Why Microsoft should release Internet Explorer for Linux

Market share for Internet Explorer continues to plummet, with potentially dire consequences for Microsoft. But there's one way Microsoft can help stem its overall losses: Release a version of IE for Linux. It's not as far-fetched an idea as you might think.

According to the latest figures from Net Applications, the market share for IE is at 67.6%, the lowest it has been since Net Applications began measuring browser share in 2005. Just as alarming is that Windows overall market share is dropping as well, Net Applications says. The company says that 88.3% of people who browse Web sites use Windows. That market share has been steadily declining. A Computerworld article notes:

In the past 90 days, Windows has lost 2.2 percentage points, its steepest three-month slide in the four years that Net Applications has collected operating system data via the Web.

Combine that with stagnating revenue and recent layoffs of 5,000 people, and it's clear that Microsoft has some very serious challenges.

There are many causes for the slide of IE and Windows, and why Microsoft revenue is stagnating. But a very big reason for all three is the rise of netbooks, whose sales continue to skyrocket, while overall sales of desktops and laptops stagnate or shrink.

An estimated 10 million netbooks were sold in 2008, and an estimated 30% of all of them ran Linux. That translates to 3 million people using Linux rather than Windows, and a browser other than Internet Explorer. In 2009, an estimated 20 million netbooks will be sold. As I explain in my blog, Microsoft layoffs: Netbooks sales are killing us, netbook sales are at the root of Microsoft's recent problems.

By releasing a Linux version of Internet Explorer, Microsoft could do itself a great deal of good. All netbook users would have the choice of running IE, and many would. Many people buying Linux-based netbooks do so not because they have an affinity for Linux or a dislike of Windows, but for a much simpler reason: Linux-based netbooks tend to be cheaper than Windows-based ones. They would not be predisposed against running IE. Given that many probably run IE at work, they may favor it over Firefox on netbooks.

Releasing a Linux-based version of Windows may also help with Microsoft's plans to release Web-based versions of Office, including ad-sponsored and low-cost versions. if those versions of Office require IE, releasing a Linux-based version of IE means that all netbook owners --- even those who run Linux --- will be able to run Office on the Web. That will certainly help stem Microsoft's plunging revenue for consumer versions of Office.

Hard-core Linux fans most likely would not run IE, of course. Many have an innate distrust of Microsoft. But there are enough netbook owners who aren't predisposed against Microsoft who would run IE if it were available. Releasing IE for Linux could only help Microsoft, and do no harm.

Update: Microsoft already has some experience with developing IE for a Linux-like platform. Years ago, the company released versions for various flavors of Unix. For details, see my blog, "Internet Explorer for Linux: Microsoft has been there before...sort of."

FREE Computerworld Insider Guide: IT Certification Study Tips
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies