But McNamee, who has been a major Silicon Valley investor for more than two decades, said he doubts there are any other companies like Google out there ready to follow its lead. Instead he sees the Google public offering as a singular event, one that will ultimately take its place in the pantheon of landmark IPOs, like Microsoft and eBay.
"When is the last time a company went from zero to a verb in five years? It just doesn't happen," said McNamee, who has a small ownership stake in a firm that is invested in Google.
Since Brin and Page founded Google in 1998, it has become common parlance around the world to "Google" a name or other query. Had things turned out just a bit differently, however, the verb of choice might have been "BackRub." That was the name Brin and Page originally gave the search engine they developed from their dorm room at Stanford, a reference to the engine's ability to analyze the "back links" between Web sites. Their idea was that a site's significance has less to do with the number of times the search term appears on it than the number and relevance of other sites that link to it.
After re-christening the search engine (the new name was a play on googol, the word for the number 1 followed by 100 zeros), Brin and Page set up shop in a friend's garage with a staff of three. The company has ballooned since then to more than 1,000 computer whizzes who crunch numbers at Google's new Mountain View, Calif., campus, honing the algorithms that have become the digital-age equivalent of the Dewey Decimal System. Despite the company's explosive growth, the laid-back corporate culture of offices outfitted with beanbag chairs and roller hockey games in the parking lot has remained.
Today the company executes more than 200 million searches per day, with 10,000 Google computers constantly crawling the Web and updating information from 3.3 billion pages. According to statistics from comScore Media Metrix, about a third of Internet searches occur on Google's sites. Add the other sites that use Google's technology, such as Yahoo, and the company powers some three-quarters of all queries.
But that number could fall substantially if, as many analysts expect, Yahoo drops Google as its search engine later this year. Google and Yahoo have had a complicated relationship that began, according to Google's official history, when Yahoo co-founder David Filo encouraged Page and Brin to start their own company rather than sell their technology to an established player.
Yahoo has long been an investor in Google, but the two companies have increasingly become rivals. Last year, Yahoo made two major purchases -- of search engine companies Inktomi Corp. and Overture Services Inc. -- that signaled its intention to go head-to-head against Google in search. Yahoo is counting on its roster of registered users and its portal status to give it the upper hand.
"We have a brand and a company that hundreds of millions of people trust on a daily basis," said Yahoo spokeswoman Diana Lee. "We want to apply that to the search experience as well."
Microsoft, having seen the rich margins available in search, has also decided to make a play there. Its engineers are engaged in an expensive effort to devise a new search engine, one that could be integrated into the company's next-generation Longhorn operating system later in the decade. "Building technology from scratch -- an algorithmic search engine -- is a huge developmental effort and just the type of challenge Microsoft welcomes and excels at," said a Microsoft spokeswoman.
In comparison with Microsoft and Yahoo, many analysts say, Google is at an inherent disadvantage because it has no locked-in users: It doesn't require people to pay or register for its services.