Enterprises clinging to IE 6 may hurt IE 9 launch

Deep dive into browser market share number reveals solid IE 6 base

Every month, journalists following the browser battles between Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome -- including this one -- check in with Net Applications to see who’s up and who’s down in market share. But a closer look at the numbers from someone who’s been covering browsers longer than I have shows potential trouble ahead of Microsoft’s coming IE 9.

Internet Explorer 9 is to be beta released Sept. 15 and the tech world will watch how many end users upgrade from IE 6, 7 and 8. But Wolfgang Gruener in a post earlier this week on the site Conceivably Tech digs deeper into the numbers to reveal a stubborn base of IE 6 users unlikely to switch from the browser they’re using now.

The top level news from Net Applications was a slight dip in Internet Explorer market share in August to 60.4 percent, from 60.74 percent in July. All versions of IE picked up share in June and July after falling embarrassingly below the 60 percent mark in April and May. But Gruener argued that when you break out the market share numbers for each version, you see signs of trouble for Microsoft.

Of that total 60.4 IE market share in August, 32.04 percent of it is IE 8, which was introduced 18 months ago. IE 7, which was introduced in fall 2006, holds only 11 percent share, but IE 6, which has been out since 2001, still holds a 29 percent share. And among all browsers, IE 6 still holds a 16.18 percent share, according to Net applications. Gruener also shares numbers from StatCounter that, while slightly different, identify the same trend. Gruener attributes the larger IE 6 share to enterprise users who adopted IE 6 at the same time they installed the Windows XP operating system.

“While IE6’s market share is declining, there is a persistent user base that is either happy with IE6 (especially those businesses that have certified apps or want to limit access to social networks) or that simply does not feel the need for an upgrade or is uncomfortable with the thought of upgrading to a new browser that may break or introduce changes to a familiar software environment,” Gruener wrote.

Internet Explorer users sticking with an older version of IE wasn’t much of an issue when IE as a whole controlled 90 percent browser market, but it’s another thing when IE’s share is now down by about a third in a more competitive market.

Microsoft has done its best to phase out IE 6, declaring the end of support for the browser and even encouraging groups to host IE 6 “funerals,” although Gruener calls some of them “scare tactics.” The hacking of Google and other U.S. web sites late last year, reportedly by hackers in China, was enabled by an unpatched vulnerability in IE 6.

But some enterprise users have commented on this blog and elsewhere about the work involved in upgrading a browser that makes them reluctant to switch. “Because IE 6 has been the de facto browser for so long on WinXP, there is major pain for large firms to migrate away from it,” wrote one. They’ll be looking to see what’s in IE 9 that would make them decide whether to finally retire IE 6.

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