IE's share tumbles in some EU markets after ballot debut

But overall, IE stays stable, Firefox keeps falling and Chrome maintains growth

Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) has lost three times more share than usual in some European countries since the company issued a ballot that lets users choose an alternate browser, according to a Web measurement company.

In Europe overall, however, Microsoft's share has essentially remained stable, a turnabout from its typical decline over the last 12 months.

Microsoft added the ballot to the Windows Update queues of European users beginning March 1. The ballot, mandated by an agreement reached last year between Microsoft and European Union antitrust regulators, appears on Windows PCs where IE is set as the default browser. Users can choose to download and install 11 rivals, including Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari and others.

According to Irish metrics firm StatCounter, IE's usage share -- the percentage of systems running the browser that visit the sites the company tracks for clients -- has dropped by double or even triple the average rate in several countries, including France, Germany, Italy and the U.K., since March 1.

In France, for instance, IE's share plummeted 2.4 percentage points since the end of February, more than double IE's average monthly decline of 1 percentage point in the country. Meanwhile, Mozilla's Firefox gained 1.2 points and Google's Chrome climbed 0.8 of a point. Both numbers were also dramatically above average; Firefox's and Chrome's average monthly gains have been just 0.4 of a point each over the last year.

Other European countries where IE slipped this month included Germany, where Microsoft's browser lost 0.9 of a percentage point, triple the 12-month average of 0.3 of a point; Italy, where IE dropped 1.3 points, more than twice the average decline of 0.5 of a point; and the U.K., where the browser slipped 0.9 of a point, almost double the 0.5 of a point point average.

Firefox posted the biggest gains in both France and Germany, with share increases of 1.2 percentage points and 0.4 of a point, respectively. Meanwhile, Chrome won out in both Italy and the U.K., where it led rivals with gains of 0.7 and 0.6 of a point, respectively.

Opera, the browser that sparked the EU antitrust action when it complained to regulators in late 2007, has also added to its share in those countries, with increases ranging from a miniscule 0.05 of a point in the U.K. to 0.13 of a point in Germany.

Norway's Opera Software is the only major browser maker to publish detailed numbers of its post-ballot downloads. Two days after Microsoft browser choice ballot began reaching users, Opera announced that downloads in Europe had tripled. Last week, it downgraded the increase to a doubling of its usual traffic.

"This confirms that when users are given a real choice on how they choose the most important piece of software on their computer, the browser, they will try out alternatives," said Hakon Wium Lie, the chief technology officer of Opera, in a statement.

By Opera's count, it's seen the greatest increase in downloads in Poland, followed by Spain, Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands.

But the IE declines reported in some countries do not represent the continent as a whole, StatCounter's data showed. IE's share fell only 0.05 of a percentage point in Europe overall, said the Irish company, significantly less than the 12-month average decline of 0.33 of a point.

And the ballot didn't stem the recent slide of Firefox. Since March 1, Firefox has lost 0.8 of a percentage point, in the same range as the two months before, when it dropped by 0.9 of a point each month.

If there were any winners since the ballot's introduction, they would seem to be Chrome and Opera. Chrome's 0.7 of a point gain since March 1 is higher than the 12-month average increase of 0.5 of a point, while Opera's increase of 0.1 of a point is a turnaround from the average monthly decline of nearly 0.3 of a point. However, Chrome's climb this month is actually in line with the last several months, as Google's browser has gained momentum: According to StatCounter, Chrome has boosted its share by 0.6 of a point to 0.7 of a point in each of the last three months.

StatCounter's data illustrates trends similar to those highlighted by the numbers from U.S. measurement vendor NetApplications.com. For the last three months, NetApplications has noted a decline in Firefox's share and a surge in Chrome's.

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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