The spring sun shines brightly on the so-called Googleplex, the five-building campus of the hottest.

The spring sun shines brightly on the so-called Googleplex, the five-building campus of the hottest Internet search engine on earth. At lunchtime, hundreds of engineers at Google Inc. chow on free fare prepared by the former chef of the Grateful Dead. Kicking back? It’s more like a fuel stop. They eat, paying little heed to co-founder Larry Page as he swoops by on skates. And as evening sets in, those same brainiacs, wedged three to six per office, huddle in quiet conference or patter away at their computers in unblinking concentration. Whether in sneakers or on skates, the Google crowd emits cerebral intensity and a near-palpable sense of urgency. The company still operates under freewheeling management, a vestige of its peaceful prosperity as a private company. Under a ruling triumvirate, no one exec has clear control. Decisions emerge from three-way negotiations between Schmidt and co-founders Page and Sergey Brin. Engineers, meanwhile, work in the same culture of controlled chaos that built the startup. All are free to pursue pet projects. The result is an engineer’s dream — but hell for planners. Some investors find the approach unsettling. “They do not sound even remotely like a fiercely competitive world-class company, [but] rather kids playing in a sandbox,” says one Google investor, who plans on selling shortly after the IPO. Considering how rarely co-CEOs have been able to share an executive suite effectively, experts think it’s only a matter of time before the power-sharing setup at Google dissolves. “If multiple people are making decisions, decisions don’t get made,” says David Yoffie, professor at Harvard Business School. “At Google, there are tens or hundreds of projects going on simultaneously. Ultimately one person has to make a decision.” Google execs maintain that the company’s freewheeling engineering culture is not a liability but an asset. To offset Microsoft and Yahoo’s crushing advantage in size, scope, and customers, they say, the far smaller Google requires breakthrough innovations. The company, which receives about 1,000 résumés a day, has hired hundreds of engineers and scores of top-ranked PhDs in recent years. By giving them free rein to pursue new ideas, Google expects to come up with services, from e-mail to community networks, that set its larger competitors back on their heels. “What we really talk about is how we can attract and develop this creative culture,” says Schmidt. “Innovation comes from invention, which you cannot schedule.” Google’s managers rarely tell engineers what projects to tackle. Instead, execs keep a “Top 100” priorities list (which today numbers more than 240 items), and engineers gravitate to issues that interest them, forming fluid working groups that can last weeks or months. Engineers are urged to spend about one day a week working on their own personal research projects, no matter how offbeat, in hopes of sparking the Next Big Thing. “We’re encouraging creativity and tolerating chaos,” says Wayne Rosing, Google’s vice-president for engineering. “We turn that dial all the way over to loud.” To foster a culture of creativity, the company’s campus is a veritable theme park for propeller heads. Engineers unwind by playing roller hockey in the downstairs garage or racing remote-control blimps through the offices. Segway scooters, which retail at $4,000, are parked around campus, offering a novel way to navigate between buildings. Perks are lavish, from two flat-screen monitors on each computer to $800 toilets, equipped with remote controls to adjust seat temperature and water pressure.