Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) may be mere fringe players in the battle of Internet browsers, but the world's leading search engine has new bragging rights over its former buddies in Cupertino.

Net Applications is reporting that Google Chrome commanded a 4.63% slice of the global browser market in December, passing Apple Safari's 4.46% slice along the way.

Sure, we're talking about small nibbles here. This is still a market dominated by Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet Explorer. Firefox is the distant runner-up, and Google and Apple are battling it out for what may appear to be the irrelevant bronze medal

Not so fast, though ...

Browser

December 2009

Internet Explorer

62.69%

Firefox

24.61%

Chrome

4.63%

Safari

4.46%

Opera

2.40%

Source: Net Applications.

Safari should be doing a lot better than this. Really. Have you seen a quarter go by in which Steve Jobs isn't taking market share in the desktop and portable-computing markets? Macs and PowerBooks lean on Safari as their default browser. The same can be said for Apple's popular iPhones. Having Google Chrome speed past Apple in the left lane has to be embarrassing, especially since Google's browser is just a one-year-old behind the wheel.

What's at stake for the victor of the browser battle? Not much, apparently. Microsoft hasn't been able to parlay its pole position into paid-search riches. Browsers are free downloads, and Explorer users have no problem turning to Google or Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) for their cash-cow search queries.

However, Google has been making inroads into Microsoft's browser, productivity-software, and operating-system strongholds. If Mr. Softy wants in on Google's paid-search turf, it may as well return the favor.

The same can be said of the recent overlap between Apple and Google. Big G's forays into browsers, operating systems, and now smartphones pit the two former friends as competitors. It doesn't matter whether they're battling it out for market dominance, or simply for the rights to the bronze medal. The tech world is gradually working its way to a three-for-all involving Microsoft, Apple, and Google.

Grab a ringside seat while you still can.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.