Has IE 7 turned back Firefox?

A Web metrics company claims that IE 7's introduction has helped - not hurt - Firefox

Firefox's success in chipping away at Internet Explorer's (IE) majority Web browser market share has slowed since Microsoft began pushing the new IE7 as an automatic update to Windows users last year, a management consulting firm said Wednesday.

But a Web metrics company immediately disputed the conclusion, and said that IE 7's introduction has helped -- not hurt -- Firefox.

According to Janco Associates, which tracked users to several Web servers that the Nevada-based company manages, Firefox's growth rate has stalled since December 2006, when Microsoft started automatically issuing IE 7 to Windows users. "We've started to see a stabilization of the marketplace," said Victor Janulaitis, Janco's CEO. "In three years IE lost about 15 percent of the market share, but we're now seeing that leveling off."

From December 2006 to this month, Firefox's share increased less than a percentage point, from 12.5 percent to 13.4 percent. Meanwhile, IE's overall share climbed to 70.5 percent in March from December's 67.5 percent. In particular, IE7's share almost tripled from the beginning of December by March 1, climbing from 6.9 percent to 18.7 percent.

Firefox's stall, said Janulaitis, meant that it and other IE rivals won't be able to overtake Microsoft's browser "without some major new innovation or driver."

Poppycock, said Geoff Johnston, an analyst with WebSideStory of California, U.S. "I'm surprised at how well Firefox has done since IE7 came out," he said. "It looks like the forced migration of IE7 is helping Firefox."

By WebSideStory's figures, Firefox accounted for 13.7 percent of the U.S. browser usage share as of last Friday. IE, meanwhile, owned just under 82 percent. During the December-March period, Firefox actually grew its share by more than 2.5 percent, while IE's share has been clipped by more than 3 percent.

Although Microsoft released IE7 to Windows XP users in October 2006, the company did not start feeding the updated browser to users via Automatic Updates until early December. At the time, there was significant criticism of Microsoft for using the update service, which is typically reserved for security patches, not program upgrades.

"IE7 has almost 31 percent of the whole browser market," said Johnston, "but its growth has been almost exclusively at the expense of IE6. IE7 has not slowed the pace of either Firefox or Safari. Microsoft's getting it from both those two fronts."

Janulaitis stood by his data. "It's very solid. We've used the same methodology since 1997." And he stood by his conclusion. "IE7 has features that negate the advantages that Firefox had. It may continue to lose share, but I think it will stabilize around the 60 percent to 65 percent mark.

Johnston's not so sure. "If you're Mozilla you have to be happy with these numbers. That big, that's the big news, that Firefox was able to stand up to IE7. It says the world's changed a little."

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Gregg Keizer

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