Chrome nibbles at IE, Microsoft finds silver lining

Chrome and Safari gain ground as Internet Explorer and Firefox slide, but it's not all bad news from Microsoft's perspective.

It is the first day of the month, and that means new browser market share numbers from Net Applications. Internet Explorer and Firefox continue to slide as Chrome and Safari gain ground -- but Microsoft focuses on its own silver lining.

The bottom line is that Chrome and Safari have been steadily rising, while Internet Explorer and Firefox have been steadily falling. Given the relatively small differences month to month, it will still take years before Chrome passes Safari -- never mind catching up to IE, but the trend is what it is.

First, let's look at the big picture. Internet Explorer is down 0.87 percentage points, and Firefox declined a more moderate 0.19 percentage points, while Chrome inched up 0.34 percentage points, and Safari climbed 0.57 percentage points. In the grand scheme of things, IE now leads with 52.81 percent of the market, followed by Firefox with 21.48 percent, Chrome with 13.45 percent, Safari with 8.05 percent, and then everything else filling up the remaining 4.21 percent.

For IE, things don't look great. IE8, IE7, and IE6 are all down. The demise of IE6 and IE7 is a good thing, but ideally -- at least from Microsoft's perspective -- those users would be switching to IE8 or IE9. The drop in IE8 can probably be directly attributed to the success of IE9 -- which jumped 1.14 percentage points to 6.77 percent of the overall browser market. Another couple months like that, and IE9 will pass IE6, and be on its way to challenging the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox.

Obviously, Microsoft doesn't want to see its browser losing market share, but Microsoft has a more narrow focus on the future of IE, and through that lens things look more favorable for Microsoft. Internet Explorer 9 is only available for Windows 7 and Windows Vista. When IE10 hits, it will only work with Windows 7, and ostensibly Windows 8.

Given those constraints, there is a silver lining in there somewhere. Roger Capriotti, Director of Internet Explorer Marketing for Microsoft, explains in an Exploring IE blog post, "IE9 has now reached almost 25% share on Windows 7 in the US in July. Worldwide, IE9 usage share on Windows 7 is now over 18% for July, leading the pack among the recent browser releases."

Capriotti also points to data suggesting that IE9 deployment is growing even faster for business customers, and he cites a recent study by Forrester on the cost benefits of migrating to IE9. "The results, a composite organization of 50,000 desktops based on these companies could expect to save over $3.3 million from migrating to IE9 based upon IE9's superior malware protection capabilities among other things."

Microsoft has drawn a line in the sand declaring that the hardware and the OS are integral and important factors in the overall Web experience, and it has placed its bet on the future of IE in that context. Viewed as a function of Windows 7, the trends look healthy for IE, and as more companies and consumers abandon Windows XP and move to Windows 7 -- or eventually Windows 8 -- IE9 will steadily climb the chart on the overall browser usage as well.

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Tony Bradley

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