To read the coverage of this week's debut of Firefox 4, you'd think the Mozilla Foundation considered Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) its primary nemesis in the never-ending browser wars:

  • "Firefox 4 Beats IE 9 In Day One Downloads," says InformationWeek.
  • "Firefox 4 Is Better Than Microsoft Internet Explorer 9: 10 Reasons Why," says eWeek.
  • "Internet Explorer, Firefox updates offer speed, privacy upgrades," says The Washington Post.

Makes for good copy, right? Absolutely -- but these headlines obscure the truth that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has bet everything on winning the browser wars long-term. Giving Firefox even a day of breathing space isn't an option. So The Big G didn't.

As Mozilla's download meter showed more than 4.7 million downloads of Firefox 4 in the first 24 hours following release -- double the rate of downloads for IE 9 -- Google was busy releasing a potentially game-changing beta version of Chrome.

Version 11 includes technology for transforming speech to text within the browser, and supports 3-D CSS for creating three-dimensional effects on a web page. Both are fancy additions that won't be useful until website administrators implement the necessary code in their sites. But the very idea of using my voice to command the cloud is, well, awesome.

No one knows when the new Chrome will be ready for public consumption, so the major media outlets can be forgiven for pitting IE and Firefox against each other in the headlines. Besides, market researchers long ago confirmed these two as the primary contenders for the title of top browser, kicking off a war of words between Mr. Softy and Mozilla.

Today, Net Applications says IE owns 57% of the market, versus 22% for Firefox, 11% for Chrome, and 6% for Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) Safari. With more than 26 million downloads of Firefox 4 as I write this, Mozilla's standing as a strong and rising second-stringer seems assured.

But that's today. Google envisions an ecosystem that includes searchable mobile and desktop apps, accessible anywhere and customizable from within an advanced and speedy browser OS. None of that comes to pass if Chrome fails. Keep an eye on Microsoft, Mozilla. But watch your back, too.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think about Firefox 4, Google Chrome, and IE 9 using the comments box below.

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