Putting IE's modest market share gains in perspective

It’s easy to forget how far Firefox and Chrome have come in such a short time

Much is being made of the fact that Microsoft has at least temporarily stanched the bleeding in terms of Internet Explorer's market share, and, in fact, has managed to nudge the number upward slightly in each of the past two months.

According to a report from NetApplications released yesterday:

Internet Explorer extended its usage share gains by another .42% in July, gaining about 1% global share since May.  This is the second month in a row of global gains for Internet Explorer and the third straight month of gains for Internet Explorer 8 in the United States.  The gain comes at the expense of Firefox (-.9%) and Chrome (-.08%).

Interesting, notable and probably has their attention at Mozilla and Google.

It's also in need of historical perspective.

The July report leaves the top three at: IE, 60.74%; Firefox, 22.91%; and, Chrome, 7.16%.

A year ago, Microsoft had a touch under 68% of the market, Firefox was just about where it stands now, and Chrome was just climbing out of the crib at 2.59%.

IE has lost 10% over the past 12 months, while Chrome has almost tripled its share.

But let's hop into the time machine and travel all the way back to a 2004 'Net Buzz column (pre-blogging for me):

Bill Gates will hold a yard sale to help make ends meet before his company's Internet Explorer is displaced as the world's dominant Web browser.

But that doesn't mean there's nothing meaningful in the browser usage trend data released recently by WebSideStory. According to the Web analytics firm, users of the Mozilla and pre-release Firefox open source browsers grew to 6% of the U.S. online populace as of Oct. 29, up from 3.5% only four months earlier.

That's a solid jump from a modest starting point, yes, and Microsoft still commands a 92.9% market share. But the increased open source use comes almost entirely out of IE's hide and presages nothing but good things for the official release this week of Firefox 1.0, the Mozilla project's almost universally acclaimed entry into the world of alternative browsers.

It's easy to forget that Microsoft was once essentially the only game in town (just as it's easy to forget the fate of Netscape Navigator).

Only a year and a half later, there was this April 5, 2006 Buzzblog post:

Firefox has topped 10% in the latest browser market share report from Net Applications.

But at what point -- what percentage share -- does Firefox transition from ankle-biter to leg-breaker? In other words, what is the magic number for Firefox to graduate from nuisance/media darling to a genuine threat to Microsoft's dominance of the browser market?

I'm saying 20%. ... Anyone want to offer a different number?

Firefox passed that 20% milestone in November, 2008, according to NetApplications.

The initial Chrome beta had been released only two months prior.

Bottom line: There's plenty of life left in Browser War II.

(Update: And Europe's far more aligned with Firefox.)

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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