Reno - 3:50 pm on Oct 26, 2010 (gmt 0)
Depending on how one defines hypertext linking, it goes back either decades or centuries. By the time Google came along in the late '90's, interlinking between sites was a well developed and accepted form of website construction.
See the... History of Hypertext [en.wikipedia.org]
Some here would argue that Google has not stopped that well established principal, but I would argue that they have considerably slowed it down, and they've done so because of the business/market strategy they embrace so whole-heartedly: Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt (FUD).
So whatever their intentions vis-a vis hyperlinking, the reality is they've hurt it to the point where many people will not engage in this important WWW practice for one reason, and that one reason is FEAR of how Google might react, and that's too bad. I won't repeat many of the arguments made in another thread (Google Used Analytics to Impose Penalties) [webmasterworld.com], but suffice it to say, I find it unfortunate that one of the founding principals of the World Wide Web has been severely wounded by one single company that profit$ so greatly from the blows they gleefully administer.