Google ( GOOG) launched a news search service that claims to go back centuries.

The Google News Archive search provides a chronological listing of stories, some of which date to the 1700s. The service lets users comb through the archives of major news organizations including the flagship publications of the New York Times ( NYT), Washington Post ( WPO), Forbes and the Financial Times.

People will be able to see a snippet of the article on Google for free. They will then be directed to the sites of the content providers, where they may be charged a fee to see the full story.

The service underscores Mountain View, Calif.-based Google's desire to be seen as a friend to traditional media companies, which at times have fought the search engine's efforts to index their content without their permission.

Agence France Presse, the French news service, filed a copyright infringement suit over the issue in U.S. District Court last year, according The Wall Street Journal. Book publishers also objected to Google's book-scanning project.

Relations between Google and the traditional media have been warming lately.

Earlier this month, the company reached an agreement with the Associated Press to use the wire service's content, according to InfoWorld. Traditional publishers, who are struggling as ad dollars shift online, are no doubt welcoming the new sources of revenue that Google may offer.

Google News Archive will also offer access to the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper as well as Time Warner's ( TWX) Time magazine. Articles from news retrieval services including Lexis Nexis and Factiva also will be available.

"Users can search for events, people, ideas and see how they have been described over time,'' Google says. "In addition to searching for the most relevant articles for their query, users can get an historical overview of the results by browsing an automatically created timeline.''

Like most Google services that the company hypes through the media, it probably won't have a meaningful impact on the company's bottom line. The company's stock didn't react to the news. Its shares fell $1.86 to $382.50 in premarket trading.

Nonetheless, Google News Archive may offer some hints about the company's strategic direction. The company's ambitions are clearly to be more than just a search engine. Earlier, there were indications that Google was trying to make itself into a portal like its rival Yahoo! ( YHOO). The company even launched services like Google News and Google Finance that compete directly with some of Yahoo!'s most popular features. But now, the picture isn't so clear.

Search Engine Watch , a Web site that follows the search industry, reports that Google doesn't plan to become a content aggregator or to even allow people to buy content from the news archives through their Google accounts. It's also not apparent how Google will make money from this feature.

"We're not focusing on monetization yet," Anurag Acharya, a Google engineer who helped develop the service, tells The New York Times. "This is new territory for us."