The 10 Biggest Google Stories Of 2011

Another Big Year

Google continued to swing its innovation wrecking ball at the rest of the high-tech industry in 2011, vowing to obliterate anyone who dares stand in its way. And throughout the year the search giant turned cloud colossus made a host of major moves that solidified its market dominance. Here, we take a look at the 10 biggest Google stories of the year and what they mean in the grand scheme of things.

10. Android Market's Momentum

They said Google's Android Market couldn't hold a candle to the Apple App Store. They said that it was neat. It was fun. But it lacked the punch. It lacked the urgency. "Ha!" chortled Google as toward the end of 2011 its Google Android Marketplace, the app store for its Android-based smartphones and tablets hit 10 billion downloads … and counting. Sure, Apple still holds the download lead with 18 billion apps downloaded as of October, but the Android Market's monstrous growth -- it launched in 2008, hit 1 billion downloads in July 2010 and then 6 billion come July 2011 -- is a sign that Apple should look over its shoulder. And Google expects Android Market downloads to continue at a rate of about 1 billion per month as it trudges into 2012.

9. A Death In The Family

Google took out the pruning shears in the second half of 2011 and chopped away at its product portfolio to leave only what it deemed as necessary and to lighten the load to focus on future innovations. CEO Larry Page said the product pruning was an effort for Google to put "more wood behind fewer arrows" as the Google product graveyard saw a major increase in its number of tenants. Among the unlucky souls to have their lives cut short in 2011 were Google Desktop, Google Buzz, Google Labs, Google Gears and Google Wave. A host of other Google offerings met the same fate in what Google called its product "spring clean."

8. Google Gets Its Turn

It's rare that a vendor sues a potential customer, but Google did just that, filing a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior (DOI) over its selection of Microsoft's cloud offerings for its e-mail and collaboration systems. While the lawsuit itself was filed in late 2010, the meat of the matter came to a head this year. It played out like this: Google claimed that the DOI's procurement documents favored Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and were written in a way that excluded all other comers, including its very own Google Apps. What followed was a drawn out, months-long court battle that ultimately ended with a judge ordering that the DOI must go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate cloud vendors for its systems. Google maintained all along that it just wanted a crack at the roughly $60 million deal.

7. Google Rocked By Cloud Outages

It wasn't just Amazon and Microsoft that suffered visible cloud outages in 2011; Google and its products also suffered bouts of downtime throughout the year. In September, a "memory management bug" caused a nearly hour-long outage that affected Google Document Lists, Google documents, Google Drawings and Google Apps Scripts. That followed a July Google App Engine outage that knocked some customers' sites offline. And in February, Google's widely popular Gmail e-mail service went down, wiping out thousands of Gmail inboxes, an outage Google blamed on a software bug introduced by a storage update.

6. Android Is Killing It

Google Android, Google's open source mobile operating system, made major strides in 2011 to become the dominant smartphone OS, beating out former incumbents like BlackBerry and the Apple iPhone. According to Gartner, Android's share of the smartphone market doubled in 2011's third quarter to 52.5 percent, meaning it represents more than half of all smartphone sales and double its market share from the year before. And at Dreamforce 2011, Google Executive Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt said more than 550,000 Android devices are activated daily and that's a figure that shows no signs of shrinking, especially as Android continues to make hay in the rapidly-growing tablet market.

5. Google+ Goes After Facebook

Google's social media strategy may have stumbled with Google Buzz (R.I.P.), but the launch of Google+ in July vaulted Google into the true social networking arena with a Facebook-like platform for contacts close and not-so-close. Google+ organizes connections into circles and lets users share status updates, photos, videos and whatnot with only those circles. So, if you have a circle of colleagues, you can opt not to share your drunken New Year's Eve photos with them. Google+ got off to a slowish start, but by year's end it had gained some traction and a major Google+ update that added new features like Hangouts video conferencing and integration with Google Apps enticed more users to the burgeoning platform.

4. Heart Of Chrome(books)

Google put the cloud in users' hands with the launch of Google Chromebooks -- Acer and Samsung-made compact notebooks that access apps via the Chrome browser and Chrome OS. Chromebooks got their start at Google's I/O conference earlier this year and come in Wi-Fi and 3G models to give users access to apps. Google also launched a subscription service for Chromebooks through which businesses can rent them on a three-year refresh cycle with support, warranty and Web-based management included for a roughly $30 monthly fee per unit. And in December, Google launched a pilot program in which a select number of Google Apps Resellers can sell Chromebooks, a move partners called a major step in their cloud and mobility stories.

3. This Means War

Google and Microsoft locked horns and beat their chests as the contentious cloud competition between the two colossi continued in 2011. Google Apps continued as a cloud productivity mainstay, but Microsoft threw water on the Google Apps flames with the launch of Microsoft Office 365. The pair also engaged in a public FISMA flap in which Google and Microsoft accused each other of lacking proper credentials to offer secure federal clouds, setting the stage for the cloud kerfuffle. And the dustups continued into later in the year, with Microsoft calling out Google during its Atmosphere 2011 conference, saying Google is more of an advertiser than a cloud player, and Google battling back and highlighting that it is wooing users away from Microsoft at nearly every turn. Google partners, too, got in on the fun, holding a session at the GSocial conference on how to beat Microsoft.

2. Google's Channel Ups And Downs

Google put more weight on its channel partners and programs in 2011, adding a host of new partners to its Google Apps Reseller Program and giving them new services options with the Google Cloud Transformation Program and the ability to offer Chromebooks. Google also launched a certification program for its Apps Reseller partners to show their cloud chops. But Google's channel was not immune to the growing pains that newly formed channel programs suffer as they gain traction and adapt. Some Google partners have claimed that Google is stealing away lucrative deals and taking them direct. Still, Google has said it needs partners and the channel to succeed and to grow. "This industry will be built, without question, around the channel," Google Enterprise Director of Channels and Business Development Stephen Cho said in a keynote presentation at the Cloud Channel Summit.

1. Welcome Motorola Mobility

It was the mobile shot heard around the world in 2011: Google plans to acquire Motorola Mobility, the mobile device unit of Motorola, for a whopping $12.5 billion. The move will give Google its own mobile hardware division, and its Google Android OS is already deeply integrated into Motorola's smartphone and tablet roster that there shouldn't be much heavy lifting once the deal is done. And Google partners praised the Motorola Mobility acquisition, saying that if all goes well it could help them build mobile practices around Android and the devices and give them deeper penetration in customer engagements. Motorola shareholders have given the deal the go-ahead. The deal also gives Google access to Motorola Mobility's massive cache of 17,000 patents and 7,500 pending patents.