How many browser wars are we on now? I make it at three and counting, each one won by achieving a different objective.
Browser war one, the war to control web standards, saw the massacre of Netscape by Internet Explorer in the late 1990s, followed by a strange lull in which Microsoft convinced itself it had won for good and scaled back development to a bunch of guys in thatched hut.
Skirmishes started again in 2002 with the rise of the intellectual's favourite Firefox, and an Apple Mac propaganda tool called Safari. Microsoft rebuilt its team and spent more money, mostly on the new neurosis, security.
On February 1st this year, Netscape was officially made extinct, and that seemed to be that until, this week, a bunch of ex-Mozillers surprised everyone with something called Chrome.
This third war has a number of fronts, but being Google its main battlefield is all about the commercial power of information. Having spent years worrying about the code security of IE and Firefox, we now have a legitimate new concern, that of privacy and user independence. Microsoft never managed anything as brilliant.
The cleverest thing about Chrome is the way it resolves the address bar ('OmniBox') to searches so that typing in a company name is enough to get you to the right website. People have wanted that for years but it does mean that Google can direct users to sites it thinks are the important ones. Crucially, it can also send this data back to Google (though that can be disabled).
On the upside, the browser can notify Google if you visit a likely malware or phishing website, which might (we assume) make it easier for the search giant to strike off offending sites. They certainly don't do a watertight job of doing this right now. There is also, as Google will point out, a browser incognito mode which a minority of users might tune into.
So there's a lot of potential to track user habits, websites and interests but also some control over how this happens for those who understand what they are getting into.
Privacy is not a new issue, having spawned a series of minor ‘anonymity' browsers in recent years that nobody much used. Perhaps they will turn out to have had the right idea at the wrong time. I await the arrival of an OmniBox 'cleaner' add-on with interest...
And will Chrome crush IE as has been suggested might be its ultimate aim? No, Microsoft will do that of its own accord if the latest betas of IE are anything to judge by. As ever, don't waste money on rope; wait for your enemies to hang themselves.