Of the many faces that Google presents - the do-gooding empire with a staggering market valuation, the accomplice to Chinese government censorship, the feared media machine - in essence the service remains a search engine for finding information online. The company's good timing in launching a superior search engine at a time of rapidly increasing online advertising and broadband connections has left its rivals Microsoft and Yahoo! struggling.
But Google's party could soon be crashed and some analysts are predicting a repeat of the bloody Netscape-Microsoft browser battles of the mid-90s.

The fight is set to be joined later this year when both Yahoo! and Microsoft's MSN portal are expected to improve their search offerings.

Yahoo! says its new system will present advertising relevant to the search in hand and therefore more likely to be clicked. Microsoft will launch Windows Live Search, which will simultaneously search across the internet, desktops and mobile devices, to get 'fast access to real answers, rather than hundreds of pages with thousands of links'.

But the real struggle will come when competing search engines begin to offer direct incentives to users. Not unlike newspapers giving away DVDs or offering competition prizes, the search engine business is about to become a world of direct promotion.

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