Google's new weapon fires into the browser wars, or is it something more subtle? The real question is, do you feel lucky, punk?

I remember using the Mosaic browser at University in 1994. It was introduced to me by a friend as a way to 'use the Internet putting together words and pictures'. That was, broadly speaking, what a web browser was all about in those days. Today those browsers look as ancient as a Palaeolithic Cro-Magnon Man, but their descendants still have genetic roots in a world of static pages, where in-browser execution of an application is an afterthought.

Google are today releasing their beta version of a new browser they claim is designed from the ground up for web applications. They have published a great little comic book style page that explains how. As a Batman and Judge Dredd graphic novel fan I believe the medium is underutilised, so I am pleased to see them making use of it.

Google's new browser, Chrome (Chrome Magnum, Cro-Magnon...get it?) is perceived by some as a direct attack on Microsoft's business model. It will include Google Gears, which is (crudely put) a platform that enables web applications to work offline with a local database and synchronisation engine. That is aimed at bringing about true cloud computing, device independence, mobility, peace, love and understanding blah blah...

I'm not sure I fully buy into that vision, but neither do I buy the idea that this is simply a bullet with Microsoft's name on it. Google clearly don't like the way that IE leads users towards their Live services, but the important thing is getting people to do more on the web. The simple equation is that the more people do on the web, the more money goes to Google.

I think the real target is this: Developers, developers, developers, in the words of Steve Balmer. I've used a few web-based business applications in my time (I've even written some, but let's not go there), and most of them can't make do with Ajax, and need me to install some kind of browser plugin or component to get them to function. Part of the reason for that is because Javascript rendering is too slow, inefficient and unreliable if you try to do too much. You'll note that a big part of the deal with Chrome is fixing that. The other problem is that I need a network connection, and even in my 3.5G hyped up wifi'd up world I occasionally go offline. Google gears is aimed at bridging that gap, but uptake has not been very fast amongst the developer community. That may change if Gears is pulled through by a big adoption of Chrome.

In short, Chrome and Gears are there to give developers a more powerful, capable and open platform inside a standard browser. Yet if you compare Google's engagement with developers against the vast Microsoft ecosystem you realise that this is not a nuclear strike in the browser wars, but a new front opened up in a much larger and longer war for the development community.