Prokaryotic biofilms that predominate in a diverse range of ecosystems are often composed of highly structured multispecies communities. Within these communities metabolic activities are integrated, and developmental sequences, not unlike those of multicellular organisms, can be detected. These structural adaptations and interrelationships are made possible by the expression of sets of genes that result in phenotypes that differ profoundly from those of planktonically grown cells of the same species. Molecular and microscopic evidence suggest the existence of a succession of de facto biofilm phenotypes. We submit that complex cell-cell interactions within prokaryotic communities are an ancient characteristic, the development of which was facilitated by the localization of cells at surfaces. In addition to spatial localization, surfaces may have provided the protective niche in which attached cells could create a localized homeostatic environment. In a holistic sense both biofilm and planktonic phenotypes may be viewed as integrated components of prokaryote life.