Google has become the Microsoft of the 21st century.

Before we get to that, let’s go back in time. I still remember my first experience with Windows 3.1. I thought it was the greatest invention ever, because it let me leave the ugly DOS prompt behind. No longer did I have to memorize a whole series of commands to do what I needed to do. Imagine how ecstatic I became when Windows 95 was revealed. I moved even further away from DOS and embraced the point-and-click nature of it all. Along with Windows, I used several other Microsoft products, most notably Microsoft Works and Microsoft Office. I felt that they were vastly superior to other software programs that I had tried, like Corel Wordperfect. After making the jump from ICQ to MSN Messenger, I never looked back either.

Now that everything is online, Microsoft has seemingly fallen a little behind. I don’t know anyone personally that uses Hotmail as their primary email address, nor do I know anyone that uses MSN Search to find things on the web. By contrast, I know a lot of people that have come to rely on Google and Gmail. Speaking for myself — and it’s a very scary thought — but Google has come to dominate my online experience, and thus, a very large portion of my life. After all, as a freelance writer who predominantly works on web-based projects, I spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen and almost all the work is related to the online universe in some way.

It started with Google, the search engine. Thinking back, I’ve gone through my fair share of search engines, having tried MSN and Yahoo!, as well as oddballs like Ask Jeeves, Hotbot, and Excite. I appreciated the clean interface of Google, and more importantly, I appreciated the relevant results that it gave. There’s something about that algorithm, and I know I’m not alone in this sentiment.

And then I started to discover all the other things that the search engine had to offer. I learned that if I input simple arithmetic in the search field, Google would give me the answer. I could do the same with measurement conversions and even currency conversions, the latter of which is infinitely useful in my work with a a technology news blog. This is because so many announcements come with prices listed in Euros, British Pounds, Korean Won, and Japanese Yen. I can’t be bothered to look up the current exchange rate and do the math myself. Why would I do that when Google can do it for me instantaneously.

I remember when Gmail was still a new thing. It wasn’t so much about the loads of storage (currently at well north of two gigabytes). What drew me to Gmail was its innovative feature set. I could tag a message with multiple keywords, breaking free of the “in a folder” limitation. I also loved how it automatically organized emails into “conversations”, instead of segregated and discrete messages. The search function within Gmail was (and is) fantastic too.

The search engine and email aspects, while critical to what I do, are only the tip of the iceberg. Stop for a moment and think about how much you use Google even outside of their two primary products. I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to rely on Google Maps (instead of Mapquest) to find directions to places I’ve never been. I use Google News to read up on current events, iGoogle to keep track of various things, Google Reader to subscribe to all the blogs that I read, Google Image Search to find pictures of whatever I need… the list goes on and on. As a blog owner, Google Analytics and Google Adsense have been absolutely invaluable.

And even then, Google has more. I haven’t jumped into the Google Documents & Spreadsheets thing yet, but I might do that in the future too, potentially ditching Microsoft Office. And let’s not forget about Google Video and YouTube.

It’s a brave new world and I’m a little scared of the prospects. Whereas Microsoft is disliked by many, very few have a problem with Google’s dominance and the reason for that is that all of Google’s services are free. And people love free stuff, especially when it’s actually useful.

Has Google dominated your life? Were the search engine and email the gateway drugs for you too? Do you want a Google Phone?