From its humble beginnings in 1998, Google has become one of the biggest brands on the planet. Founded by computer science students Larry Page and Sergey Brin while at Stanford University, Google's mission statement was - and still is - "to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful".
Google offers many free services beyond search
Not only is Google the most-used search engine on the internet but it has even become a verb which appears in the Oxford English Dictionary. In fact, you're more likely to say "have you tried Googling it?" rather than "have you tried searching the internet?" and people use the term regardless of the actual search engine, a fact which Google is keen to discourage.
Of course, the company has come a long way in the last 14 years and now has an impressive range of services which - on the whole - are completely free to use. As well as online tools for everything from getting directions (Maps) to tracking visitors to your website (Analytics) there are also applications for your PC such as Picasa for editing and organising photos and the Chrome web browser. Plus, Google now owns YouTube and Blogger, and has its own social networking site, Google+. It even has its own operating system, Android, which runs on a multitude of smartphones and tablets.
Whether you already use Gmail and Docs or you don't yet have a Google account, we'll show you some of Google's great tools and services you may not have heard of. If you like what you see and want to create a free account, just head to google.co.uk and click the Sign in button.
Gmail is one of our favourite Google services: an email account with currently around 10GB of free storage space. You can check and send emails from the website but it's also accessible from many smartphones and tablets. If you prefer to use a desktop application such as Outlook or Incredimail to manage your email, it's easy to add your Gmail account details so that your email is directed there instead.
The website interface is perhaps the most convenient to use, not least because it uses Google's powerful search capability to find information from old emails. You can customise how your inbox looks down to the density of information and it's possible to drag and drop attachments onto a new email, saving time.
There are lots of other useful features including the ability to create 'labels' which are effectively folders into which you can move emails, and you can create filters to automatically send incoming emails to those folders. Gmail has an excellent spam filter, and it's unlikely you'll ever see any. However, you can mark unwanted emails as spam to help ensure similar messages are blocked in future.
One of the best features is 'priority inbox', one of five different inbox styles. This shows unread, important and 'starred' messages at the top so you can easily see the messages that you need to check and refer to. Alternatively, you can choose Important first, which puts messages it thinks will be important to you at the top of the list.
As well as email, Gmail also handles contact information and tasks (a todo list). To switch to these views, click the Gmail link just below the Google logo at the top-left corner. There are many settings that you can tweak. To access these, click the cog icon it the top-right corner and choose Settings from the drop-down menu.
Finally, Gmail also incorporates an instant messaging service, Chat. This appears to the right of your inbox and shows which contacts are online, away or offline. Conversations are saved and appear under the Chats heading in the left-hand column, although you may have to click the More link to see it.
Docs is Google's online office suite and is a good free alternative to Microsoft Office for undemanding users. When you arrive at the Docs homepage, you're presented with a list of your documents and the option to upload more from your computer or create a new document, spreadsheet, presentation, form, drawing or table. See also: Get started with Google Docs
Next page: more on Google Docs, plus Google Calendar, Maps and Earth