At first, I wasn't so sure. Now, however, I'm convinced that Google's ultimate plan is to drive every other company out of business and take over the world. And the worst part is, we can't even buy its stock yet!

This privately held Mountain View, Calif., company has added so many great features to its standard search function that it's now more important to us than portable toilets at a beer festival. What would we do without it?

Here's a quick look at just a few of its latest innovations, all currently free. Some require a free download of Google Toolbar:

  • A pop-up stopper that can block most pop-up ads. It allows users to designate sites that are not blocked, and competes with products offered by several companies, including Panicware.

  • An auto-fill function that will store your name, address, and credit card info so it can be entered automatically at the click of a button. It's similar to Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Wallet.

  • A highly customizable news alert system that will email you whenever a word or phrase of your choosing appears in a news story. This is handy for keeping tabs on any topic of interest, from companies you're researching to your favorite baseball team. It competes with similar products from Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO), The New York Times Co. (NYSE:NYT), The Washington Post Co. (NYSE:WPO), etc.

  • A calculator built right into the search box that computes everything from "4 + 4" (answer: 8) to "speed of light * 2 in miles per second" (372,564.794) to "number of tablespoons in 3/4 cup" (12 U.S. tablespoons). Just type what you want to calculate into the search box and see what happens. ("Number of former child actors in California recall election" did not work, however.) This may never make a dent in the number of portable calculators sold by Texas Instruments (NYSE:TXN) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), but then again, those will never tell you that 100 yards = 91.44 meters.

Slowly, step by step, inch by inch (1 foot = 12 inches), Google is becoming more and more relevant in our Web-surfing lives. It is now the world's most recognizable brand and, more importantly for potential investors, it's raking in a whole lotta dough. I've seen 2003 revenue estimates for the company ranging from $400 million to $700 million, and most analysts believe it has already moved into the land of profitability. (Private companies aren't required to disclose financial results.)

Its initial public offering -- which may be announced fairly soon -- will be the most anticipated IPO in recent memory.