After several years of horrors, the IPO market is finally making a comeback and looks poised for a strong 2004. In fact, according to a recent Barron's article, the IPO market may see fireworks from a Google public offering.

Many forces are driving Google to an IPO. One is a technicality; there is a regulation on the books, crafted in 1934, that forces companies to report to the SEC if they have at least $10 million in assets and 500 shareholders.

Another force: greed. Venture capitalists desperately need to show their investors that they can make some money.

But perhaps the real reason is that Web search has become a war. After all, search is the gateway to the Web and, most importantly, e-commerce; in a sense, it is a tollbooth. And we all know tollbooths can be great business.

This is a multi-front war involving the superpowers of tech. Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) has built a search arsenal internally, as well as through acquisitions of Inktomi and Overture. Then there is Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), which is throwing money at search so as to protect its e-commerce dominance.

Yet, the most threatening is Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), a company with the best battle record of all. Its victims litter tech history and include WordPerfect, Stac, Netscape. The list goes on and on.

Microsoft has already flexed its muscles, last week vaporizing a good portion of LookSmart's (NASDAQ:LOOK) revenues.

There is no doubt that Microsoft considers search strategically critical (since July, MSNBots have been scouring the Web). And the company is not afraid to use technology's version of a nuclear weapon -- the operating system. Inevitably, Microsoft will implement sophisticated search technology in the next Windows operating system, "Longhorn."

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, who has done an outstanding job building Google into a highly profitable company with a mega brand, is also well aware of Microsoft's power. After all, he was once chief technology officer of SunMicrosystems (NASDAQ:SUNW) and CEO of Novell (NASDAQ:NOVL).

True, companies can beat Microsoft and, of anyone, Google has a chance. But doing so will demand cash and that means going public. Taking Barron's valuation estimate of $14 billion, a Google IPO could raise well over $1 billion.

Bankers will be happy. Investors may be happy. And Google will need every penny it can get.

Tom Taulli is the author of six books on investing, such as the StreetSmart Guide to Short Selling (McGraw-Hill), and Investing in IPOs (Bloomberg Press). He is also a professor of finance at the USC School of Business (don't worry, he does come out of his ivory tower). You can reach him attom@taulli.com.