In the past two years, Microsoft's Internet Explorer has bled 12 percentage points in market share, from 78.28 percent to 66.82 percent, according to data from Net Applications, while the open-source Mozilla Firefox browser has leaped nearly 7 percentage points, from 15.49 percent to 22.05 percent. Meanwhile, Apple's Safari has nearly doubled its market share, to 8.23 percent, and Google's Chrome has grown to 1.23 percent.
Microsoft can't be happy.
As I wrote last week, the more browser market share Microsoft loses, the easier it becomes for it to also lose operating-system market share. Indeed, over the same two-year period, Microsoft Windows has lost five percentage points in market share while Apple's Mac OS X has gained more than three percentage points and Linux has more than doubled its share.
The browser, quite simply, makes the operating system much less relevant to the computing experience. This is why Apple and Google continue to invest heavily in their respective browser initiatives: the browser is the key to operating-system disruption.
For this same reason, however, both would do better to invest in Firefox, the "Linux of browsers." In some ways, the browser efforts of Apple and Google are much like the Unix efforts of IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Sun Microsystems: they threaten to splinter the browser counterattack on Microsoft rather than solidify it.
Common investment in Firefox, however, would leave the industry better off, just as common investment in Linux has. Firefox, for its part, is thriving on its own. IE lacks the community flair that makes Firefox so appealing. Just imagine what it could do with the resources of Apple and Google behind it.
Microsoft probably has had, and still has, nightmares about that scenario.
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