The lead engineer of Firefox has joined Google in what is thought to be the first steps in the internet search engine launching a internet browser to tackle Microsoft.

In a statement on Ben Goodger blog he said: “As of January 10, 2005, my source of income changed from The Mozilla Foundation to Google, Inc. of Mountain View, California. My role with Firefox and the Mozilla project will remain largely unchanged, I will continue doing much the same work as I have described above - with the new goal of successful 1.1, 1.5 and 2.0 releases. I remain devoted full-time to the advancement of Firefox, the Mozilla platform and web browsing in general. I'm sure you have many questions. While I will be spending more time at Google, I will work out of the Mozilla Foundation offices regularly as the need arises. For all questions regarding Google, I ask that you contact Google directly, rather than myself.”

The company neither confirmed nor denied that these plans have changed. "Many of Google's products aim to enhance the browsing experience," a Google spokesman said. "We do not comment on speculation about product development." However the domain has been registered to the Californian company.

In a gesture of good will, Google has already promised to donate half of Goodger's time to the Mozilla project so he can continue working on the search engine.

At this time it is not clear whether Google are merely protecting the Mozilla foundation so they can build a branded Firefox browser themselves or whether they are merely hoping to use the skills of Mr Goodger to its own evil end.

In other Firefox news, the search engine announced that it has been downloaded over 20 million times. More than the number of users who use Mac OSX.