Microsoft calls IE9-Firefox 4 comparisons 'misleading'

Wait until June, after Windows Update's pushed IE9, then talk share, exec argues

Faced with rival Firefox 4's record-setting launch, Microsoft this week argued that it's unfair to grade its Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) against Mozilla's newest browser.

"With Internet Explorer 9, Firefox 4, and Chrome 10 all hitting their final releases recently, drawing instant comparisons around downloads or initial usage is a natural temptation, but unfortunately you can't do it quite yet," said Ryan Gavin, senior director of IE marketing.

A day after IE9's March 14 launch, Microsoft touted the 2.3 million copies that had been downloaded in the first 24 hours. A week later, Mozilla shipped Firefox 4, logging 7.1 million downloads the first day, another 8.75 million the next. The latter exceeded the 2008 record of 8 million that Mozilla set with Firefox 3 in 2008 for the most software downloads in a 24-hour period.

But in a Tuesday blog post, Gavin contended that differences in how the browser makers offer upgrades makes early comparisons meaningless, and that IE9 will only get rolling next month, when Microsoft enables Automatic Updates on its Windows Update service.

Thus far, Microsoft has pushed IE9 via Windows Update only to users already running the beta or release candidate builds of the browser.

"In the case of Firefox 4 and Chrome 10 their update mechanisms are turned on as part of their initial release to web (RTW)," claimed Gavin.

That's not entirely true.

Although Google updates the "stable" build of its Chrome silently in the background -- including Chrome 10, which launched three weeks ago -- Mozilla has not yet switched on an upgrade offer for users running the older Firefox 3.6 browser.

Instead, Firefox 3.6 users must first update to the newest version of that edition, then manually check for an update to see the Firefox 4 offer.

Traditionally, Mozilla kicks in the offer -- which it calls a "major upgrade" -- 60 to 90 days after the launch of a new browser. But a major upgrade offer for Firefox 4 may appear "soon," a Mozilla spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Because IE9 won't reach all users until June when the Windows Update offer wraps up, usage share comparisons between it and Firefox -- comparisons that Computerworld and others made this week -- are unjustified, said Gavin.

"The net of all this is that any comparison of browser share adoption at this point is premature at best, and misleading at worst," Gavin said. "In a few months, we'll be better placed to look at the share of the latest browser versions and get a sense for relative progress and adoption."

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