Google: Catching Up to Stay Ahead

When the Google Talk system was released last week, it set tongues wagging. Not that there was a great deal to say about the product, a free, feature-meager instant-messaging and voice-over-Internet chat system. But Google, without a clearly stated long-term strategy, sets off buzz and speculation with every move it makes--especially since it announced plans to sell more than 14 million shares in a new stock offering that could raise $4 billion.

Instant messaging is already well established, of course. Yahoo!, MSN and AOL (owned by TIME's parent company, Time Warner) have offered it for years. And Net telephony provider Skype...

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