I've previously posted some video of the Plex as it appeared shortly after I joined Google in 1999. Below is a photo taken by our first operations manager Jim Reese from an even earlier period in 1999. It shows Google immediately after the move from the University Avenue office in Palo Alto to an office park in Mountain View.
In the beginning we all had wood doors and sawhorses for desks. Why? According to George Salah, our facilities manager at the time, it was because "They were cheap and easy to get. Larry and Sergey were proud of the fact that we went to Home Depot and spent $19 on these sawhorse legs and $125 on the wood doors. They didn’t even put any varnish on them. It was these unfinished doors and they just threw them on the sawhorses and barely even put any screws in some of them. They were falling off. And that worked for a while and it was great when you had these big massive CRT monitors that were heavy and you needed all this space on your desk for multiple monitors."
In the photo the office looks relatively uncluttered. That didn't last long. When George joined those welcoming Eric Schmidt to Google as the new CEO in 2001, Eric pulled him aside. “Do me a favor,” he said to George. “Clean this place up a bit. There’s trash everywhere, broken bikes and toys and all kinds of stuff.” So George did. He brought his team in one night and swept up all the crap. The next morning Larry sent him an email.
“Where did all my junk go? I want you to bring it back NOW.” Fortunately, nothing had made it as far as the dump and soon the halls were back to their customary state of disarray.
Eric was a quick learner. Six months later he pulled George aside again, closed the door, looked him in the eye, shook his finger and said, “I don’t want you screwing this up.” “He wasn’t scolding me for a specific action,” George explained to me, “he was just warning me not to change things, to keep things the way they are.” Clutter might be a sign of a disorganized mind, but at Google it was often just an indication that people were too busy to clean up after themselves. That was not something Eric had any interest in changing.