Google has released a new web browser into a crowded field. The "rule of three" says most markets can support three main competitors. Internet Explorer and FireFox are on top, and no clear third option has emerged from the pack of also-rans.
Why would Google do this?
My gut feeling is they want to marginalize FireFox by using the Google brand name to capture more of the "alterative" browser market (meaning anyone that is not using Microsoft's browser). After all, FireFox marginalized Netscape and Mozilla.
Why would Google want to marginalize FireFox?
FireFox is extremely popular because it provides AdBlock Plus, NoScript, Customize Google, and other extensions that allow users to protect their privacy online.
Google, of course, is a business built on monetizing web browsing. Their Urchin/Google Analytics software, and purchase of DoubleClick, is thwarted by these extensions, which allow people (like me) concerned with privacy to stop these tracking services from tracking them. FireFox costs Google money. Every hour, Google looses money from FireFox users who choose not to view ads or allow Google to track their web browsing.
So the goal seems to be to dilute FireFox's market share so AdBlock Plus and other extensions don't spread beyond the small core of privacy-seeking people (like me) who don't want to be monetized by Google. They'll never stop the hard-core people (we'll use lynx if we have to), but they can do a controlled burn to stop the fire from spreading to casual users. Google obviously doesn't care about Internet Explorer, since anyone using it wouldn't care about privacy or security.
What Google cares about is the technical recommendation from someone like me: "Let's standardize on FireFox" and Google wants the boss to say "why not standardize on Google's browser instead?" and that keeps AdBlock Plus out of the enterprise.
Also, let's not forget Google Checkout. No one in their right mind would use this, because it would allow Google to do two things: (1) aggregate your purchase history over multiple web sites so it can track your buying patterns, and (2) getting personal contact information to attach to "anonymous" tracking data. The only reason why web tracking data is anonymous is that there hasn't been any way to attach it to a real person's name, account, address, and telephone number. Google Checkout is the missing piece. If you use it, Google can track your browsing habits personally because it can tie you to its Urchin/DoubleClick data because it now knows who you are.
Remember big, ambitious companies are thinking ten moves ahead of you. These are chess pieces on the board which may seem neglected, now, but Google has been busy focusing on other things, laying the groundwork. Google Checkout could be coming back soon once Google gets its browser into real-world use. When Google starts really collecting complete personal data, then it can start selling it, and that's what Google is about, making money. Google is no friend of open source, as Chrome shows. Google will use open source and even contribute to it, because it's not playing in the software arena like Microsoft (which sabotages and tries to destroy free software because it has to in order to survive) -- no, Google is in the data aggregation business. It will help open source if it's in Google's best interests, and work against it otherwise.