The browser wars were the dirty and hotly fought skirmishes between companies aiming to be the portal through which people accessed the wilderness of the internet. Millions have been spent, billions if you take Antitrust fines into account, to be the gateway through which people shop, socialize and conduct every aspect of their digital lives.
Google are obviously now major players in the browser wars but also have the benefit of a firm front in search. To many people Google is "the Internet" and ad revenue is still their bread and butter. A great article I can no longer find raised Siri as a potential new front in this war. Suddenly it was easier to ask Siri than to open a browser and type into the search bar. The article warned that this may, with the iPhone's popularity, start to impact Google.
With Windows 8.1 comes a new, flashy, search ( see link ). Press the Windows key and start typing and a flashy, metro-ified app shows files, applications, settings and crucially internet search results. The screenshots available (see below, from above link) look great. Searching, but for the tablet/app generation:
But imagine if Microsoft can get it right. You're using Excel and have trouble with a formula. In the old days you open Firefox and Google the answer. Now you just press the start button and type. If they can manage a good app experience and speed, it could lure people away from going to Google.
So what does this mean? If Windows 8.1 can become popular enough, and do search right, they can lure people away from Google and towards Bing. They can start to affect both product's ad revenue. With more users and more click-through data, combined with fancy user metrics from Windows they can even improve Bing's accuracy, currently a sticking point for many users. They can take a lot of the internet experience out of the browser entirely, and take the fight into Google's stronghold.
I don't expect this to go smoothly. I'm certain there will be a flurry of posts, some independent, some less so, deriding the new feature. We may even hear at some point that the search is doing something anti-privacy like sending excess data to Microsoft. At the very worst we may even see a renewed Antitrust suit: if packaging a browser with the OS got Microsoft into all that trouble previously, will packing search in with the OS do the same?