Firefox last month regained some of the ground it's lost since November 2009, but the open-source software is only holding on at this point in the face of a surging Chrome, a researcher said today.
"Firefox is just holding steady," said Vince Vizzaccaro, executive vice president of NetApplications.com, a California-based Web metrics firm. "In the last six months, it hasn't really moved much."
By the end of March, Mozilla's Firefox accounted for 24.5% of the browsers that surfed to the client sites that NetApplications monitors, an increase of 0.3 of a percentage point over the month before and the first time in the last four months that the browser has gained ground. Six months ago, Firefox owned a 23.8% share.
Even with the increase, Firefox's share remains lower than its peak of 24.8% in November 2009.
"It does seem that Chrome is taking away gains that Firefox would normally get," Vizzaccaro added, referring to Google's browser, which has been on a tear of late. "But in the context of Chrome's growth, Firefox holding steady is not necessarily a bad thing."
Chrome again boosted is share last month, increasing by 0.5 of a percentage point to finish March at 6.1%, an all-time high. Chrome has gained share for 17 consecutive months, according to NetApplications. Its growth also continues to accelerate: Chrome's average monthly increase over the last six months is double that of the average of the six months before that.
"Google has a huge advantage over Mozilla because it has far more avenues for distribution," said Vizzaccaro. "More people know about Google than do Mozilla."
Over the past 12 months, Chrome's share has increased nearly four times more than Firefox's, an impressive feat in Vizzaccaro's eyes. "Chrome has been looking at two entrenched competitors," he said, referring to Firefox and Internet Explorer (IE). "It's getting most of the share lost by IE."
Microsoft's browser lost 0.9 of a percentage point last month to finish with a share of 60.7%, yet another record low. The drop was nearly double IE's decline in either February or March, perhaps putting to rest the idea that IE's slide may have been slowing. In the last year, IE has lost 7.8 percentage points.
Apple's Safari posted a small increase to 4.7% for March, while Opera Software's desktop browser remained flat at 2.4%.
Mozilla continued to make major strides in converting users of older versions to the newest Firefox 3.6, which debuted in January. Last month, Firefox 3.6 became the most-used edition of Mozilla's browser, replacing Firefox 3.5: By the end of March, 45.9% of all Firefox users were running the newest edition, while 37.9% ran 2009's Firefox 3.5 and 13% ran the even older Firefox 3.0.
The number for the latter should dwindle even more in the coming months. Security support for Firefox 3.0 ended earlier this week when Mozilla shipped its final bug patches for the browser; at the same time, it made another push to get people to migrate with another in a series of pop-up upgrade offers.
Meanwhile, Microsoft's nearly-nine-year-old IE6 again fell in NetApplications' usage numbers, ending last month at 18.4%, down 1.4 percentage points. The newer IE7 lost 0.4 of a point to 13.2%. IE6's decline was back to the torrid pace of October 2009 through January 2010, when it lost a point or more each month.
During March, IE6 reaped some substantial negative publicity, including a widely-reported "funeral" that a Denver Web design firm held, complete with a stuffed stiff in a casket wearing the IE logo for a face.
As it has since its March 2009 release, IE8 again gained ground last month, ending up 1.2 percentage points to reach 23.7%, or 26.6% when its "compatibility view" is added in. IE8 now accounts for about four out of every 10 copies of IE in use.
But the new browser has not stemmed IE's steady slide. In its first year, IE8 has grabbed a lower share of the browser market than did IE7 in its first 12 months.
The only silver lining in the IE cloud for Microsoft is that the introduction of a browser ballot in the European Union has had no discernable effect on IE's global or overall EU shares, said Vizzaccaro. He echoed the findings of rival Internet analytics vendor StatCounter, which two weeks ago said that while IE's share tumbled in some European countries after the release of the ballot March 1, Microsoft's browser remained steady overall.
"I really expected the ballot would have an impact, but we've not seen anything significant," Vizzaccaro said.
The ballot was mandated by an agreement Microsoft reached last year with EU antitrust regulators after Norwegian browser maker Opera filed a formal complaint in December 2007. The ballot appears on European users' Windows PCs where IE is set as the default browser, and lets consumers download and install rivals, including Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari and others.
NetApplications.com measures browser usage share by collecting systems data from the computers that visit the 40,000 sites it tracks for customers of its analytics services.
March's browser data is available on NetApplications' 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 email@example.com.