IE tumbles, Firefox regains market share mojo

IE6 numbers take a nose dive; Firefox reaps nearly all the benefit

Last month, Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer posted its largest market share loss since November 2008, while Firefox reaped nearly all the benefit, Web metrics company Net Applications said today.

Meanwhile, Google Inc.'s Chrome continued to gain on Apple Inc.'s Safari, closing to within 1.25 percentage points. At Chrome's current pace, it will replace Safari as the No. 3 browser in 11 months.

But it was the biggest browser by share, Internet Explorer (IE), that saw its numbers change the most in August, when it dropped 1.1 percentage points to 66.6%. The slide was IE's steepest since last November, said Net Applications, when Microsoft's browser plunged by 2 percentage points.

In the last 12 months, IE has lost 8.6 points of browser share.

Mozilla's Firefox has collected about half that over the same period, but last month the open-source browser surged by 0.8 percentage point to 23.3%, nearly matching its record of 23.8% set in April.

Apple's Safari increased its market share only slightly, to 4.1%, while Chrome climbed by 0.3 percentage point to 2.9%. Opera Software's Opera accounted for 2.1%, growing by 0.1 percentage point, the Norwegian browser's largest single-month gain since October 2008.

Browser market share may soon be less of an academic counting exercise or simply for bragging rights. Microsoft has proposed to include a browser "ballot screen" in Windows 7 in less than two months, and later in Windows XP and Vista, that will let European users choose which application they use to access the Internet. Initially, the top five browsers are to be on the ballot, with market share determining position from left to right. Microsoft has told European antitrust regulators that it would use one or more Web metrics vendors -- Net Applications is among the most prominent -- to determine those it puts on the ballet.

Within the still-dominant IE share, trends established earlier continued in August. The eight-year-old IE6 lost 2.4 percentage points, dropping to 24.8%, while 2007's IE7 lost 1.9 points, falling to 21.2%. IE8, on the other hand, gained 2.7 percentage points to post an August average of 15.2%, its largest share ever by a wide margin. As recently as April, IE8 accounted for only 3.6% of all browsers.

IE6's August plunge was the biggest since December 2007, when IE7 was only months old and supplanting its predecessor in large numbers. IE6's long life -- some have said it's been far too long -- has prompted some major Web sites, including Facebook and YouTube, to urge their users to ditch the aged application. Even Microsoft has given its tacit approval, at least when consumers are concerned. "Friends don't let friends use IE6," said Amy Bazdukas, Microsoft's general manager for IE, in an interview two week ago.

It's unlikely that the "Kill IE6" campaign , or as Bazdukas called it, the "Die, IE6, Die" movement, was the cause of IE6's abrupt drop last month. Instead, the credit should probably go to Microsoft's moves this spring and summer to push an IE8 upgrade to customers via Windows Update, and just last week to businesses running Windows Server Update Services (WSUS). Another factor is the continued sale of new PCs, the majority of them equipped with Vista and IE7.

IE8's growth has accelerated since April, when Microsoft first offered the new browser via Windows Update. In the four months since then, IE8's share has grown by 11.6 percentage points.

Mozilla, too, has been successful at moving its users from 2008's Firefox 3.0 to this summer's Firefox 3.5, Net Applications' data showed. Firefox 3.0 dropped by 3.5 percentage points, ending the month at 12.7%, while Firefox 3.5 gained all that and more, 4.4 percentage points, accounting for 8.9% of all browsers. Firefox 3.5's share has grown 8.5 percentage points in the last two months alone.

Mozilla triggered the first automatic update offer from Firefox 3.0 to 3.5 only three weeks ago.

Net Applications measures browser usage by tracking the machines that surf to the 40,000 sites it monitors for clients, which results in a data pool of about 160 million unique visitors per month. With July's data, Net Applications modified its methodology , and for the first time weighted browser share by the estimated size of each country's Internet population. That change nearly halved Safari's browser share, but boosted others' share, particularly Chrome's, because it was previously underrepresented.

August's browser data can be found on Net Applications' site.

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