"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 type 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 software package.
"Chrome will strengthen the Web as the biggest application platform in the world," predicted Jon von Tetzchner, chief executive of the company that makes the Opera browser, which ranks a distant fourth in the market.
Microsoft, which crushed Netscape Communications to win the last major browser war in the 1990s, 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."
Microsoft shares fell 19 cents to $27.10 Tuesday while Google shares gained $1.96 to $465.25.
Chrome may lure even more users from Firefox, which has grabbed more than 10 percent of the browser market with the help of an advertising and search alliance with Google. The ad partnership was recently extended through 2011.
Because Chrome and Google both are built on similar "open-source" models that share computer coding with outside developers to foster innovation, the products are likely to appeal to similar subsets of Web surfers looking for alternatives to Internet Explorer.
"If there is a casualty in the browser wars, it's likely to be Mozilla's Firefox," the Info-Tech Research Group predicted Tuesday.
Executives at Google -- which spent two years developing Chrome -- emphasized that they wouldn't have been able to build Chrome without the inroads already made by Firefox, and expressed hope that the two browsers will incorporate the best features from both products.
"I hope big chunks of Chrome make it into the next generation of Firefox," Brin said.
In a blog posting, Mozilla CEO John Lilly said he had been expecting Google to enter the browser market for some time and predicted that Firefox would continue to hold its own.
"It should come as no real surprise that Google has done something here -- their business is the Web, and they've got clear opinions on how things should be, and smart people thinking about how to make things better," Lilly wrote.