The new Web browser that Google released Tuesday is designed to expand its huge lead in the Internet search market and reduce Microsoft's imprint on personal computers.
The free browser, called "Chrome," is being promoted as a sleeker, faster and more secure alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which has been the leading vehicle for surfing the Web for the past decade. Despite recent inroads by Mozilla Foundation's Firefox, Internet Explorer is still used by roughly three-fourths of the world's Web surfers.
(Msnbc.com is a Microsoft-NBC Universal joint venture.)
"What we want is a diverse and vibrant ecosystem," Google co-founder Sergey Brin told reporters Tuesday during Chrome's unveiling. "We want several browsers that are viable and substantial choices."
Among other features, Chrome's navigation bar — where you type in an Internet address — will serve a dual purpose. Users can either enter an address into the space or enter a search request that will be processed through their search engine of choice.
Naturally, Google bets it will be the default search engine for the majority of Chrome users, helping to build upon its nearly 64 percent share of the worldwide search market.
"You only have 24 hours a day and we would like you to do more searches," Google's other co-founder, Larry Page, said at the unveiling. "If the browser runs well, then you will do more searches."
Google also is counting on Chrome to become the linchpin in its effort to distribute widely used computer programs like word processing, spreadsheets and calendars through the Web browser instead of as applications installed on individual machines. If the crusade is successful, it might undercut Microsoft's profits by diminishing sales of its Office suite.
Microsoft — which won a crucial browser war the last time one arose, in the 1990s, over Netscape Communications — played down the threat posed by Chrome. Microsoft predicted that most people will embrace its latest version, Internet Explorer 8, which it released in test status last week.
But Benchmark Co. analyst Brent Williams thinks Microsoft has cause for concern. In a Tuesday research note, Williams described Chrome as a "a new, potentially significant, challenge to Microsoft's Web strategy and to (Microsoft's) core product suite, and indeed to (Microsoft's) business model."