Microsoft's IE posts record usage share gains

Firefox's slide continues, now back to September '09 level; Chrome's increase slows

Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) turned things around last month, boosting its usage share by a record amount, a Web analytics firm said.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) turned things around last month, boosting its usage share by a record amount, a Web analytics firm said today.

By the end of June, IE accounted for 60.3% of all browsers used globally, according to data released by Net Applications. The increase of 0.6 of a percentage point was a record in Net Applications' data, exceeding the 0.3 of a percentage-point jump in May 2009 by a wide margin.

Vince Vizzaccaro, a Net Applications executive vice president, credited Microsoft 's "Confidence" marketing campaign, which rolled out television and Web ads in early June to tout the security enhancements in IE8, for at least some of IE's gains.

"It's a fairly large campaign, something I don't remember Microsoft really doing before," Vizzaccaro said. "And I think it's a good campaign."

He also speculated that IE's increase was tied to the continued upswing in Windows PC sales, and the fact that IE8 is included with Windows 7 , the operating system packaged on virtually every new machine. "PC sales are at a record-setting pace," said Vizzaccaro, "and with Windows regaining some market share, it makes sense that IE does as well." Most people simply "go with the flow," he added, running the browser that comes on their machines.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft took the opportunity to trumpet the turnaround, particularly the increases in share by IE8, its newest browser. "Internet Explorer 8 share continues to be the fastest growing browser with a 0.66 [percentage point] increase in share, more than three times the growth of Google Chrome," said Ryan Gavin, a senior director on the IE team, in an entry on the browser's official blog .

According to Net Applications, IE 8's usage share totaled 48.7% during June when the browser's compatibility mode -- a feature that lets it properly render pages designed for older editions -- is taken into account.

Microsoft's achievement shouldn't come as a shock, since IE's intermittent gains have typically come in the summer. Last year, IE gained 0.55 of a percentage point in May and June, while in 2008 it posted a 0.15 of a percentage-point increase in July. Net Applications' Vizzaccaro had no quick explanation for IE's summer jumps.

Rival browsers, meanwhile, either lost ground to IE or gained at rates slower than historical averages.

Mozilla's Firefox slipped to 23.8%, a decrease of 0.5 of a percentage point, its largest single-month loss since May 2009, while the Norwegian browser Opera dropped to 2.3%, a decline of 0.2 of a percentage point.

Google's Chrome, which has surged of late, ended June with a usage share of 7.2%, an increase of 0.2 of a percentage point, half the average gain during the previous 12 months. Apple 's Safari, whose share is tightly tied to the Macintosh, climbed almost 0.1 of percentage point to 4.9%.

By far the biggest loser was Firefox, which now stands at the same share mark as it did in September 2009. Firefox has lost share five out of the last seven months.

Once considered a lock to hit and then move beyond the 25% bar, Firefox has yet to reach that milestone. In April, Vizzaccaro said that Firefox was "just holding steady" and explained that gains that had once come its way were instead being gobbled by Google's Chrome.

June's numbers hint that IE has joined Chrome in capturing users that last year would have gone to Firefox.

IE posted impressive gains in the U.S. in May, and that trend extended to other regions during June. Microsoft's browser increased its usage share by 0.88 of a percentage point in Europe, and 0.81 of a percentage point in Asia last month, Vizzaccaro said.

IE did not sustain its large U.S. May leap last month, however: The browser's U.S. share climbed just 0.05 of a percentage point in June, compared to 0.76 of a percentage point in May.

Firefox again lost share in the U.S. last month, dropping to 20%, a slip of 0.37 of percentage point, while Chrome ended up 0.23 of a percentage point at 4.8%. Microsoft last month claimed Chrome was "in retreat" in the U.S. market, but Net Applications' data shows that that wasn't the case in June.

Some versions of IE, however, continued to slide in share. IE7, which debuted in 2006 alongside Windows Vista, lost 0.25 of a percentage point to end at a historical low of 11.8%. The even older IE6 -- which Microsoft is determined to kill -- remained flat last month at 17.2%, and still accounts for more than one-in-four versions of IE still in use.

Mozilla, meanwhile, continued to convince Firefox users to upgrade to the newest edition, Firefox 3.6: More than two thirds of all Firefox users are running that version. Chrome, which automatically updates in the background without user intervention, shifted dramatically to the newest edition, Chrome 5, last month. By the end of June, 85% of all people running Chrome had been updated to version 5.

Google launched Chrome 5 in late May.

Rival Web metrics firm StatCounter's numbers for June were slightly different than Net Applications'. The Irish company pegged IE's global usage share at 52.9%, an increase of just 0.09 of a percentage point over May, while StatCounter had Firefox at 31.2% and Chrome at 9.2%, a decline of 0.5 of a percentage point and an increase of 0.6 of a percentage point, respectively.

Vizzaccaro wasn't about to anoint IE's June success as a permanent fixture in the browser battle. "I think we need to see a few more months of data," he said of IE's recent climb and Firefox's continued decline. "But if Microsoft continues to advertise IE, and then [follows that] with some serious advancement in IE9, it's possible."

Microsoft has released several developer previews of its next browser, IE9, but has yet to announce a final ship date, or even a release timetable for a public beta. The latter, however, is expected to launch in August, if a series of slides that leaked to the Internet are to be believed.

Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Net Applications derives its data from browsing records of the 40,000 sites it monitors for clients. The June browser usage share data is available on Net Applications' site.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

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This story, "Microsoft's IE posts record usage share gains" was originally published by Computerworld.

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