactly line up with the "don't be evil" screed. Even Sergey thinks so.

And the ads. It's much pretty much a given the catch on any Google goodness is that there'll be some sort of advertising wedged in there—true, nothing worth paying for is totally free, and Google doesn't appear game for charging monthly fees for every little service, like Microsoft and Yahoo! now do. But Google going mobile means ads becoming an increasingly unavoidable part of your mobile life— AdSense for Mobile is all fired up. It seems the lovely mobile industry freedom Google's fighting for isn't free. It costs a buck-oh-five—or a contextual spot.

Final grade: B But we think this grade is slippery: next year, Google will either be A+ or D. What Google is doing is either a massive greed-motivated build-up or a series of initiatives intended to change the tech business (and our world) for the better. In two semesters, we think we'll know if either is true—or if both are.