Google Fires Up Firefox

An ad takes aim at Mister Softee.
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Google's

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vow to do no evil doesn't stop it from taking shots at its nemesis

Microsoft

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.

Users logging onto Google's homepage Wednesday may occasionally see an advertisement encouraging them to download Firefox, the Internet browser favored by techies over Microsoft's Internet Explorer. The feature is bundled with a Google Toolbar, which lets people do searches from their desktops without having to go to Google's Web site.

This apparently is the first time Google has promoted another company's software on its homepage. The company started the campaign with little fanfare yesterday afternoon.

There is a growing rivalry between the largest search engine and the largest software company. Both are taking steps into each other's core businesses, with Microsoft improving its search engine and Google moving into the desktop.

Firefox also is included in Google Pack, a bundle the company introduced earlier this year that helps people set up new personal computers. Still, the new advertisement deepens the ties.

"That Google space is incredibly valuable," says Rob Enderle, an independent technology analyst based in San Jose, Calif. "This is the equivalent of a multimillion dollar ad campaign and they are just giving it away to Firefox."

Firefox, which launched in 2004, has about 60 million active users, according to Mozilla, which distributes the free browser. A spokeswoman deferred to Google for comment.

"Google is promoting Firefox with Google Toolbar because tabbedbrowsing and safer surfing help provide our users with a great searchexperience," comments Google rep Sonya Boralv in an email.

Shares of Google, which have run up following its blowout first-quarter earnings report last week, rose $1.34 to $428.50.