July 13, 2004 12:53 PM PDT

IE usage drop--slip or blip?

Microsoft has long held the title of undisputed champion of Web browsers, but recent research shows the software giant's Internet Explorer slipping in popularity for the first time in recent memory.

Recent numbers from analytics company WebSideStory revealed a steady downward trickle in market share over the past month. Since June 4, IE witnessed a 1 percent change from 95.48 percent of all Internet users in the United States to 94.16 percent on July 9.

An analyst at WebSideStory attributed the dip to the discovery of security flaws in June, coupled with the growing popularity of alternative browsers such as Opera; Apple Computer's Safari; and FireFox, produced by open-source browser project the Mozilla Foundation.

"The question is, Does this represent the vanguard of a major public shift, or were there already several million people waiting for an excuse to switch off Microsoft?" said WebSideStory's Geoff Johnston.

Though WebSideStory admitted that its conclusions on FireFox's rise in particular were based on "circumstantial" and "anecdotal" evidence, the IE measurements raise questions. Further data shows Mozilla market share growing from 3.54 percent to 4.59 percent over the same period. The growth figure includes any browser developed with Mozilla's "Gecko" browsing technology.

In the big picture, the 1 percent change is barely a blip, but it's nonetheless the first downward trend since WebSideStory began measuring browser share in 1999.

At the time, the Web browser was at its height, with Microsoft pursuing an aggressive strategy to beat out Netscape Communications, the then-dominant browser. Microsoft's practice of tying IE into its Windows operating system monopoly became a central facet to the government's antitrust suit against the company. Microsoft eventually settled with Netscape parent Time Warner for $750 million. Time Warner dropped its lawsuit in return for a seven-year, royalty free license of IE for its America Online service.

Developers at Mozilla heralded the recent WebSideStory news as further proof that Internet users are beginning to jump on the FireFox bandwagon. Since releasing its latest version two weeks ago, called FireFox 0.9.1, Mozilla has seen 1 million downloads directly off the Mozilla.org site, according to spokesman Bart Decrem.

The numbers do not include download mirror sites or other sources outside the Mozilla network, Decrem added, suggesting that real numbers could be greater.

The market share numbers offer a breath of vindication for Mozilla. Originally founded as an offshoot of Netscape in 1998, Mozilla was created as a way for developers to improve Netscape's source code in an attempt to battle IE's growing market dominance. But a couple years after its founding, Mozilla retreated into the shadows, a situation exacerbated by tumultuous times at Netscape's parent AOL.

AOL eventually funded Mozilla with some seed money and released the project as an independent organization. Since then, the group has launched products such as FireFox and its e-mail client Thunderbird. Mozilla also received funding from Nokia to produce a cell phone browser--called "Minimo"--based on its source code.

Still, WebSideStory's Johnston does not think the numbers suggest a slippery slope. Rather, the slide could be limited to a set population of IE haters without expanding to the mainstream of Web users. It still takes a lot to drop IE.

"People do what they need to do to avoid pain," Johnston said. "If they don't have an emotional vested interest in dropping IE, it will take a lot for them to switch."

A Microsoft representative said, "Microsoft shares our customers' concerns regarding security, but we have not seen a significant shift in usage from Internet Explorer."

4 comments

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The Truth
The reason why the greater 90% of people use and continue
to utilize I.E. is because it is set as the default browser on
their computers and, I don't mean to offend anyone, but
most computer users are technology ignorant. I've even had
some people in management positions ask me: "What is a
browser?" Although most people are not well informed,
once you commence to impart knowledge, they learn rapidly
and make the best decisions for them  as has been the
case for all those I have trained. So far, after I compared I.E.
to Opera and Firefox, these persons have retained both
Opera and Firefox on their computers, have set one or the
other as the default browser and have ceased to utilize I.E.
They are very content with the new browsers for they permit
them to better use their time on the Web and don't interfere
with the rest of their work by causing their computers to
crash or freeze.

I am certain that if every Windows user received a browser
comparison between I.E., Forefox and Opera, were told how
to make the program their default browser and had the
three installed on their machines, they would cease to use
I.E. Evenmore, if a distinct browser was set as default, the
user would use that browser.
The truth is, unlike what Microsoft representatives comment
(that users are satisfied and don't have any problems with
I.E. ) on the articles I read here, people are tired of the
limited options and constant system problems caused by
I.E.'s instability and integration to the system, as it tends to
bring down the entire house when it crashes.

The botton line is that Microsoft representatives utilize
Windows users' ignorance to justify their usage of I.E.

And yes, there is a group of us out there that detests
Microsofts' technology for it constantly releases garbage
that necessitates a million updates that never fix anything.
But I do not believe it is we that created the mentioned
decrease in I.E.'s usage because we already use other
browsers.

I believe it is our obligation to inform people on what is best
for them and all of us, as their usage of I.E. affects all that
use Windows computers. It would be of greater benefit for
users to read articles on why Opera and Firefox are better
browsers than I.E. and why they need to switch to these
these.
The best solution would be to have computer makers install
other browsers and set one of these as teh default prior to
selling the computer to the buyer. This way, I.E. will only be
utilized when the user needs to connect to Microsofts'
Windows Update site.

Hey Microsoft, the world does not necessitate handicapped
software! Put I.E. to sleep! :-D

Finally, I do not work for Mozilla nor Opera and I have used
I.E. in Windows 98, 2000 Pro. & XP Pro. as well as in Mac OS
X (which is my current operating system). I have dealt with
I.E.'s instability and lack of support for Web standards for
more than seven years.
Posted by (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'm surprised it's not more of a drop
I expected by now to hear about businesses to have Firefox rolled out as the default browser on it's users PC's. I know if I was in a position of influence where I work, I would be making this strong recommendation.

I would argue that most domain users do not need IE. It's security flaws far outweigh it's features. It is in any businesses best interest to have it's users using a more secure browser. There is no reason not to.

If people are forced to use a different browser at work, they would be more likely to use the same browser at home.
Posted by (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I switched!
As the previous poster has mentioned I'm surprised the drop in I.E. usage isn't bigger. I know I switched last week.

I put it off for quite a while because of concerns about compatability with xp. So far the only problem has been an error messgage which is displayed every time I open a new web page. The message says that the computer can't find the requested file, all this while the requested file is being loaded in the background. Foxfire has some security problems of it's own but at least they aren't the subject of everyday conversation and newspaper articles.

All my bandwidth tests indicate a throughput greater than 1.5 megs so I guess the new browser hasn't slowed things down. Certainly, I'm not able to detect any slowdown visually.
Posted by arnetwork (11 comments )
Link Flag
My 2 cents.
I've been using Fire Fox for about 2 months, and I have no idea how I surfed the web without it for so many years. I've switched all the pcs in my office (5 of them) to FF, and only with a tiny glitch in our online ordering system we use, but I just use the plug in "view page in IE" when it arises and problem solved. However FF isn't even done yet. As soon as 1.0 comes out in the next month, I'll be switching my brothers, parents and my friends pcs over. I'd say FF is twice as fast, and has only crashed twice on me. I'm so glad my Apple friends told me about it. Tabbed browser is the wave of the future. Only use IE for windows update since the sob's at MS force you to use their browser to update windows.

Oh, NO MORE SPYWARE!!!!!!!!! MY PC HAS NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY!!!
Posted by saleen351 (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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