Microsoft's IE loses momentum, drops market share

Chrome is back up, Firefox stays flat in August

The browser battle returned to what passes for normalcy in August as Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE), which had a two-month run of usage share gains, lost ground to the usual suspect: Google's Chrome.

"August was a normal month, more like before the IE gains," said Vince Vizzaccaro, vice president at Web metrics company Net Applications. "IE lost, Chrome and Safari gained, even Firefox gained a little."

IE fell by three-tenths of one percentage point to end August with a 60.4% share of the global browser pie, Net Applications' data showed. That marked a departure from IE's performance in June and July, when it posted increases of six-tenths and four-tenths of a point, respectively.

"If you look at IE in general, it does appear that it's lost the momentum [of the last two months]," said Vizzaccaro.

While IE was the biggest loser last month, Chrome was the clear winner.

Google's browser reverted to form by gaining almost four-tenths of a percentage point to account for 7.5% of all browsers used last month. The increase made up for the surprising slip last month, Chrome's first in nearly two years, and then some: August's share was Chrome's highest ever.

Apple's Safari boosted its number slightly, accounting for a 5.2% share, while Opera Software's flagship desktop browser dipped to 2.4%.

Mozilla's Firefox, meanwhile, essentially stayed flat at 22.9%. The open-source browser maker has to count August as a win, however, because the month's minor increase of 0.02 of a percentage point was at least in the black. In July, Firefox lost a near-record nine-tenths of a point.

But although IE's overall share slid -- as it's done 10 out of the last 12 months -- Microsoft again touted IE8 gains today.

"[IE8] grew 1.17 [percentage point] to account for 32.04% of usage share worldwide, more than three times that of Chrome's 0.36 [percentage point] share growth," said Ryan Gavin, a senior director on the IE team, in a post to the group's blog Wednesday.

To get to the 1.2-point increase, Microsoft combined IE8's number with those tagged as the browser's Compatibility Mode -- a feature designed to let users view older Web sites with the newer browser -- as well as specialized third-party versions based on IE8.

On its own, IE8 actually grew by just over one point, ending August at 27.9%.

Gavin spent most of his blog post highlighting the continued decline of another Microsoft browser, the nine-year-old IE6.

"An additional piece of encouraging news was the further drop of Internet Explorer 6, particularly in developed markets," said Gavin, who pointed out that the browser's drop of eight-tenths of a percentage point, to 16.2%, marked its lowest level ever in Net Applications' data.

"One of our main missions is to get people off IE6 as fast as humanly possible," said Gavin, who previously has given himself the job of seeing to IE6's demise. "And while IE6 was a great browser for its time, we all need the Web to move forward."

Microsoft has been pushing users to ditch IE6 for more than a year now with a variety of Web-based advertising campaigns and even an appearance by proxy at a mock funeral for the aged browser held in Denver last March.

Others have encouraged people to stop using IE6, most recently Facebook, which said last week that it would pull the plug on the browser in its instant messaging client starting Sept. 15.

"Microsoft seems to have two different campaigns going," said Vizzaccaro. "One is to kill off IE6, the other is to get those people to go to IE8, and then eventually to IE9. From all signs, they're doing well on both."

While IE6 continues to account for a major chunk of all browsers, and more than a quarter of all IE browsers in use, Microsoft's Gavin stressed that the number is significantly lower in some markets, especially the U.S and Europe, where Net Applications has pegged its share at 5.3% and under 5%, respectively.

China, however, remains an IE6 fortress, with an estimated 46% share of all browsers, a number so large that it's skewing global share, said Vizzaccaro.

"I'm not sure if it's an old hardware issue or more of a licensing issue," said Vizzaccaro, referring to the belief that many of the PCs running Windows in China are using illegal copies rather than legitimate licenses. According to that theory, Chinese users running bogus copies of Windows are hesitant to upgrade their browser, or even patch Windows bugs, for fear of being sniffed out and Microsoft crippling Windows.

However, IE8 was not able to keep all the users who abandoned IE6 and 2006's IE7 last month, a fact that Gavin acknowledged. "As IE6 share drops (and IE7 too), we expect a dip in worldwide IE share," he said.

IE has lost just over 6.5 percentage points of share in the last year.

Net Applications calculates usage share from data acquired from the 160 million unique visitors who browse the 40,000 Web sites it monitors for clients. The firm's August browser usage share data is available on its 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 gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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